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Brexit and Trump on a par with economic war of 1930s – Bruton
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Brexit and Trump on a par with economic war of 1930s – Bruton

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Former Taoiseach John Bruton has described the dual challenge of Brexit and the new US president’s policy changes as potentially as serious as the 1930s economic war.
Former Taoiseach John Bruton has described the dual challenge of Brexit and the new US president’s policy changes as potentially as serious as the 1930s economic war.

“It is potentially equally as serious, particularly when combined with developments on the tax front in the US, with Trump talking about reducing corporation tax, investments outside the US and trade barriers with China and Mexico – trade barriers which could lead to a chain reaction like the Smoot-Hawley tariff did,’’ former Taoiseach John Bruton said at the ICMSA AGM on Monday.

The Smoot-Hawley tariff, introduced in 1930, raised the US tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods to record levels.

“The Smoot-Hawley tariff was followed by a succession of other tariffs and contributed to the depression that continued in the 1930s.”

Bruton said that Brexit poses “disproportionately great challenges to Ireland” and maintained that this country would need to build stronger alliances with all EU countries.

Speaking at the ICMSA AGM in Limerick on Monday, Bruton said: “To do that, we will need to understand the interests of other countries almost as well as we understand our own, and I think we are better than most at this.”

However, he warned that Ireland must pay attention to each and every member state pre- and post-Brexit.

“We must not make the mistake David Cameron made of thinking that an understanding with Germany will deliver what we want from the EU. In the EU, every country counts.”

Undemocratic

Bruton told the conference that while the British people had been asked if they wanted to leave the European Union, it did not ask for their views on what should happen post-Brexit.

“Nothing appeared on the ballot paper about:

  • Access to the EU market for UK-produced goods or services, about leaving the European Economic Area (which includes several non-EU countries) or about what UK voters would want the agreement with EU to say.
  • The status of UK citizens already living in EU countries after the UK has left.
  • The status of EU citizens already living in the UK.
  • The future rights of EU or UK citizens to live and work in one another’s jurisdictions or to avail of social services while there.
  • He continued: “Since the referendum, the UK government has, retrospectively, interpreted the vote to mean a decision to leave the EEA, and leaving the European Customs Union, things that were not on the ballot paper, and are not required by its wording at all. That is undemocratic.”

    Immigration

    Bruton said that the most contentious issue in the post-Brexit future framework negotiation was likely to be the right of people to emigrate to the UK from the EU, and vice versa.

    “Control of immigration was not, initially, one of the UK’s complaints about the EU,” he recalled. “The Blair government actually opened the UK to central and east European EU immigrants, in 2004, before it was obliged to under the Accession Treaties for those countries. But, during the referendum campaign, immigration became the central debating point, and leaving the EU was presented as the way of ‘taking back control’ of immigration.”

    However, Bruton maintained that the case was overstated, highlighting some figures:

  • “Of all immigrants moving to the UK in 2014, 13% were UK citizens returning home and 42% were EU nationals emigrating to the UK. But the biggest number, 45%, were non-EU nationals moving to the UK.
  • “The UK already had full ‘control’ over 45% of all immigration which came from non-EU countries, and the minister who exercised that control then, the Home Secretary, is now the Prime Minister, Theresa May.
  • “But, in politics, perception is sometimes more important than reality, and immigration from the EU is perceived to be a problem by UK voters.”
  • However, Bruton pointed out: “The EU side has taken a firm line on this. There will be no participation of the UK in the EU single market without free movement of people to work. If capital is free to move, people should be free to move too. No single market without free movement.

    “Discrimination on the basis of nationality is excluded within the EU, and a state should not be able to leave the EU, introduce such discrimination, but still have all the other benefits of access to the EU market. If that option were the open, others EU members would be inclined to follow the UK out of the EU.”

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