Book Review – Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response by Tony Connelly

I found this book by Tony Connelly to be an excellent primer on Brexit and in it the author has covered in detail the potential impact of Brexit on Irish state. Brexit is perhaps the greatest economic and foreign policy challenge Ireland has faced since WWII and this book explains why that is the case? The author has drawn upon unprecedented access to number of key players in Brexit saga and does provide revealing insights on EU handling of this important issue.

In the first two chapters the book covers how the Brexit event unfolded both in EU and Ireland. The author has been able to garner information from the key players both in EU and Ireland and in these chapters Brexit really comes out as a disruptive event for everybody. The author has made a strong case in these chapters on the profound impact that Brexit will deliver on Ireland’s economic and political destiny and that more than any other country, Ireland’s individual and sectoral interests are at stake.

The third chapter is quite revealing as it shows Ireland as the country most exposed to economic effects of Brexit by far. In particular food and energy sectors are expected to hit hardest post Brexit. The chapter describes behind the scenes shenanigans and response of UK government to Brexit. One of Prime Minister May’s first acts were to create two new government departments to deal with Brexit. The Department for International Trade would seek new trade arrangements around the world and another Department for Exiting EU commonly known as DexEU would take on the administrative burden of extracting Britain from EU. This chapter also explains how EU really works and the turf wars Brexit caused inside it. EU is made up of several institutions. The European Commission is the executive arm, charged with developing EU policy, safeguarding the rights of EU citizens, ensuring EU law is implemented and looking after the general EU interests around the world. The European Council represents the heads of government (the Council of the European Union, somewhat confusingly, is where ministers from each country come to negotiate). The European Parliament is the directly elected assembly that is supposed to provide a third layer of democratic accountability. When Brexit happened European Council was quickest out of traps. On 26 June, Donald Tusk, the council president announced that council would lead the charge on Brexit but it caused flap within European Commission and its president Jean-Claude Juncker produced and published a six page legal opinion as to how the commission should be in-charge.

The chapter four describes attempts by Britain to engage Ireland to start negotiations at bilateral level and how these were pushed back by Irish government as they saw Brexit negotiations to be taking place only between EU and Britain, but some bilateral talks did happen. There were five key Brexit ares under discussions, the peace process; the border; the Common Travel Area; police and security cooperation; and bilateral trade. The experience of one of the Irish negotiator sums up the way these discussions went “We’d to repeatedly dance on the head of a pin”.

Next few chapters covers how Brexit is going to impact Ireland’s relationship with its other trading partners like New Zealand, China, Scandinavia etc.

Chapter 12 covers in detail how the Common Travel Area on British Isles came in place and how it’s future is now at stake due to Brexit and also how the Good Friday peace agreement would also be difficult to manage post Brexit. The CTA is an arrangement that long predates EU membership and reflects a cultural affinity between two neighbours that has outlived bitter and violent enmity. Now it falls to EU to look at the Irish border and figure out what to do with it.

Amid the anxiety over Brexit, the opportunities are often overlooked and Chapter 15 describes these opportunities. Ireland is an English speaking country, with a similar common law system to the UK’s. International companies serving single market from a UK base are expected to relocate to Ireland post Brexit. European companies sourcing inputs from UK suppliers may look to Irish suppler instead. Only time will tell if Ireland will adapt fast to Brexit reality and will be able to tap these opportunities or not.

The EU is a historic political project whose future is now at stake due to Brexit. More than any other country, Ireland’s interest are at stake. On the other hand the importance of UK for Ireland as a trading partner is beyond doubt. Only time will show how Ireland will cope with Brexit and how it would adapt to live inside what EU is going to look like post Brexit.

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