So, with Brexit still on the table we need to think about how we in Ireland are going to reorient ourselves from the UK. The UK seems set for a harder than a softer brexit. Recall that some of the chief ideologues in the brexit camp see a race to the bottom of regulation (including health and safety) as a desirable thing. So we may find that things are either less easily imported (tariff and non tariff barriers) or impossible (deemed unsafe or unhealthy) Whether willingly or not, we are going to have to move further away from our close relationship. Some suggestions below, with plenty to annoy everyone. Note : to forestall the inevitable screams, noting issues does not, necessarily, imply suggesting them as options. Nothing, we are told, should be off the table. So, heres some ideas to spark debate.
1: We should join Schengen.
When the UK leaves we will be the only EU country that is neither in or legally required to join Schengen. The argument for not being in Schengen has always been that we are in a joint travel area with the UK, which requires us to mirror their migration controls. With the UK leaving the EU however and “taking back control” does it make sense anymore to have us tied to a 50m population base for free travel when we could be tied to one of 450m? The benefits to tourism and third country visitors are enormous. The downside is that the common travel area might lapse but the reality is that this is simply a visa free travel arrangement, and the overwhelming likelihood of post Brexit land is that EU and UK citizens will be allowed visa free travel. Common work areas are separate from Schengen. So, why not join Schengen? On a smaller level – right now when we travel to any EU destination we often are in a non-schengen but EU section in an airport. This is in effect, given the numbers, a “Britain plus others” section. With the UK travellers now going to the NonEU section, how long will these segregations last? What sort of facilities will we see, what sort of facilitation? We have about 300k Irish citizens living in the UK and about 150k living overseas in the EU. This ratio will shift towards the EU.
2: Lets switch sides
We import a lot of cars from the UK, given we drive on the right. Well, with the UK car industry going to decline, and with the quality of UK cars vs continental already poor, with the reality that as the UK drifts to a lower regulation system, might we not wish to consider a switch? Left hand drive cars would be cheaper, of higher quality and would be drivable in the EU as they would meet their requirements, something of which there is no guarantee will pertain for UK safety spec cars in the EU post Brexit. Before we all fall about the place laughing, countries have changed sides. Sweden did it , safely, in 1967, Iceland in 1968, Samoa in 2009. This can be done.
3: Learn German
While English will remain, for the foreseeable future, the linga franca of the world, a EU without the UK will be less anglophile and Anglophone. Irish migrants seeking work might wish to consider Germany for work over the UK. To that end, might we wish to consider making german a compulsory language for school. Start at age ten and have a process whereby it is focused on giving students a command of the language sufficient to engage in day to day commercial and social activities. Have by all means a separate literature and Kultur stream for those so interested.
Ok, the british style plugs are perhaps the safest in the world, and as a parent I am all for safety. However, with the prospect of Brexit making standards looser not to mind making things more difficult to actually get, might we wish to consider moving to the europlug? It is actually well within living memory when we moved from round pin to square pin sockets.
5: Seal the border?
The land border between the EU and Britain will run through the island of Ireland. The mood of the UK government is still towards leaving the Customs Union and while technology can do a lot, it doesnt protect the border. Sealing the border is often seen as an impossible task. However, the impossibility is undoubtedly political, social, perhaps economic, surely cultural. It is not technical. The border is a shade under 500km. There are border walls and berms and fences of that length and more than that worldwide – The Indian-Bangladesh border is five times longer, that of Hungary-Serbia some 200km, and over 1000km of the US-Mexican border is fenced and wired. So, the decision not to “properly” seal is not technical. This will be the external border of the EU. As such it will have to be less permeable than now. Its a question of how permeable we wish to allow it be.