Brexit would brew trouble for Ireland and Guinness
It is vital moment for those who support historical relationships between UK and Ireland
“Arthur Guinness would want us to vote on Thursday to remain in the European Union.” Photograph: Eric Luke
My family has been involved with brewing beer in Dublin since 1759, and the world of beer faces its largest threat in very many years. As a family, we have crossed the Irish Sea with impunity for generations. We owe our success to this freedom.
It was the porters of Covent Garden and Billingsgate markets in London who originally inspired stout and Arthur Guinness brought it back home to Dublin. The UK was always the nearest and most important export market for Guinness.
Two hundred and fifty-seven years after the brewery was founded by Arthur in St James’s Gate, the freedom to export is under threat. Diageo, the current guardian of Guinness, has publicly attacked Brexit. The company is not alone in that view. Given that there is some €1.2 billion in trade between Ireland and the UK every week, other large companies as well as SMEs are concerned about the referendum result.
As an Irish man living in the UK, I am honestly scared about the sheer volume of people who say they are pro-Brexit. This is why I support the work of both Irish4Europe here in the UK and European Movement (EM) Ireland. EM Ireland has been reaching out to the Irish in Britain as well as the British living in Ireland to get valuable information to them about their right to vote next Thursday, as well as the various deadlines and other requirements that apply.
On a voluntary basis, Irish4Europe has been galvanising the Irish in Britain, young and old, to get out and vote Remain. As they see it, and I agree, this is a vital moment of truth for all of us who support the historical and still vital relationships between our two islands.
You cannot stereotype Brexit voters, but suffice to say that there are an awful lot of them. Sometimes the pro-Brexit voter is motivated by a rational viewpoint about Brussels’s democratic deficit or overly zealous regulation. Everyone agrees that the system governing Europe could be better.
More worrying is the sense that Brussels has become the collective target for every malaise hitting UK society, whether this be immigration, unemployment, housing or poor economic performance.
The vast majority of respected analysts point towards a cut in gross domestic product if Britain votes out.
Most studies conclude that those costs will fall on the less well off. The UK has already gone through enormous cuts in chancellor George Osborne’s attempt to balance the books. It is people such as the residents of the Guinness Trust and the Iveagh Trust (which between them manage about 60,000 social housing homes between the UK and Dublin) who will pay for that cut.
The European Union has been the key to bringing Ireland and the UK together, much to the benefit of the peoples of both countries. The EU has provided more than €1.5 billion since 1995 to support peace in Northern Ireland and is committed to future support under the fourth Peace programme covering the period until 2020. Could this be in jeopardy if the UK leaves the EU?
It is ironic that the Brexit vote is happening in the year that Ireland is commemorating the momentous Easter Rising, a key moment in the campaign for Irish self-determination from Great Britain.
To double the irony, Europe will shortly be remembering over a million souls who fell at the Battle of the Somme a century ago. Many thousands of Irish soldiers perished in it. Yet the world failed to prevent war again a quarter of a century later. My grandfather, Arthur Guinness, was killed in action in Holland in 1945. To vote for Brexit for me would be to dishonour the cause for which he was fighting, namely peace in Europe. The pro-leavers forget that the institutions of Europe were created to prevent a third world war.
There has been much speculation as to whether a Brexit would herald the start of the break-up of the United Kingdom. Certainly the Scottish nationalists will seek independence again. Each year, London subsidises Northern Ireland’s economy to the tune of £11 billion. Since pro-leavers question the £18 billion that the UK contributes to the EU, how strong will be their commitment to Northern Ireland?
The only certainty to my mind is that Dublin would not and should not maintain the level of subsidy in the event of a pullback from London.
But it’s not all over. If the pro-leavers have their way, the world will adjust. Given time, trade treaties will be renegotiated. The bonfire of European regulations will produce new UK regulations. Life will carry on.
Life in Britain for us Irish will be less convenient and more difficult. Arthur would want us to vote on Thursday to remain in the EU.
Rory Guinness works in property and investment and is on the board of The Iveagh Trust and St Patrick’s Cathedral