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Home Uncategorized Life Without the Neighbours

Life Without the Neighbours

Daniel Keohane
Short History of Brexit: From Brentry to Backstop, by Kevin O’Rourke, 352 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-0241398234 Some Irish thinkers are having a great Brexit. Kevin H O’Rourke, Chichele professor of economic history at Oxford and a fellow of All Souls College, is one of them. Economic history can be a challenging subject, with feet in two schools of thought. But it is an invaluable discipline for understanding the impulses, the divisions, and the background to Brexit. Those combined political and economic instincts existed long before the UK applied to join the European Economic Community in 1961, a point which O’Rourke expertly elucidates in his book, and they are likely to persist in the UK long after Brexit. Perhaps with a subconscious nod to Samuel Beckett, this book was originally written for a French-language audience, and later republished in English. As a result, O’Rourke uniquely covers an interlocking trinity of UK, EU and Irish economic history: from Joseph Chamberlain’s nineteenth century tariff proposals to the formation of the Schumann-Monnet-inspired Common Market, on to Theresa May’s July 2018 Chequers plan (from Chamberlain to Chequers in a nutshell). From a policy perspective, this is the best strategic framing of Brexit of any book on the subject so far. O’Rourke is particularly illuminating on the political and economic transformation of Ireland. In the early 1970s it was not thought feasible for Ireland to join the Common Market unless and until the UK did, an entry which was achieved, together with Denmark, in 1973. Hardly anyone today suggests that Ireland should leave the EU, solely because the UK is leaving. That is a remarkable change in just one and a half generations. O’Rourke also gives an excellent analysis of the dynamics of the Brexit talks up to the end of UK-EU negotiations in late 2018, including a lucid explanation of the politics and technicalities of the “backstop” designed to protect Strand II (cross-border co-operation) of the Belfast Agreement. However, there is much more in O’Rourke’s book than an Irish story or perspective. The explorations of broader UK and West European economic history and political thinking are worth reading in and of themselves. In sum, this is a must-read book on Brexit, Ireland, and the EU. This combination of British, European and Irish economic history, topics which are rarely treated together in such depth, sparks several thoughts about Ireland’s future in the EU post-Brexit. Those reflections…

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