You’ll all probably know that the “NewStatesman” is an influential magazine of some 100 years’ longevity, having what it likes to call a left -of -centre feel to its politics and is the kind of magazine that has attracted writers and thinkers of the intellectual calibre and political heft of the late Christopher Hitchens and the virtuosity of Martin Amis during its time.Not a lightweight by any means then, so maybe worth giving more than just a slight glance and a moment of our thoughts. According to the “NewStatesman”, the Brexit vote to leave the EU could be a real game-changer for Northern Ireland. I asked myself what do they know that the rest of us haven’t really been told in any kind of detail.
“We are now plausibly witnessing the beginning of the end of Northern Ireland .Not least because the economics of leaving the EU are so utterly disasterous for it”.
That’s what you might call a very bold statement.In March , earlier this year ,Northern Ireland’s Department Of Enterprise, Trade and Investment apparently calculated that the risks of Brexit would be much more serious for Northern Ireland than for the anywhere in Britain.Britain’s economic losses on exit will be measured at something like 0.1-4 percent of GDP but for Northern Ireland those increases will be up to 5.6 per cent.
I can’t claim to be an economist so figures like that would need to be examined by someone more expert than myself. I’m just an observer like most of us , attempting to filter through all the arguments and cross-currents like the rest.The NewStatesman’s line is that if “Britain catches a cold on exit from the EU…Northern Ireland will be saddled with the flu”.
Now I know that many people think that when they have a bad cold , they’ll say and think they’ve got “the flu” and that they’ll be okay after a day or so with a few Lemsips and be back in harness before Bob’s Your Uncle. The reality is, that any of us who have been unfortunate enough to get the flu ,know that it is not simply a case of a runny nose and a few sneezes. Any of us who have really had “the flu” know that it starts with a fever and maybe even mad feverish dreams ,followed possibly by maybe a week or more of aching pains, possibly huge weight loss, shivering , shaking limbs ; a time of chattering teeth ,spent foetus-like, curled in a bed that refuses to warm up… and maybe even the notion that you should crawl out onto the nearest road and end it all….If you could struggle out of that bed, that is.Some people even die from flu which is why they hand out injections to pensioners hoping to avoid it . I have had many head-colds but the flu has thankfully only visited me twice in this past sixty years and I’m in no hurry to become re-acquainted anytime soon.
So what happens if Northern Ireland gets the flu, as the NewStatesman has said?
It’s reckoned that even if Theresa May eventually manages to harness a team of economists to negotiate access into the single market(which will still involve freedom of movement of people), the immediate loss of all that re-generation loot that has been pouring into this place, allowing us to gentrify Belfast and the many towns across the land with new buildings , footpaths, leisure centres and the rest… and also the loss of all those agricultural grants and subsidies that farmers have gotten used to and have relied on for this past forty years…will all be too much for the fledgling executive to actually deal with.Well …let’s face a few facts….. they are still at the toddler stage of development and still have a propensity for throwing their toys out of the pram and playroom.Let me just remind you here of Peter Robinson’s “Hokey Cokey” strategy of only a few mere months ago .” Who’s Peter Robinson?” , you might ask. I know …it seems like a very long time ago now , but you could simply google “Peter Robinson/Hokey Cokey” and you’ll probably get a refresher course on the level of political play that went on only mere political days ago .These are the people who are going to manage our financial affairs outside of the EU, remember. Do you believe they will be capable, especially when the Brexit vote has only minority support locally?
The Assembly’s enterprise committee commissioned a report that showed how Northern Ireland received £2.4 billion from the EU between 2007 and 2013.They also declared that continuing funding deals up until 2020 were a central and necessary plank in the building of economic and innovation strategies.Here we are in 2016 , with our hand on the door-handle …in the process of slamming that door.
It was Doctor Leslie Budd of the Open University who argued that an exit from the EU would damage Northern Ireland as an entry route into the single market, because transaction trading costs into the EU would rapidly rise and complicate economic co-operation with the Irish Republic.The Northern Ireland Executive’s plans to harmonise tax rates with the nearby republic have been thrown into dissarray too. This, they hoped to sort out by 2018 to make them a leaner competitor with the south for foreign investment. This is now very much up in the air.In fact it is so far up in the air as to be in orbit for a very long time.
The main thing to consider, is of course, that without all that lovely EU loot flowing in, the only parish pump to carry our buckets to will be the British Exchequer, where all eyes, across the land ,will now swivel as one , given that it is the only cash cow left in town. It will become the mother’s teat, much to the horror of the English tax-payers who’ll want all that precious milk for themselves. Northern Ireland already knows where it stands in the UK pecking order (that would be at the very back-end of public consciousness)and the English tax-payer could very easily give us short shrift….. if they care at all.They could very easily soon get on their high -horses again and demand another referendum to abandon Northern Ireland to its own devices.That’s the kind of mood that gave us the situation we now have.If they demanded or were asked to vote “yes” or “no” on a Brexit for Northern Ireland, how do you think that might pan out? We are a low wage economy here already , with only half the disposable income that the average person in England or Wales has. Put bluntly …for every £100 we have in our pockets in Northern Ireland , they have £200 in England….and still they think they are badly put -upon.My daughter claims that everything is more expensive in England…and that’s the reason but I’ve a notion that we have more less well-paid jobs.She also claims that her firm has already taken huge financial losses in wake of the Brexit vote and there is much fear in the financial sector.
Allayed against these fears there’s the previously unthinkable notion of the real financial benefits of possibly joining up with the Republic of Ireland, as an all-new economic unit.We’re not talking about “Home-Rule is Rome Rule ” anymore now. This is not 1916 …it’s not even 1970… and Ireland is a very different place . Even the ranting Ian Paisley, of old , might see the sense in that now and improbably his son has been heard encouraging supporters to invest in that all important Irish( EU )passport , because …well they’re entitled as Irish citizens.Frankly , that kind of talk would have been unheard of a few years ago. It would have been fiction.The university of Columbia in an academic study has added some grist to the mill ,by pragmatically concluding that if Ireland re-united as before ,but distinct from Britain, it could produce 36 billion Euros in the first eight years …and of course Northern Ireland would accrue substantial benefits wholly disproportionate to its size.There is , in other words, a clear economic solution emerging which is actually only being stymied by some stuck- inside- the box political conservatism in Northern Ireland. The politics could actually be getting in the way of our possible economic salvation.I wonder will these thoughts ever be publicly discussed.
In a nutshell it appears to be unionism’s inability, as a group mind, to see beyond ancient grievances and some quite conservative notions of a strange ,separate “identity” that might not allow them to see and think outside of that box and that lack of economic pragmatism and indifference to newer visionary and less-entrenched notions, might actually be their downfall.Their sense of “unionism” might be better applied in another direction entirely.They prefer not to consider even the notion of a change in the constitutional position and because there is an obvious British/unionist veto enshrined within the Good Friday Agreement, on even the idea of a border referendum ,until they gain the ability to see beyond those present narrow parameters , they might be of a mind to go sinking down into a pauper’s grave of their own making , just …on principle, I suppose. The problem is that they’ll take the majority who voted to stay within the EU and who might want a better fiscal rescue, down that pipe with them….a sort of mass political suicide.
Of course , it’s early days yet and things move devilishly slow in this place in any case, compared to the rest of the world, so we might not even know yet that this could very well be tha very start of a whole new way of looking at life….of looking at Ireland, even . Much will depend on just how far down we might sink here before a better way might be considered .It might take a few years for the penny to drop. I ‘m no seer like Cassandra or Nostradamus and as I said earlier , what I know about economics could be incised on the head of a pin …..but others know that little bit more than me and they have their own notions.some of them just might be worth looking at.
I know that it’s better to take an optimistic view of our future, rather than to wallow in pessimism ,but I have a notion that many more farmers will be considering their futures now and the viability of their chosen life .For many reasons they claimed previously that they were getting it hard enough in the past and suicide was high in that sphere. This Brexit vote has destabilised many people ideas of security , much as the Wall Street Crash did in the 20th Century where people threw themselves from skyscraper windows.Lives were destroyed then and there is a similar pessimism afoot. Then again , there are those of us who have experienced life in this place before membership of the EU was a fact of life and how being part of it had actually pulled us from a very grubby past into a brighter present. Maybe we’d have gotten to this point anyway without ithe EU…but I doubt it very much . It makes me wonder though, just for one example, how many farmers in Northern Ireland actually voted to leave that security of the EU at all .If there were figures available , they might just make interesting reading.