Is it in Britain’s Interests to Punish Ireland in Brexit?

It may be in Britain’s interests to damage Ireland disproportionately in the Brexit process.

Attending for a while to more immediate political concerns: Brexit. A story today suggested that Ireland should plan to leave the EU should Brexit be as hard and as cold as it promises to be. It struck me that it is in Britain’s interests to inflict significant damage on Ireland for several reasons. Primary amongst them is the rationale that Britain needs to divide Europe in order to find the best deal for itself. A divided and fractured Europe will make those who wish to defend the union more disposed to compromise. Therefore its strategies for dealing with the marginal nations – with Greece, with the Netherlands, and with Portugal – will be just as important as those strategies for dealing with France and Germany. Ireland is special, in that it shares a land border, and where there remains the possibility of terrorism – even if diminished – from a history all too recent.

Should Britain choose to disproportionately wound Ireland in its exit process – which is likely to happen anyway, but no one is saying they can’t make it worse should they so choose – it may force Ireland to take more seriously those suggestions that its interests are best served outside the European Union, rather that in it. There is some value in arguing that Ireland is better off closer to Britain, America, and large diaspora countries like Australia and Canada. Maybe there’s some evidence of this strategy in Britain’s deliberate provocation in withdrawing from the London Fisheries Convention; compromised fishing is particularly harsh on Ireland. A deal struck with Britain at the right time may also see Ireland outside the EU, but with possible re-unification on the cards. The new world order dawning with the redrawing of the European Map may render such a victory pyrrhic, but there would still be legacy prizes on the table for Irish politicians that would turn some heads.

The big attraction of this strategy for the British is that it plays to the nightmares of European leaders fearful of contagion and breakup for the last ten years. The convulsions of Greece, the trials of Ireland and Portugal, and the fragility of the Euro were all dealt with robustly in the interests of the larger European ideal. If Britain can succeed in forcing Ireland out – or into a position where leaving becomes a real live option – it could reopen the possibility of the breakup of the Euro, and/or the EU itself. That would give Britain much greater leverage in the final negotiations.

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