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Toxic effects of Brexit being felt as relationships fracture

Cantillon: Financial commentator Frances Coppola warns of atavistic forces at work

Finance writer Frances Coppola addressing the Dublin Economics Workshop in Wexford: “My caution to both sides is to back away from the schadenfreude.” Photograph: Conor McCabe

Speaking at last week’s Dublin Economics Workshop in Wexford, financial writer and commentator Frances Coppola spoke of how Brexit had reactivated atavistic forces on both sides of the English channel.

There was a faction in the Brexit camp, she said, that was pushing for a hard Brexit, not to further the UK’s independence from the EU, but in the hope that a disorderly departure might damage, or even unravel, the European project.

Equally, there were forces in Europe that were revelling in casting the UK in the role of Ozymandias, Shelley’s poetic metaphor for a doomed empire.

She said the Brexit process had been so toxic that it had fractured relationships, not just between Britain and Europe, but within the UK itself, and even within families in the UK.

This ongoing “tarnishing of relationships” may get worse when the UK leaves in 2019, she said, and may take some time to rebuild.

Echoing a point made by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, Coppola said governments on both sides needed to control the level of divergence between the EU and the UK, and not just rush to get Brexit over with.

Gaping hole

Like it or not, she said the UK’s departure would leave a gaping hole in the EU and current attempts, most obviously by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, to reinvigorate the integration process, was an instinctive reaction to the hurt of Brexit.

“Wounded organisms tend to turn in on themselves,” she said.

Coppola said Britain, for its part, had been in a political crisis since the Brexit vote and that prime minister Theresa May was attempting to hold together a deeply divided Conservative Party that was only hanging together to thwart Jeremy Corbyn getting into government.

How long it will take to heal these rifts depends on how toxic the Brexit narrative becomes, she said. “My caution to both sides is to back away from the schadenfreude and glee in the perceived misfortune of the other side and actually try to accept that we are partners going forward.”

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