Britain’s decision to exit the European Union has dominated the news for three days now, threatening to eclipse even the final Euro games in France – but Ireland’s scrappy team faces the French on Sunday, and all eyes will turn toward Lyon for a time. But Brexit will return. And return and return.
The Exit Referendum is the most important decision regarding the European Union of the last twenty years and from all accounts likely to be the worst. It has already cost David Cameron his role as Prime Minister, but he would have lost that anyway. However, the likelihood of an economic recession in England, financial turmoil in Ireland and the rest of Europe, and the destabilization of the political situation in the third most densely populated region on the planet might have been avoided.
Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum to please UKip and Tory backbenchers on the heels of a fledgling economic recovery following the debacles of the previous decade was a ploy to hold onto the reins of power, but will no doubt enter the history books as a monumental miscalculation.
Not only Cameron himself, but with a few exceptions, leaders of the other major political parties were against the decision to leave, as were the business community and the populations of the largest cities on the island as well as Scotland and Northern Ireland. Only five of London’s thirty-three boroughs voted to depart. In favor? A broad scattering of small-town dwellers, the rural population, Wales, and a lot of elderly voters influenced, it seems, mainly by a fear of immigrants coming from central Europe and the Middle East. Ironically, England’s withdrawal from the EU will have little immediate impact on refugees from the Middle East who are covered by a different set of treaty obligations. Immigration from Europe has, on the other hand, strengthened England economically and socially.
What the departure will most likely achieve is, first of all, impeding travel between Britain and the continent and Ireland, which has the only land border between the UK and the rest of Europe. As England is Ireland’s major trading partner, all this could seriously damage Ireland’s economic recovery. It will also affect the financial situation by restoring customs procedures, tariffs, and other taxes not to mention delays in the transport of goods to and from Europe, including Ireland. But it may also provide incentive for other dissident groups in the EU to consider withdrawal, further unraveling the greatest economic union on earth. Will it hasten the remediation of the sometimes oppressive regulations and procedures that have bogged down EU participation? That remains to be seen, but the possibility exists that it might have the opposite effect or simply none at all.
There is mention occasionally of calling a second referendum, as was done when French, Dutch and Irish voters rejected earlier EU treaties and prompted reconsideration, ending with the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty in 2007. Over a million signatures have been appended to such an appeal in England as of the latest count. Still, the chances of success at best seem dim.
Bottom line: as the Irish are wont to say, it could always be worse. It’s just hard to see how at the moment.