Buoyant Irish convinced no-deal Brexit would be worse for UK

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A long line of woolly alpacas tread carefully through damp verdant undergrowth, before tottering over a tiny wooden bridge spanning a babbling stream.

But the good-natured ruminants aren’t being herded by some Peruvian farmer – these are the leafy hills of Co Wicklow and each animal is led by an excited millennial, Generation Z-er, or parent…all eager to snap enough selfies before the post-trek prosecco is broken out.

Image: K2 Alpacas is thriving as the Irish economy grows

K2 Alpacas is exactly the kind of business that’s thriving in the fast-growing Irish economy, dependant on high levels of disposable income and, with no marketing, driven entirely by social media engagement.

Its owner, Joe Phelan, tells us he’s worried that a hard Brexit could hit the number of British tourists coming to Co Wicklow, but remains upbeat.

“We’ve quite a few UK visitors alright,” he says. “But today we’ve customers from 11 different countries.”

“They love these guys,” he says, gesturing towards an alpaca named Suffolk, who has just sneezed a mouthful of half-chewed vegetation over one of the parents.

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The backstop explained

But there’s no getting away from the dire predictions that a hard Brexit will hit the Irish economy hard.

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Latest projections from the Department of Finance show a potential reduction in Irish economic growth of 4.5% in the medium term, with a 2% increase in unemployment. In real terms? Up to 55,000 fewer Irish people would be in a job by 2023.

Why then are the Irish not putting pressure on their government to make some form of concession on the backstop – the by-now familiar term for the insurance policy contained in the Withdrawal Agreement – to help Theresa May ratify the deal?

In our new Sky Data polling, an overwhelming 79% of those canvassed in the Republic of Ireland think the Irish government should hold out on the backstop, even if it risks a no-deal Brexit on 29 March.

Just 7% think they should prioritise avoiding a no-deal Brexit, even if it means no legal guarantee against a hard border.

So why this bullishness? Simply put, many feel that a hard Brexit may be bad for Ireland, but it could be a lot worse for the UK.

Theresa May speaks with business representatives at Allstate in Belfast on her Brexit plans
Hard border: ‘I will not let that happen’

David McWilliams is one of the country’s best-known economists. He thinks that a no-deal Brexit could be a golden opportunity for Ireland to attract far more foreign direct investment (FDI).

“What the Brits have done is really stupid,” he starts off in typically forthright language.

“The world is revolving so quickly that nobody cares whether the UK gets this right or not. We in Ireland obviously have a bigger exposure culturally, linguistically and historically, geographically to them.

“But ultimately we should use this opportunity to enhance our brand as a globalised place to do business. And if they want to go down some sort of nationalist rathole…off they go.”

His view is reflected in the Sky Data polling too, albeit more subtly.

Some 83% of Irish people think Brexit will be bad for the UK if no deal is agreed, compared with 73% who think it will be bad for their own country.

But of course, it would be a mistake to think Irish concerns about a no-deal Brexit are purely fiscal.

Labour MP Kate Hoey
Hoey: Border ‘doesn’t have to be a big issue’

As Helen McEntee, the Minister for European Affairs, tells us in her office in Government Buildings, she doesn’t think public support for the government’s stance will erode, because of the peace process.

“The Irish people won’t want us to compromise on the Good Friday Agreement,” she replies, when asked why she thinks playing hardball on the backstop is proving popular.

And so, when Theresa May flies into Dublin this evening for her dinner date with the Taoiseach, she will be met warmly, but with resolution.

The Irish government has been buoyed by a rock-solid display of pan-European support in recent days.

As the Sky Data poll clearly shows, the Irish are simply in no mood to compromise on the treasured backstop.


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