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Brexit equivalent to reunification of Ireland? Don’t think so. November 3, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Another week, another missive from Newton Emerson on Brexit. And as always he paints even the worst possible outcomes in a rather rosy light…

Brexit may well be a calamity, but it is hardly the end of the world. Expert assessments of its worst-case scenario are strikingly similar to unification’s likeliest scenario, namely, a decade or so of recession, confusion, disruption and argument, followed by a return to the long-term growth trend.

Actually that’s not the worst possible outcome. The worst possible outcome some have proposed is the UK sidelined permanently internationally economically and in other respects, suffering from much lower rates of growth than its neighbours and – of course, the fragmentation of the UK itself (some of this we may see as a positive. It is unlikely that Emerson would agree).

But note that reference to unity of this island for this is his latest tack. But what is telling is how he continues to cherry pick and compare like with unlike. For example:

There will still be victims: Brexit looks hopeless for farming and food processing, while Hübner anticipates that there may be thousands of public sector job losses in the North.
However, the dislocation would be nothing on the scale of Latvia’s near-overnight loss of a fifth of its GDP in 2008, to cite another example nationalists missed. Roughly the size of Northern Ireland and suffering a loss similar to Belfast’s subsidy from London, Latvia fully recovered within five years.

But the obvious problem with that analysis is that a recession is not identical to leaving a political/cultural/social bloc. That, at least to this point, states can ‘recover’ from recessions (though as we also know power and wealth seem to concentrate ever more, at least in this period). Whereas Brexit is – and this he ignores completely, a complete rupture across many many more areas. There’s no status quo ante to return to, it’s not simply measured by returning to this or that level of GDP.

Perhaps for him this can be waved away, but it is in the next part that I think the wheels come off.

This is merely comparing the economic experiences of Brexit and unification. That comparison is important because the Scottish independence campaign has shifted the Irish debate firmly on to these grounds.

This may be news to him, but once more there is no comparison. The Brexit of the UK, a major global economy and the reunification of this island – a not so major global economy, whether north or south or collectively, are two completely different phenomena. And a managed process of reunification (and it’s not unknown by the way, or unprecedented, we’ve seen reunification’s in our lifetime) which could take years, more likely decades, and with sufficient financial and constitutional safeguards to cushion shocks both economic and political as against a process of departure of two… count ’em, two years, is once again simply not comparable with a Brexit that is as absurdly rapid as it is comprehensive. Moreover there are already congruences and convergences on this island that can be built on. It would constitute a rupture in some respects but it would relatively straightforward to minimise same (and I can’t see reunification not retaining some north east/east political links into the medium or long term, perhaps – for example – some representation in a UK representative body).

Small wonder given this glaring problem that he’s off musing about irrelevancies.

But in the end, is money really a decisive factor in something as profound as national identity? The Republic went through boom and bust without allegiances notably changing either way. Northern Ireland has been on economic life support since the 1970s, but unionist convictions have not faltered.

Who said they had? But that’s an interesting point he raises for first the population of Northern Ireland (and Scotland) voted to Remain and its wishes have been disregarded, and those who voted for Remain in the UK as a whole (and not a small minority as the Tories rule subsequent would attempt to suggest) have seen themselves and their concerns neatly sidelined. There are those of us who would argue there’s a lesson in there both about identity and democracy in the constituent parts of the UK and it rather makes the supposed democratic wishes of the population of NI seems – well, contingent.

And then there’s this:

Perhaps what Brexit can best provide to the nationalist cause is the lived experience of constitutional uncertainty without the sky falling in.
We are already witnessing a whirl of political flux and speculation across Britain and Ireland that makes the Belfast Agreement look like a minor matter of local government reform and the Anglo-Irish Agreement look like the convening of a sub-committee.

Here I think we run slap bang into another of the contradictory aspects of his analysis. Either such speculation and political flux is accurate in which case his implicit line of ‘not a bother this Brexit thing, stop complaining’ is incorrect, or it’s not. If the latter why bring it up. And so simultaneously while downplaying Brexit he – in a way – seems to be playing up the problems of reunification.

Yet both parties [SF and the SDLP] also seem to be warning of trouble ahead. Eastwood has said of Brexit: “Northern nationalists are once more a restless people.”
Sinn Féin speaks repeatedly, if vaguely, of a threat to the peace process.
This is no way to refer to a transition comparable to the one you want to put unionists through – and must persuade a number of unionists to support.
If would be better and almost certainly more accurate to say that the United Kingdom is no more, but only settled, peaceful and ultimately painless change is expected.
If any lesson is to be drawn from Scottish nationalism, it should be that.

I’m hard pressed to see the connection between that last line and the one’s preceding it. And while he may find his idea of ‘ultimately painless’ change convincing that again is contradicted by his own words earlier in the piece where even under the most benign Brexit scenario he notes as quoted above the negative impacts on farmers and food processors. Perhaps I’m unfair to ask that he subject his own writing to a little more of a forensic critique, but then again maybe I’m not.

Moreover it would be remiss as well as panglossian of both the SDLP and Sf not to point to the potential dangers of a hard border and the security risks it would generate, the focus for discontent and worse. And to point to that potential is not to ‘threaten’.

And there are deeper questions which his other columns on this topic raise as to his understanding of the dispensation on this island. As always he seems to be reserving his ire not for the proponents and architects of Brexit and the chaos that has ensued, but rather for those who have been forced to react and respond to its negative outcomes.

But what of his fundamental thesis that Brexit is equivalent to reunification? This group, as noted here last night, would beg to differ…

Managing Britain’s exit from the European Union is such a formidable and complex challenge that it could overwhelm politicians and civil servants for years, senior academics have warned.

A report from The UK in a Changing Europe, an independent group of academics led by Prof Anand Menon of King’s College London, warns that this will only be the start of the process of extricating Britain from the EU and establishing new relationships with other member states.

“Brexit has the potential to test the UK’s constitutional settlement, legal framework, political process and bureaucratic capacities to their limits – and possibly beyond,” Menon said.


The group of experts, commissioned by the Political Studies Association, found that identifying and transposing the legislation to be included in the great repeal bill – and then deciding what to keep and what to ditch – will be a daunting task for civil servants.

They also warn that while article 50, as set out in the Lisbon treaty, concerns the terms of a divorce with the rest of the EU – including what share of EU liabilities the UK should take on, for example – it is unclear whether the process can allow for parallel negotiations on Britain’s future status.

And closer to home:

And they suggest the repatriation of decision-making in key policy areas including agriculture, the environment and higher education to Britain from Brussels could affect the balance of power between Westminster and the devolved parliaments – another major constitutional headache for politicians.

Not quite ‘nothing to see here’ – eh?


1. sonofstan - November 3, 2016

“Latvia fully recovered within five years”

So I went looking for emigration figures from Latvia over those five years – and the first headline I saw said ‘Latvia struggles with demographic disaster’

I suppose in a similar situation in NI, measures would need to be taken to ensure parity of flight.


Gewerkschaftler - November 3, 2016

Parity of flight – much esteemed 🙂

Only someone living in a rose-tinted bubble could think that Latvia is any kind of model. It’s desperate what happened there. Another patient of shock therapy that barely survived the treatment.

Michael Hudson summed it up well here.


WorldbyStorm - November 3, 2016

This is what infuriates me about his analyses week after week, they’re so open to question.


Ed - November 3, 2016

This is what IMF economists had to say about Latvia:

‘Output is still 11 per cent below its peak. Unemployment is still around 12 per cent. And the country’s population is 7.7 per cent lower than it was at the beginning of 2008.’



2. fergal - November 3, 2016

Isn’t the whole thing with Brexit for the moment is that everything is on pause, a kind of freeze frame moment- and when the real negotiations are settled that’s when we’ll see the real outcome of Brexit.
Newton is missing one key point though, isn’t he? The majority of people in the north voted to remain- but it will be England and Wales that get their way ie to leave.
I’m sure Newton would get this point if 70% of people voted on the island for unity- Down and Antrim’s right to remain in the uk would remain sacrosant

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - November 3, 2016



3. fergal - November 3, 2016

Sacrosanct even!


CL - November 3, 2016

And its also unclear,-and unknowable-what the exchange rate will be between sterling and the euro in the future.


4. CL - November 3, 2016

“The referendum result was clear: the majority of those who voted want the UK to leave the EU. But nothing else is clear, including the means by which that momentous exercise is done, the timing of the exercise and what replaces the current relationship. In a parliamentary democracy, it is right that these matters be debated and decided openly by parliament, not determined privately by the executive.”

What is also unclear is how Emerson’s experts can know what is going to happen when so much remains to be determined.


5. Joe - November 3, 2016

I dunno. I think us nationalists might be too quick to jump to Newton’s bait. His style is quirky and maybe we don’t get his northern (non-conformist?) quirkiness. There’s plenty of his points that I’d argue with and some that plain don’t make sense (“In per capita terms, 4 per cent of GDP is the difference between Japan and New Zealand” – ye wha’?)and a few that I’d agree wholeheartedly with. I’d wholeheartedly agree with this, for instance: “But in the end, is money really a decisive factor in something as profound as national identity? The Republic went through boom and bust without allegiances notably changing either way. Northern Ireland has been on economic life support since the 1970s, but unionist convictions have not faltered.”
And this: “There will still be victims: Brexit looks hopeless for farming and food processing”. Well, maybe not hopeless but certainly very challenging especially for the agriculture sector in the south.

And the headline to this thread…. I can’t see anything in Newton’s piece that makes the claim that Brexit is equivalent to reunification of Ireland. The headline to his piece says “Brexit no worse than a United Ireland” and that headline was probably composed by a sub-editor rather than the writer himself. The piece itself makes some pretty superficial economic comparisons, based on a couple of academic economic projections – and we know what they are worth.

But if we are comparing the two or stating our preference for one over the other… I would much prefer Brexit to a United Ireland because I don’t think any of my brothers and sisters on this island will be literally killing each other over Brexit whereas I fear that very many would be killed over a United Ireland.


WorldbyStorm - November 3, 2016

My concern with that comparison is that it suggests reunification as a project is intrinsically one linked to violence whereas Brexit isn’t but I don’t think that’s entirely self evident. The increase in racist and homophobic violence on foot if the vote suggests otherwise and I’d also wonder what the long term situation will be like in the context of a Scotland denied national rights and of course an NI if a hard border goes in or even more so where local democracy for all its flaws is trumped by a notional UK democracy.


Joe - November 3, 2016

I wouldn’t want to suggest that ‘reunification’ as a project is one intrinsically linked to violence. I do believe however that any serious moves towards ‘reunification’ any time in any of our lifetimes would lead to violence, serious violence.


WorldbyStorm - November 4, 2016

I think caution would be needed – absolutely but i wonder if events like Brexit are changing things even as we speak. Also it depends on how long we hope to live!


6. John Connor - November 3, 2016

Congrats on wading through this stuff!

But I’ve stopped reading Emerson.

It takes a long time to work out what he’s on about and, when you have worked it out, you’re generally left baffled or bored.

Presumably, the point of today’s epistle to the benighted South is simply to say “What are you lot down there on about? You are all moaning about Brexit, but it’s no big deal – no bigger than the United Ireland you’re also banging on about?”

It’s astonishing that the Irish Times would pay him for this.

I’d say the whole thing about Brexit and the Border has him banjaxed.

Why? Maybe because it’s clearly rational for the North and South to co-operate on dealing with the effects of Brexit, but to do so is to point up shared practical interests that many (most?) in the majority in the North don’t want to acknowledge.


RosencrantzisDead - November 3, 2016

‘Member when he was funny?


Me, neither.


7. Tomboktu - November 3, 2016


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