Brexit: Call to mobilise Irish business leaders in the UK

Former Labour minister says State to suffer greatest collateral damage if hard Brexit

Denis McShane: Most obvious threat is the end of the common customs union between the UK and its EU partners including Ireland. Photograph: Eric Luke

Denis McShane: Most obvious threat is the end of the common customs union between the UK and its EU partners including Ireland. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Irish politicians should seek to mobilise Irish business leaders in the UK to campaign for a soft Brexit to ensure that Ireland does not suffer the sort of collateral damage from a hard Brexit that would be devastating for the country, according to a former UK Labour minister.

The former Minister for Europe in Tony Blair’s second Labour government, Denis MacShane, said that the European question is set to dominate English politics for some time but it is yet not properly understood in England just how significant the impact of Brexit will be on Ireland.

Speaking at UCC where he delivered a lecture entitled “Brexit: Amputation or Co-Existence” as part of the Jean Monnet Lecture Series in the Department of Government and Politics, Mr MacShane said Irish politicians should seek to harness Irish business leaders in the UK to campaign for a softer Brexit.

“Ireland has a hidden weapon that could and should be deployed to try and avoid the worst kind of amputational Brexit. It consists of the 50,000 Irish directors of British companies and the 1,200 Irish-owned businesses in Britain with a turnover of £32 billion in 2015,” he said.

Outside London

These Irish business leaders can play a role in changing English political and public opinion by coalescing into an effective campaign with a view to achieving a compromise and they can do this by challenging views the pro-Brexit views that exist outside of London.

They can do this by “quietly organising seminars, meetings, visits, or public adverts that explain to England outside of London that full-on Brexit will be a totemic lose-lose disaster” for all the residents of these islands, he said.

Born in Glasgow to an Irish mother and Polish father, Mr MacShane said that Ireland is set to suffer greatest collateral damage from the way that the Tory government is handling Brexit. And Ireland is close to helpless in the process as Britain seeks to exit the European Union.

Mr MacShane said that the most obvious threat is the end of the common customs union between the UK and its EU partners including Ireland as there is nowhere in the world where two different customs unions exist side by side without some physical control on goods passing between them.

Exporters in Norway and agricultural producers in Turkey face customs checks on their goods entering the EU. So if Northern Ireland remains outside the EU Customs Union, then controls will be enforced “by agents of the state in uniform at a frontier crossing post”.

“There is no magical technological solution whether by drones, or pre-clearance, or checks carried out away from border crossings. It will be nightmare for Irish lorries crossing through England for ferry ports on the east coast linked to Europe,” he said.

Ports and harbours

Mr MacShane said the Dutch expect to have to recruit an extra 750 customs officers to check goods coming from the UK, while the French have set up custom control hangers in all Atlantic ports and harbours for British vessels. And Ireland may be forced to do something similar.

Theresa May may change her view on leaving the customs union. But every time there is surge of business opinion in favour of the UK remaining in the customs union, she has issued a statement saying that Brexit means leaving the customs union and the single market.

Meanwhile, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson seems even less aware of the implications of Brexit for Ireland. And earlier this month when delivering what was supposed to be a defining speech on Brexit, he never once made mention of Ireland.

“Britain’s neighbour, its most important partner, with family links between millions, does not exist for the British prime minister and British foreign secretary despite Ireland being the biggest victim of the kind of hard Brexit that Mr Johnson espouses,” he warned. Mr McShane urged Irish politicians to mobilise Irish business leaders in the UK.