Could the British decision to leave the EU be the best one they’ve ever made? Alternatively, could it herald in an era which they will live to bitterly regret?
For those who view Brexit in a positive light, will it deliver the opportunities in employment, in exports, in savings, in economic growth and prosperity that many hope and anticipate it will?
After decades spent, confined under the shelter of an EU umbrella, could Brexit prove to be the stimulus that Britain seeks to get it moving in a positive direction? It’s a thought that few are willing to endorse, one that fewer still seem willing to believe.
But what if it turns out to be true?
What if Britain does come alive, free of the constraints that EU membership imposes? What consequences would such an outcome have for Ireland?
From Ireland’s viewpoint, what if post-Brexit Britain flourishes in its newfound freedom? More importantly, what if its path to progress leads it to conclude trade deals with countries for goods and services we currently supply?
Is Britain about to attend a party at which Ireland too should be a distinguished guest, but whose name does not appear on the invitation list?
Are we prepared for this possibility and any outcome that might follow from it?
In the way that balm is designed to soothe, we are assured that matters are in hand; that Ministers are hard at work; that Ireland has lots of friends in Europe; and that ours is a country that punches well above its weight around the EU table.
But, dare we place our faith in such assurances?
With Britain’s train now about to leave the EU station, departing for a destination that some believe should be ours also, will we be able, on our own, to plan a successful future for ourselves if Britain’s doors are no longer open to us in the way they once were?
Alone, as the only remaining English speaking nation, will we be able to protect and promote Ireland’s interests surrounded, as we will be, by a diverse group of foreign nations with which we have so little in common, historically, culturally and linguistically?
If one believes that Ireland’s long-term interests are best served by staying close to Britain; by not allowing too big a gap to grow between us; have we placed ourselves in a good position or is there lots more work that we should do?
If it is their priority to agree new trade deals with the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, other Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries, should we be travelling alongside them on that path?
Knowing that Britain is our single largest trading partner, how might our interest be best served by not staying close to them? For the interest of Ministers and other opinion formers, there are actions we might profitably consider:
We should voice friendly words of understanding and best wishes for the action they are taking – words of a kind one would expect to receive from a friendly neighbour.
We should appoint a top notch (all-party) group of negotiators and open high level discussions with Britain concerning our shared future interests rather than wait for any EU bureaucrat to do our work for us.
We should make clear our desire to maintain an even closer relationship with them, even by concluding an overarching Anglo Irish Agreement that would take account of our new situation – one that would embrace our wider sphere of interests and transcend any that our EU membership would permit us to make.
We should reveal our interest in being party to any North Atlantic trading arrangement as might be agreed.
Mindful of a view once expressed by a leading member of Dáil Éireann: that Ireland should consider rejoining the Commonwealth, we should seek to develop deeper trading links with countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India, and those numerous African, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, Central and South American nations where the need exists for products and services that Ireland and Britain could so well provide.
Contrary to popular opinion, many are of the view that a brave new world exists beyond the EU – one that Britain will soon have the motivation to explore. Were Ireland to become so minded, would our future interests be best served by seeking to accompany them on their journey by whatever means can be agreed?
It’s a question for which we have little more than one year to find an answer.