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View from Dublin: Brexit-fed hype over unity just a fantasy

By Brendan Keenan

Everyone else is daydreaming, so why shouldn't I? Just what would the world have to look like for a majority in Northern Ireland to vote to leave the UK and join the Irish Republic and, automatically, the EU?

The answer must be that the Republic would be a prosperous member of a successful Federation of Europe. By contrast, the UK would be mired in deficits and poor growth; cut off from even the EU states which are members of the single market and the customs union with the Federation.

The big attraction for Northern Ireland, as it was for East Germans, would be the superior purchasing power of the euro over sterling. Perhaps, like Germany, they could even have their wages and savings converted to euro at better than the market rate.

Yet even formulating such a scenario shows immediately how implausible it is.

If Britain gets into that much trouble outside the EU, then Ireland will not be far behind. If sterling really did go into a secular decline against the euro, Ireland could well end up in more economic trouble than Britain.

It is plausible that the UK's departure will accelerate a much more integrated eurozone. Whether it would be more successful than the existing arrangements, and whether Ireland would do better - or even as well as it does now - under such a regime is an open question.

It was asked some 30 years ago by Central Bank governor Maurice Doyle, when he controversially said Ireland did not join the European Community to become "the North Dakota of a United States of Europe". It did not turn out that way, but the question remains.

Several buckets of cold water in the last few days should have wakened any daydreamers from their fantasies. There was the endorsement from the Central Bank chief economists of forecasts that a hard Brexit would knock 3% off the Irish economy and cost 40,000 jobs.

The prospect of such an outcome loomed larger following the tough EU negotiating mandate which insists that the residence rights of EU and UK citizens be settled and, crucially, that Britain agrees how much it should pay to cover outstanding liabilities to the EU, before any negotiations on the post-Brexit regime can start.

Then came the comments from commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the damaging leaks about his dinner Theresa May. Mr Juncker is willing to offer only even money on success in the negotiations.

It was a timely, if chilling, reminder that not only will the negotiations be difficult, but that there are those in the EU, as well as in the Conservative Party, who would prefer a hard Brexit to transitional, and then permanent, arrangements which would preserve as much as possible of the present economic structures.

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