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Brexit and the Wild Boars

Jul 20, 2018

The recent rescue of the Wild Boars football team and their coach from a flooded underground cave in the Chiang Rai province of Thailand was a triumph of teamwork, patience and humility, and demonstrated the extraordinary benefits of international co-operation.

Theresa May had her own rescue challenge and it proved impossible for her to deliver the long-awaited Brexit White Paper without the loss of two of her senior team members.

The UK position outlined in the White Paper is definitely on the softer side of Brexit. It proposes a free trade area between the UK and EU based on a ‘common rule book’ for goods, including agriculture and fisheries, with a new Facilitated Customs Arrangement (FCA). The paper also proposed a loosened services arrangement with the possibility of reciprocal access to financial markets. It even envisaged an ongoing participation in certain EU agencies.

The EU response has been cautious and has publicly advised member states to step up contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit. Privately, the EU negotiators must be pleased that they finally have a stated UK position which can provide the basis for negotiations. Manufacturers in the EU and UK now have a glimpse into the Brexit-future and can contemplate a trade-friendly, frictionless border.

However, with the UK proposing to end passporting, the future for those in the huge UK services sector is less clear.

The compromise position outlined in the White Paper has been a bitter pill for many Brexiteers to swallow. It does not provide for complete sovereignty and even contemplates the UK contributing to EU institutions post Brexit- a form of taxation without representation. For these Brexiteers, there is at least the tantalising prospect of an emboldened UK striking out and forging new trade deals with the rest of the world. Donald Trump’s extraordinary claim that the UK’s Brexit approach will kill off any possibility of a UK/US trade deal illustrates the potential treachery of this fragile optimism.

The latest round of negotiations between Michel Bernier have resumed and the new Brexit Minister Dominic Raab (who will have the vassalage and colonial accusations ringing in his ears). With Raab's commitment to “vim, vigour and energy”, there is at least the possibility of a negotiated deal and the prospect of an orderly transition period.

Many in Ireland and the EU are still clinging to the prospect of a second vote. It’s possible, of course, given the fragile Commons arithmetic and Jeremy Corbyn’s ambivalence towards the Brexit project. However, the UK does not have a history of re-running referendums and clings to their long, determined history of ‘just getting on with it’, leaving us with the possibility of the anarchic, crash and burn, no deal, exit scenario.

What, then, is business to do in the midst of this continuing uncertainty? It must ignore the hyperbole, carry on with its Brexit preparations and explore new markets and supply chains. It must get good at innovation and numbers. There is financial support and advice available from state agencies, including Enterprise Ireland; it’s time to utilise them.

The true meaning of Brexit has yet to be revealed. All we can say for sure is that things will be different and perhaps the outcome will ultimately be that of the Wild Boars' rescue – pooling our resources and devising the best plan possible to make a disaster into a success.

Eamon Murphy is a member in business.