Source: Government sets out its Brexit priorities (1)

Source: Government sets out its Brexit priorities (1)

Over the last nine months we have gradually realised more and more ramifications of Brexit, but mapping the full extent of the impact is extremely challenging. The government has decided to have a go in a 24-page document issued in time for the ministerial diaspora to St Patrick’s Day events around the world: “Brexit: Ireland’s Priorities.” Threats come under four broad headings:

  • Brexit could damage the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
  • Brexit could impede trade and the economy
  • Brexit could inhibit the Common Travel Area
  •  Brexit could weaken the EU and/or Irish influence in it

The report repeats the well-worn mantra: “It is a matter of vital national interest for Ireland that we do not return to the days of a hard border or create a new one in the future.” It notes that there are almost 1.9 million cars crossing the border per month, which reinforces our suspicion that the figure most frequently quote for cross-border commuters – 30,000 – must be on the low side.

The report squares up to the great dichotomy in the Irish economy: on the one hand, the international hi-tech and pharma sector exporting globally; on the other, indigenous industries highly dependent on agri-food which is in its turn highly dependent on the UK market. 13.9% of our exports in goods and 19.4% of our exports in services went to the UK in 2015. Food and live animals made up just 9% of all goods exported, but almost half (45.6%) of exports in this sector went to the UK. More than 80% of the goods produced by individual firms in the agri‑food sector are exported to the UK.

The report does not dwell on our vulnerability in this area, which is very great. There is no other food market in the world like Britain, a country of 60 million which is only about 60% self-sufficient in food. We have been feeding the industrial cities of Britain for two centuries: we export over 90% of the beef we produce of which two-thirds goes to the UK.  The chances of any other market taking our beef on anything like that scale are extremely thin.

Ireland has been described as an island behind an island: About 80% of goods exports are transported to or through the UK.  About 60% of our trade in goods in and out of Dublin Port goes to or from the UK, while 46.5% of international commercial flight arrivals into Ireland arrive from the UK. There is more than one hard border threat.