At a social setting, in a ski lodge high in the mountains of Norway recently, I was cornered by a group of locals who wanted me to try and explain what the British wanted by leaving the European Union.
Why did they want out so badly? Why not reach a deal? Why not stay in the customs union? Why not be like Norwegians? They enjoy the benefit of free movement of goods, services and people, profit by their close relations with the EU, but are only members of the wider European Economic Area that includes Iceland and Lichtenstein as well as the current 28 members of the EU.
I have lived with Brexit for the past four years. I know its every nuance, comma, detail, article and vote inside out, but I still could not answer the questions of why and what Britons want. And the reality now is that Britons themselves do not know what they want. Only now, with a series of indicative votes in the House of Commons, is there any clear picture beginning to emerge as to what they want. Everything that has gotten us to this point at the top of a deep economic, social, political and indeed existential abyss has been about what Britons don’t want.
The Norwegians are a very practical people.
They possess the world’s richest sovereign wealth fund, standing at more than $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion), yet still pay high taxes on their incomes, services and goods. Essentially, every penny taken from North Sea oil revenues has been invested into a national rainy day fund.
Threatened by Brexit
Those North Sea oilfields were discovered and developed jointly with the British. And mostly, every penny that the Brits received in revenues went on security costs in Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles’.
That dark chapter in Anglo-Irish history saw some 3,600 killed, another 36,000 injured and ended only with the Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998. It allowed for a power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland between Unionists and Nationalists, guaranteeing the Republic of Ireland and Westminster a joint say in how the province should be governed. And because of that, peace flourished, the border was wiped away, and north and south became economically, socially and culturally united.
That peace dividend is being threatened by Brexit. That economic prosperity is being undermined by Brexit. Those cultural ties are being eroded by Brexit.
But it’s not just the border and peace that is being threatened by Brexit. Earlier this week, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) — it’s the most well-respected non-political think tank in Ireland — issued its updated report of the economic impact of Brexit on Ireland, looking at a deal or no-deal scenario.
Because of the insanity of British voters, their myopic vision and their belief in the lies fed to them by the Leave campaign, they will inflict economic shock waves on the people of Ireland, on their paycheques, on their businesses, on their national economy, and on their government.
So far, Europe has cost Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David cameron their jobs in 10 Downing Street. Theresa May may be next.
Right now, if there’s a Brexit with a deal, there will be a €1.8 billion (Dh7.4 billion) hit to the Irish economy this year. If it’s a no-deal crash out, that soars to €7.5 billion this year alone. Ten years from now, when the full madness of this hare-brained scheme will be fully known, the Irish economy with be either 2.6 per cent smaller if there’s an orderly Brexit, 4.8 per cent smaller if there’s a no-deal Brexit, or 5 per cent smaller if there’s a disorderly no-deal Brexit.
In today’s money terms, the hit over the next 10 years will be somewhere between €50 billion and €100 billion. And we don’t even know now, on what was supposed to be the Brexit day of March 29 set in stone two years ago when British Prime Minister Theresa May gave notice under Article 50, if, how, when or what Brexit will look like.
In the worst case scenario, 80,000 people in Ireland will lose their jobs. That means fewer people to pay income tax, increasing the already high strain on everyone else. That means so many children forced into childhood poverty. It means a whole new generation of bright, educated Irish people booking flights to America, the UAE, Australia and New Zealand. It means a new diaspora spread to the corners of the world. It was the Great Famine of 1845-1847 that sent the Irish overseas in droves. This time around, it will be a famine of ignorance spawned in London.
Brexit means Brexit? Codswallop. This is what Brexit means, to the Irish anyway. Now imagine what it will be like to the Brits.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe