No quick cure as Ireland examines Brexit headache
IT’S the economy stupid.
Back in 1992 this simple phrase – promoted originally as an internal slogan to keep Democratic campaign staff on message – became the cornerstone of Bill Clinton’s successful bid to oust George Bush and take the US presidency. Since then the Clinton campaign’s snappy and highly effective mantra has been adopted by politicians across the globe and it has provided the foundation for countless successful political campaigns.
Sadly for Europe it seems the Remain camp in the Brexit campaign mislaid their copy of the Clinton electoral handbook.
Rather than focusing on the effects of Brexit on the British economy and particularly on voters’ wallets – effects which are becoming quickly and painfully apparent to the UK electorate – the Remain campaign allowed themselves to get caught up in a pernicious propaganda war centred on immigration.
Efforts to steer the campaign towards economic issues were lacklustre and utterly failed to capture the public’s imagination, a gross failing on the part of the Remain camp given the Leave side’s woeful grasp of economic issues.
The division between Remain’s leading advocates the Conservative and Labour parties – especially the dismal relationship between outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn – also didn’t help matters.
Instead of a simple and cogent warning about the dangers of Brexit the Remain campaign offered the British electorate garbled, confused and mixed messages.
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage and his ilk on the Leave side were allowed to hammer home their crude anti-immigration mantra. It was a simple message that preyed on public ignorance and fear and which represents the very worst in modern politics.
That Remain allowed it to gain enough traction to win the referendum is a travesty. It is also a disaster for the UK and Europe.
Brave and courageous decisions will need to be taken now and political parties across the continent will need to put common good ahead of their own electoral interests. Whatever happens, the coming months and years will see a massive change in Europe as the EU and the UK negotiate how to disentangle their existing arrangement and forge a workable new one.
In this context Ireland finds itself in an unfortunate predicament.
As an EU member – and one that relies on the good graces of the EU more than most – Ireland cannot afford to alienate itself from other members in order to ingratiate ourselves with our soon-to-be non-EU neighbours.
To avoid a domino effect of countries abandoning the EU the union must take a tough stance with the UK. A sweetheart deal that would allow Britain keep the benefits of membership while not being part of the Union will not be on offer.
In the coming talks between the EU and the UK, Ireland must support our fellow members and fight for the future of the Union. However, as one it is of Ireland’s most important trading partners and given the myriad of issues surrounding the North we also cannot afford to alienate the UK.
Enda Kenny and his government – who are in a remarkably weak political position – face a most difficult task in navigating this tricky European tightrope. Lets hope they have a head for heights.