Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Small country can go and do one

A PS to my piece Small Country Goes It Alone (2 Feb). I am indebted to Democracy Man for drawing my attention to a wonderfully hubristic piece in the Irish Times to mark Brexit day. Referring to a "senseless act of self harm" by the Britain (I accept I've used similar phrases by the way) the diatribe made many tendentious claims,  including Britain's "voice in the international areana will be weakened". It's not at all clear why that should be the case. For example, the UK will have its own seat at the WTO so its voice will not be diluted with the compromise position of 27 other nations and will be able to speak up for the interests of its businesses rather than the makers of German cars, French wine and Greek, er.... yoghurt I suppose. The UK retains its seat on the UN Security Council which it might well have come under pressure to give up to an EU bod one day in the future had we stayed in the EU.

Another prediction was that the UK's "reputation as an open, forward looking country will be diminished". This is a frequent and totally mistaken suggestion made by opponents of Brexit. I agree it could happen but only if we are daft enough to go against our own interests and allow it.  On the contrary, it is the EU that was set up to be a bastion of inward looking protectionism - it is a customs union above all else, designed to protect German car makers, French vintners and Polish, er plumbers I guess. Britain can be as open for business as it wants to be, the more so the better in my opinion and certainly more so than the EU.

The IT went on to note that the Brexit negotiation process in which Ireland had "more power than its neighbour" had been "a useful reminder of the EU's genius". Quoting the Dutch foreign minister it said "there are two kinds of EU states, small states and those who don't yet realise they are small states".

Now this made me look up some stats. Ireland's economy has done fantastically well since the financial crisis, when the effect of joining the euro and the resultant experiment of cutting interest rates in a booming economy led to a property bust and one of the hardest finacial crashes anywhere. A big reason for its recovery was that, unlike us, their choice on austerity was deep and hard (they didn't have much choice actually) rather than mild and prolonged. Ireland's GDP is about a seventh of the UK's putting it 27th in the world compared with our 5th or 6th depending whose stats you favour. But there is a startling corollary which reveals the other reason for Ireland's improvement. Ireland's GDP per capita is a whacking 70% higher than the UK's! Check for yourself but it was $78.8k in 2018 compared with our $45.7k. Ireland's GDP per capita is in the top 10 in the world, more than 25% higher than the USA's and more than 50% higher than Germany's.  I know, you hadn't noticed Ireland being such a wealthy place, on a par with Brunei. Of course, it isn't. Ireland's business model of low corporate taxes together with, ironically, it's use of the English language has encouraged countless large multi-national corporations to set up offices to offshore their profits made in the EU to tax havens. Ireland's people get some benefit from this but if you measure by gross national income per capita they are no wealthier than us. Ireland's average salary is less than half its GDP per capita and Ireland has the highest proportion of low wage jobs in the OECD countries.  Basically it's money laundering, known in business as the "double Irish" (Google it if you wan't to know why, after all they're one of the companies that have used it).

One has to reflect that Holland or Ireland telling the UK that we are both small countries is a bit like Middlesborough saying to Arsenal "you haven't qualified for the Champions League for several seasons, why don't you admit that you're just a small club like us?" (Of course I didn't choose this example at random, Middlesborough's turnover in 2018 was about a seventh of Arsenal's. But given that Ireland's GDP is artificially inflated Bristol City might be a better comparitor).

The Irish Times article concluded on a conciliatory note: "as two small states go their different ways our friendship can and must endure". Don't bet on it, chums. To be franker than I probably should I've had enough of two-faced Irish folk handing me a pint of Guinness (which I hate by the way) with a smile while bad mouthing Britain and all its works behind my back. I'm willing to be friends but not on those terms. You look after your interests and we'll look after ours, ok?

What will make me give you an insincere Irish smile will be when your "genius" EU finally tires of allowing you to purloin their taxes and hubris brings nemesis through  tax harmonisation to end your money laundering scam. Irish eyes won't be smiling then.

That's the problem with siding with a bully, Leo and chums. You never know when the bully will turn on you.

* The Irish Times view on Brexit Day, Britain's Great Leap Backwards, 30 January 2020

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