In the months leading up to the UK’s Brexit vote, Irish officials advocated for Britain to remain in the EU and stressed the close ties that Britain and Ireland have. However, the Brexit vote did not go as many in the Irish government had hoped. As the UK prepares to trigger Article 50 and formally begin the process of exiting the EU by March of next year, the Irish government is preparing to deal with the effects of one of their closest trade partners and neighbors leaving the largest trade block in the world.
In assessing the effects of Brexit, many analysts focus primarily on how the British economy would be impacted. Yet the effects of Brexit extend far beyond Britain itself. Ireland and Britain have close ties due to shared history and geographic proximity. Furthermore, when Britain and Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the Irish economy was still heavily reliant on Britain for many products that it was unable to produce itself. While Ireland has become much less dependent on the British economy over the last few decades, the two countries still have close economic relationships, and for Ireland, it looks like Britain’s departure from the EU is going to hurt. A recent study by the Irish Department of Finance estimates that Britain’s departure would cause Ireland’s GDP to drop by as much as four percent, with negative effects on wages and employment in Ireland lasting for the next 10 years.
Britain and Ireland trade heavily with one another, and a Brexit will likely damage the Irish export market and lead to higher import prices. Every week, Ireland and Britain trade approximately €1 billion worth of goods and services. Ireland sends 16 percent of its exports to the UK, the most it sends to any one country, and Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute estimates that bilateral trade between the two countries could decrease by as much as 20 percent after Britain leaves the EU. Overall, Ireland has a trade deficit in merchandise with the United Kingdom, and its agricultural and metals sectors heavily depend on exporting to the UK.
For instance, 50 percent of Irish beef exports go to Britain, as do 55 percent of construction and timber exports. The UK is also Ireland’s greatest source for merchandise imports, and as Ireland’s economy is small, it has fewer opportunities to substitute imports with locally produced goods. Once the UK leaves the EU, it will likely be subject to the EU’s import tariffs for imports coming from “third countries.” The institution of tariffs for imports into the UK from Ireland and vice versa, therefore, will likely lead to higher prices for goods sold in Ireland.
Both Ireland and the UK have expressed interest in keeping the Common Travel Area (CTA) that has existed along the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland since 1923. Over the past 90 years, this invisible border has facilitated trade between the two nations, allowed citizens to work in each others’ countries, and has contributed to political stability in Northern Ireland. However, once Britain leaves the EU, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will become the western border of the EU, which may require passport controls that would greatly restrict movement between the two countries. Currently, the British and Irish governments are exploring ways to keep the CTA after the Brexit occurs.
No one has a greater potential to gain from Brexit, however, than Ireland’s financial sector. The UK has the largest inward FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) stock of any nation in Europe and has a powerful financial services sector. Leaving the EU’s single market will likely damage that financial vitality and could spur many firms to relocate all or part of their operations to cities in other countries. As an educated, English speaking city that already has a sizeable financial sector, Dublin is definitely a strong candidate. Currently, Ireland is home to €3 trillion of investment and money market funds. With some additional investments in housing, communications and infrastructure, Ireland and Dublin especially would likely benefit from firms in Britain relocating abroad.
In her speech at the Conservative Party Conference in October, Theresa May declared that “Brexit means Brexit — and we’re going to make a success of it.” Both the Irish and the British certainly hope so. The less dramatic Britain’s departure from the EU is, the better off Ireland will be. As Irish political commentator Johnny Fallon notes, “Some in Europe would be very happy to see post-Brexit Britain collapse. Not Ireland. We’re very eager to see Britain hold up.”