Hard Brexit will isolate nationalists, warns John Bruton

Posted By: January 17, 2017

Juno McEnroe. Irish Examiner.Cork. Saturday, January 7, 2017

Former Taoiseach John Bruton has warned a hard Brexit will leave nationalists in the North isolated and cause difficulties. However, he said it was dangerous to talk about violent repercussions from Brexit.

He also believes Ireland can take advantage of Britain’s exit by trying to poach business, specifically asset-management firms. However, a specific strategy was needed to target firms, he said. In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr. Bruton said it was preferable that Britain held a second referendum on leaving the EU, as a lot of British had voted thinking “nothing serious” would change.

A post-Brexit Britain-EU trade deal could also take ten years, Mr. Bruton said, agreeing with recent comments by a British envoy to Brussels.

“That’s going to be so complex it will take years. The Canadian agreement as we know took six or seven years. It was relatively simple. I think that’s [10 years] probably the right ball park.”

However, the best hope was that British might hold a second referendum on whether to stay in the EU, said Mr. Bruton.

“My hope is that when the British people and the British Parliament look under the bonnet that has been carrying all of us forward for the last 40 years reasonably successfully and discovers that dismantling this engine is a lot more complicated than they thought and they thought after this dismantlement they thought the car mightn’t move at all.

“They will consider reconsidering their decision. This is something that will only happen once all the evidence is in. My own sense is a lot of people in Britain and certainly more than 4% of the electorate which is what would be needed to change their opinion, more or less, voted for leave on the assumption that they can vote to leave but really nothing serious will change in an adverse way,” he said.

He agreed it was a protest vote and also “a statement of British identity.”

However, Mr. Bruton thinks a hard Brexit, looking more likely now, would have repercussions for the nationalist community in the North. European Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt recently warned of a return to violence in the North because of Brexit.

Mr. Bruton said such talk was wrong, but a hard Brexit with changes may hurt nationalists. “I don’t think we should talk about the possibility of violence because that can be a dangerous thing.

“The harder the Brexit the greater the sense of isolation of the nationalist minority in Northern Ireland,” he said.

Ireland could capitalize on Brexit by attracting certain businesses, but through targeted strategies, said the former chair of IFSC Ireland, a body promoting financial services here.

Advantages for firms moving here included English-speaking workers, common laws, a young and international labor force, good air links and connections to the US, Mr. Bruton said.