The event held by IES’ Irish Studies Program on February 16 was filled to capacity with 35 people in attendance, all of whom were anxious to dine and engage in discussion with both Colum Hatchell, Vice Consul of the Consulate General of Ireland in San Francisco, and Mark Bevir, Professor of Political Science and Director of the British Studies Program at UC Berkeley, about the possible effects Brexit could have on Ireland and the EU.
In his opening statement, Bevir offered a British perspective on Brexit’s causes and its possible repercussions in the contexts of Ireland and the EU as a whole. Overall, Bevir expressed disagreement with the idea that Brexit was caused by English Nationalism, supporting his argument with statistics declaring that 48% of the UK voted to remain. Bevir claimed that, once Article 50 is enacted and officially starts the process of Britain exiting the EU, various agreements – particularly concerning the withdrawal of migrant rights and liabilities, Britain’s transition from being part of the EU, and Britain’s future relationship with other countries – will need to be made with the member states of the EU, particularly Ireland.
He closed with the statement that there remain many preparations to be made for Britain’s exit, in particular with relation to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In Hatchell’s opening remarks, he stressed that Brexit proved a disheartening turn of events for Ireland, stating that this could be the biggest challenge the country has faced in the history of its membership in the EU. Hatchell believes there will be a fundamental shock once Brexit takes effect due to trade deals between Ireland and Britain and agrees that there could potentially be a huge issue with the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
He stated that Brexit is a political, legal, and economic challenge for Ireland and that, moving forward, negotiations must pertain to the peace process and the economy. Hatchell closed by stating that Ireland’s future is firmly within the EU and that the true effects of Brexit in the country will reveal themselves during the two years following Article 50’s instatement. In the end, both speakers agreed that the future is uncertain. They only have ideas of what they want to come from Brexit and their hopes for how it will affect Britain, Ireland, and the EU.
Following these opening remarks, the audience engaged in a lively discussion, starting with the question of whether or not the meltdown of traditional political parties will make it harder for the government to achieve negotiations. In response to this, Hatchell noted that, while every country’s national parliament needs to sign in order for an agreement to go through, given Ireland’s specifically bipartisan majority and its resultantly strong presence within the EU, there is a parallel between what the EU thinks should be done for Ireland and what Ireland believes is best for its own nation. As the social politics regarding the choices behind Brexit unfolded, it came to everyone’s attention that opinions on immigrants contributed largely to whether people voted to stay or leave. The statistics sounded strikingly similar to America’s most recent election and polarized views over the elected candidate.
While discussing the efficacy of the EU specifically, Bevir and Hatchell expressed contrasting views. Whereas self proclaimed anti-nationalist Bevir stated that the EU has failed to be a vibrant democracy, Hatchell saw it EU as “a creature of cooperation between member states.” In closing remarks, Hatchell noted that the EU has helped Ireland stake its claim as an international, independent country, while Bevir shared his hopeful vision of a “Brexit-ed” Britain becoming a multicultural, cosmopolitan hub of free trade and free movement.