by Frank Schnittger
Thu May 11th, 2017 at 07:04:39 PM EST
Nigel Farage has always had a good sense of timing, retiring from the leadership of UKIP three times to avoid some shit storm or other. However far from retiring from politics, he has been indulging in his favourite pastime: causing trouble for political establishments wherever he can. His latest venture is to try to persuade Ireland to throw in its lot with the UK and leave the EU.
Comparing the UK's vote for Brexit in 2016 with Ireland's Easter rising against British rule in 1916 is a bit crass, given the loss of life involved in sundering a colonial relationship with the British Empire. As noted by one letter writer to the Irish Times:
Would anybody really dare to equate throwing off violent and systematic oppression - from the British Empire, no less - to the completely peaceful and legally regulated process of withdrawing from the EU? All I can say here is that there was no such thing as an "article 50" for any of Britain's colonies.
And as noted by another letter writer:
The Easter Rising of 1916 was indeed a strike for national freedom but, under the influence of Roger Casement, it was also an action in sympathy with Germany and "European civilisation". Casement is the father of Irish foreign policy and his writings on the diplomatic machinations that led to the Great War gave the 1916 leaders their orientation in international affairs. This is expressed in the sacred script of Irish nationalism, the Proclamation, in the reference to "gallant allies in Europe".
However undeterred by such trifling distinctions in our histories, Farage paints the British Irish relationship in honeyed hues:
Nigel Farage: Ireland should remember who its real friends are when Brexit comes
It is beyond doubt that the relations between Ireland and Great Britain are in the best shape they have been for over a century. Ties of language, family, history, free trade and free travel bind us together irrespective of any external factors such as the European Union.
Farmers, businesses and small traders do 1 billion worth of trade with the United Kingdom every week. So it is clearly in the interests of the Irish and British public that this free trade, travel and close relations continue and grow into the future. It is patently obvious that both Irish and British politicians want this situation to continue because it is mutually beneficial.
In 2009-2012, cheap credit of the euro currency and the mass migration of cheap labour from eastern Europe gave Ireland an almighty boom and bust. Who was Ireland's friend at this devastating juncture?
While Britain immediately offered Ireland a sizeable interest-free loan, the EU on the other hand, unfairly imposed a 64 billion Franco-German bank debt on the Irish taxpayer.
Incredibly, this imposition from the EU happened with the collusion of Irish politicians who justified it by saying they were "taking one for the team". Many of Ireland's political class believe in putting the interests of the European Union above the interests of their own people.
The improved relations between Ireland and the UK which Farage describes have come about mainly as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, which recognised the right of Nationalists in the North to express their Irish identity and have it granted "parity of esteem" with the British identity espoused by unionists. It is this parity of esteem which has now been put at risk by Brexit, which denies Northern Irishmen and women their right to the European citizenship aspects of their Irish citizenship.
It is also Brexit which threatens to undermine the close trading relationships between Ireland and the UK, and not the EU, Single Market, and Customs Union the UK now wants to leave. The mass immigration from Eastern Europe helped enrich the Irish economy and society, and cannot be blamed for the crash which followed. The loan from the UK, welcome as it was, was anything but interest free, and specifically given to avoid difficulties at UK banks exposed to Irish debt.
Yes, overly cheap credit brought about by Germany's need to recover from the costs of re-unification led, in part, to the boom and bust Farage describes, but the Euro remains relatively popular in Ireland - tied as we were, for so many years, to Sterling, when we didn't have even a token representative on the Board of the Bank of England to represent our interests.
The 20 year experiment in running our own currency, the Irish Punt, (from 1978-1998), was a period marked by relatively high inflation, interest rates and currency volatility which imposed currency exchange costs and risks on the Irish economy. The ability of even a medium sized hedge fund or bank to game the currency meant that it's value often didn't reflect the fundamental strengths and needs of the Irish economy either.
So yes, Mr. Farage, the EU and particularly the Euro has its problems, but we are not about to re-join what is left of the British empire in a reprise of our previous subjugated role. Many of the problems we will face in the future are being created, not resolved by Brexit and we value the market access, social solidarity and political support provided by the EU more than the often benighted relationship we had with the UK.
We are proud that we are now a net contributor to the EU because that reflects the relative economic success our membership has helped us achieve. 88% of Irish people want to remain within the EU and 81% think the UK is wrong to leave. Yes a very small minority have always been against Irish EU membership but the vast majority, including even those like Sinn Fein who were initially opposed, now support continued membership. David McWilliams, a noted contrarian, is almost the sole prominent public commentator currently even entertaining the idea of "Irexit".
You have the gall to say:
The EU is being stupidly provocative by interfering in the excellent relationship between Britain and Ireland. Its crude attempt to hamper Brexit risks fanning the flames of political violence over the Border and its constitutional settlement in Ireland. Nobody with any sense in either Britain or Ireland wants that to happen. The EU should butt out.
When it is you and Brexit which risks causing these problems. Yes, Mr. Farage, we know who our real friends are, and you were never among them. It's time you butted out.