Far from a done deal
The intriguing suggestion by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
that Scotland could remain in the EU even after a Brexit opens another front in the campaign to ensure that the North of Ireland is not dragged out of Europe.
First Minister Sturgeon’s remarks — underlining again the power of assertion which has been a hallmark of the SNP Government — came after the equally intriguing suggestion by the new British Prime Minister Theresa May that the ‘United Kingdom’ would not leave the EU without the consent of Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland.
All of which demonstrates that Brexit is very far from a done deal.
Evidence is mounting of the calamitous effects of withdrawal from the EU. A downturn is already impacting the British economy with efforts to avert a full-blown recession being led by the new British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.
Expert reports commissioned before the EU Referendum were unanimous in predicting a recession would follow any decision to leave. Additionally, it was predicted by Oxford Economics that this recession would hit the North of Ireland harder and longer.
If the people of the North had voted to go down the economic cul-de-sac of Brexit, the pain and misery of an economic downturn, sure to hit the less well-off disproportionately, might have been considered by some as part of the price to pay for exiting Europe. But the fact is that a clear majority in the North, 56 per cent, voted to Remain.
Respecting that mandate must be the priority for all those who treasure the advances of the peace process.
It’s not just that the North and the border regions have benefited enormously in terms of investment from Europe for the past two decades and more — farm payments alone last year amounted to £266m and half a billion pounds is in the balance in Peace and INTERREG payments from now to 2020.
Undoubtedly, Brexit would be an economic and financial hammerblow to the struggling economy of the North of Ireland.
But more than that, forcing the North out of Europe would irrevocably disrupt the equilibrium of the peace process and set back our efforts to build cross-border and cross-community relationships. None of us can afford to stand mute while that happens.
So to those who suggest the campaign to Remain in Europe is over; let’s be crystal clear. It hasn’t even started.
On a two-day trip to Rathlin this week (my first visit to the island), I caught up with some summer reading in the form of The Immortal Irishman, Timothy Egan’s breathtaking story of Irish revolutionary Thomas Francis Meagher. A man of many parts, each more remarkable than the last, Meagher of the Sword inspired his people to rise against their English overlords during the Great Hunger and was sentenced to death for his troubles. With that sentence commuted, he was exiled to Tazmania but made good his escape to America where he recruited and led the Irish soldiers of the Fighting 69th. The bravery of that band of newly-arrived Irishmen sealed the acceptance of the Irish in their new land — at a heavy price: of 3,000 who followed Meagher to war to end the shame of slavery, only 500 returned. It’s a tremendous story, wonderfully weaved by Timothy Egan. I recommend it highly.