To Brexit or not to Brexit is now the biggest question in those parts of the British Isles not ruled from Dublin. The latest opinion poll for the London Independent shows 52 per cent in favour of leaving the EU – confirming the autumn trend towards Brexit in opinion polls.
Alas poor Ireland cannot opt out of the debate and today's poll in The Irish Times shows Irish people want Britain to stay in but back its argument for reforms. The Irish may well feel that if the Brits have a problem to solve on whether or not to isolate themselves from Europe, well, that's a conundrum they can have all to themselves.
But willy-nilly Dublin is the EU capital city with most at stake in the Brexit debate. If UK voters – including hundreds of thousands of men and women who hold or are eligible for Irish passports – decide to leave the EU it will have as big an impact on Ireland as de Valera’s decision to declare neutrality in the second World War.
Ireland will be obliged to create border posts with every crossing from the UK outside the EU in the six counties. Every Irish bank or other business part-based in Britain will tread water as years of negotiations follow over the nature of access to the single market and the adoption of EU norms and regulations that make such trade possible.
The cry of the Brexit camp as expressed by
at the Conservative Party conference just two months ago, is for Britain to regain control of its frontiers – that is to abolish automatic entry for each and every EU citizen and for the House of Commons to be able to reject and repeal any EU directive it did not like.
Were this to happen the question of the pre-EEC right of Irish citizens to live and work in the UK as if they were British passport holders may come into question. And while Ireland would continue to abide by 80,000 pages of rules and regulations that allow half a billion people to trade with each other, study, live and work in any of 28 nations, British MPs would feel they could pick and choose which EU norms to obey. To have two different sets of rules for commerce and other inter-action in the British Isles will be more than tricky.
Dublin may get lucky if US and Asian banks wanting to trade inside the EU minus Britain relocate but the tensions between Dublin and London will be acute.
So will Brexit happen? To paraphrase Yeats, the pro-Europeans lack all conviction while the Eurosceptics are full of passionate intensity. So far this century, Euroscepticism has created UKIP and turned most Tory activists and many Conservative MPs, including cabinet ministers, actively anti-European. The offshore owned press – the Mail, Sun, Telegraph, Times, Express – remains staunchly hostile to the EU with even the Guardian running major appeals for Brexit from Sir Simon Jenkins and Owen Jones – the young Lochinvar of the Corbynite left.
The CBI, British Chambers of Commerce and Institute of Directors hum and haw and say they are in favour, sort of, of the EU but . . . And the but requires major concessions for a "reformed" EU as if David Cameron could magic up a brand new EU after a few chats with Angela Merkel and Jean Claude Juncker.
Labour remains pro-European but with its poll rating dropping to 27 per cent and Ukip hoovering up working class support, it requires Tory MPs and voters to come out in strength to keep Britain in Europe.
The consequences for the rest of Europe and especially Ireland will be gigantic. Those in charge in the 27 other EU capitals should start making contingency plans for Brexit now – just in case. Dr Denis MacShane was minister for Europe in Tony Blair's government. He is the author of Brexit : How Britain Will Leave Europe