Tony Blair convinced Ireland to join euro – now Dublin must get out or sail into disaster

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Ray Bassett, the former Irish ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, believes Ireland needs to give serious consideration following in the UK’s footsteps with Irexit. He says a courageous decision will be required to deliver financial independence in parallel. Mr Bassett outlines his ideas about Irexit, and the eurozone, in his new book, Ireland and the UK Post Brexit.

Explaining Ireland’s decision to sign up for the Euro in 2002, he said: “The differences of opinion in London between then Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown were put down to petty political turf wars.

“In Ireland, we had great admiration for Blair, who had helped deliver the Good Friday Agreement and in a manner which no other British Prime Minister would have been capable of doing.

“Blair was very pro-euro and this only reinforced the Irish Government’s view that the euro was a desirable place to be.

“The arguments that Brown articulated, which now look very sound, were given no real hearing.

“Ireland, forfeited with the assurances from Tony Blair that it was on the right course, with its enthusiastic commitment to the European project, sailed on and into disaster.”

Mr Bassett, who emphasised the approach continued under former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, said there had been little doubt in political circles about the wisdom of joining the monetary union – and very little actual analysis.

He added: “While working inside the Irish Civil Service, I remember, in the build-up to our joining, there was a steely determination in political circles to show the world that, in contrast to the British, we were good Europeans.

“There was even a feeling of smugness at the time, that the UK, for internal political reasons was not joining but no doubt would be forced to sign up later.

“This complacent attitude was to wreak havoc on our economy during the crash.

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“It would not be the last time we totally misjudged political developments in Britain.”

In reference to the scepticism of other countries when it came to the euro, Mr Bassett pointed to the Dutch Parliament’s unanimous vote, in 2017, to hold an enquiry into the country’s future relationship with the euro.

He added: “This did not mean that the Netherlands was going to ditch the Euro in the short term, but it does reflect the dissatisfaction with the common currency in that country.”

Significantly, the Dutch, as a prominent member of the so-called Frugal Four, which also includes Austria, Sweden and Denmark, were deeply uncomfortable with the £677million coronavirus rescue plan approved by the European Council last month.

With reference to Italy, where Gianluigi Paragone last month launched his No Europe for Italy Party, modelled on Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, Mr Bassett said: “The Italian general election of 2018 represented an electoral earthquake as the Italian political landscape was reshaped radically.

“Any decision by Italy to drop the euro, something which is probably necessary to revive its economic growth, would seriously endanger the future of the eurozone.”

In terms of Ireland itself’s future, Mr Bassett conceded: “It would be the height of irresponsibility for any Irish administration not to have well developed plans to depart the euro, giving its underlying weakness.

“There will, of course, be possible emergency measures, on file, ready in case of implosion, but the Government needs, in addition, to look strategically at how it could escape this straitjacket, especially now that the UK has departed the EU.”

He concludes: “In the final analysis, it was a profoundly political act to take Ireland into the euro and it will take a profoundly political decision, with courage, to take us out.”

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