The Message - Things Are Going To Get Dirty

And no, this is not another Hot Press article encouraging mass promiscuity. It is about Brexit, and the push from the far right to completely undermine democratic politics.

Time marches on. Spring is here. We may now be entered upon a time of great turbulence, a perfect storm. Trump’s policies, rambling and incoherent as they first present, will have a growing impact. We’re not done with elections in the other EU countries. Meddling and disinformation abounds. All we can say for sure is that the rich will get richer.

Enda Kenny’s visit to Washington is already history. His speech on meeting Trump was (genuinely) better appreciated outside Ireland, for all the usual reasons. Trump, meanwhile, has not found things going all his own way, at least so far. His attempt to repeal Obamacare failed miserably. Many of his nominees are tainted and some appear corrupted. Simple competence is an issue.

In parallel, Theresa May has triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of Rome to initiate Brexit. Come, Watson, the game’s afoot.

Brexit sprang from an existentialist crisis in Britain. Consciously or not, Brexiteers want to reboot the empire on which the sun never set (a white empire at that), an aim with which equal membership of a multi-nation bloc like the EU is incompatible.

They envisage the UK as an equal partner of the US, Russia and China. They don’t really rate anywhere else, except as markets for their produce and as providers of cheap goods for the home market… provided said cheap goods don’t (unduly) displace British jobs.

Actually, they’d like the EU to break up. This is partly because they really dislike Germany and Bwussels but also because they, and their ideological sidekicks in the US and Russia (a strange coalition of far right parties and individuals, including Trump and a cabal of multi-billionaires, some secretive, others not) resent the presence of a cohesive bloc between Russia and the Atlantic. The Brits have always seen themselves as the east Atlantic bulwark.

But, if it sprang from a post-imperial existential crisis in the UK, Brexit in turn creates an existential crisis for the EU. It’s unprecedented – and poses a massive challenge. Thousands of pieces of legislation and millions of paragraphs in agreements can’t be undone with a magic brush.

TRIUMPHALIST HEADLINES

The EU has so far stood firm. Disappointed but resigned, one might say. Both sides want to find a workable solution but that’s easier said than done. None of the remaining EU Member States is disposed to letting the Brexiters have their cake and eat it too.

Brexit also has huge implications for Ireland. No news there. Yes, there will be benefits, some pretty significant. We may well be in a better place as the sole English-speaking country in the EU and a business-friendly one at that. Businesses with big footprints in Europe have major, and perhaps future-defining, decisions to take. Some, especially in banking and financial services, are actively looking to establish bases in EU Member States and Ireland is one of a number of favoured options.

But equally, there are also major threats. The first is periphalisation. The UK sits between us and the rest of the EU. We could be isolated. The second is about trade and commerce. Much has already been made of trade between Ireland and the UK. But there’s another aspect that is not (yet) being debated widely, and that’s to do with the very large distribution machinery and systems for a huge range of goods that operate as though Ireland and the UK are one market. This even applies to companies bred elsewhere in the EU, for example Lidl and Aldi. And look at how online purchases are delivered here – through a huge distribution centre in the UK.

Because we are so interconnected, as prices rise in the UK (most probably through the decline in sterling) they will also rise here, despite our being in the Eurozone. And so on. A lot of stuff is going to get more expensive. But don’t expect that to benefit Irish exporters …

True, in theory we could import directly from other EU countries but for that we’d have to have alternative distribution channels in play. This won’t be cheap. The Irish Government needs to be on top form, thinking right outside the box.

There is a strong argument that the Government should be in close negotiation with EU distributors, airlines and shippers to build supply lines separate from the UK, possibly even agreeing jointly with France and the EU to subvent a new distribution hub for non-EU trade and two delivery nodes, a new cargo handling airport unit and a super-ferry service (which wouldn’t just help cargo, would also support tourism in both directions).

And so on. We won’t go as far as to consider digging a tunnel to France but perhaps we should. It’s that serious.

Also, this interconnectivity with the UK runs to many other areas, including energy, goods and services, communications and media ownership. The more rabid British papers in your local newsagent already create an air of surreality with their triumphalist headlines. This, my friends, is just the beginning.

DIRTY WORK

The third threat is about, and along, the border, which has largely disappeared but will reappear in the event of a hard Brexit. Myriad issues arise about manageability, checkpoints and border controls (even with electronic monitoring), about regression to the bad old days, the return of smuggling and trafficking…

That a majority there voted to remain, coupled with the major electoral changes that followed the recent election has prompted a growing debate on a united Ireland. Brexit has certainly moved the goalposts, but while a union is now being discussed with a new seriousness there is a good deal of unreality and, perhaps, political opportunism. It would be enormously costly. Nobody is likely to wave a big chequebook. And that’s before we talk about the potential for violence and ethnic cleansing.

Yet, we must also accept that Brexit might also have inadvertently triggered an existentialist crisis for the UK itself. After all, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Remain and Scotland may well opt for independence. Also, recent budget changes in the UK, widely seen as just the first step, may trigger growing social unrest.

The fourth threat is perhaps the most troubling. It’s this: maybe Brexit wasn’t the goal, but is just a pit-stop on the way to something much bigger and more sinister. That’s the implication of Carole Cadwallader’s Guardian interview with Arron Banks, the man who bankrolled the Brexit campaign. He and his associates say they’re going after those MPs who voted Remain as (effectively) un-British, as internal enemies. The same kind of witch-hunting can be found in the US.

Behind the screens, a relatively small group of multi-billionaires have set out to dismantle the democratic, governmental and philosophical systems that have been built since the Enlightenment in the 18th century. Their goal is effectively to return us to feudalism. And, with their grip on data and abilities to sow confusion and isolate and reach key demographics they are well on their way.

We’re at the crossroads and the dirty work is beginning. Hold onto your seats…

Niall Stokes will be back next issue.

 

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