A Long Spoon

One person who may be counting his blessings about the coronavirus may be Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, who had in the past month been unceremoniously defenestrated by the Irish electorate. With not even a coded telephone warning from Sinn Fein, old Leo has been bounced from inner-circle EU acolyte to has-been dead man walking.

Although he has effectively punched his own ticket by stepping down, he remains in office owing to a seemingly terminal reluctance of bitter rivals Fianna Fáil to cook up a left-wing coalition with Sinn Fein. Now with quarantines and isolation very real prospects, thoughts of a second election to break the deadlock look unlikely. Throw into the mix an urgent need for government, and you can’t rule out a link-up (or stitch-up) between Ireland’s big two that may even see the King of Hysteria wriggle back into the big chair.

You have to feel some sympathy for the little imp who had skipped joyously up to the plate in order to fling one big old clog into the British Brexit machine, much to the exasperated relief of the EU negotiating platoon. Within the organisational spirit of the EU, he had leveraged the collective power of the bloc to buttress his own smaller member-state but had allowed one crucial snippet to escape his seemingly psycho-Europhile attention. That is that politically, he was actually closer to Boris than the likes of Verhoffa and the gang, with his Euro credentials more deeply aligned with necessity of all smaller nations than the deep centre-left values bent of the continental critical mass. As a result, during the campaign, the covert EU propaganda machine and even overt support were firmly in Micheál Martin’s favour.

While a considerable criticism of UK politicians during the referendum campaign and subsequent negotiations was justifiably that we do not get Europe, the one guy in the eye of the negotiating storm clearly did not get it either.

You see, the whole European project has never just been about the economy, or even values. It’s a liberal, lefty enterprise that requires absolute political harmony with the often subtle, even imperceptible vibrations of the Brussels echo-chamber. While Leo may have had a strong alignment with Barnier, that was never going to prevent him being stiffed as an outsider to the left-leaning power-cabal. Even Barnier – while taking on the thankless task of chief negotiator – has been shafted for the plum presidential role he was seeking. Just not sufficiently lefty-left.

In Euroworld, Ireland now finds itself as one of the slightly wealthier smaller countries that will have to step up to the plate and throw a humongous wedge of Euros into the collection bucket in order to plug the budget gap left by the UK’s departure.

If he never saw that one coming, he doesn’t get Europe. Whatever the talk about the unity of the 27, there is not inconsiderable resentment from Germany and France about their enforced subsidy of Southern and Eastern Europe. Don’t forget that the accession of Ireland was rubber-stamped only after the UK itself got the green light owing to the close social and economic entwinement of the Emerald Isle with its erstwhile colonial master.

On the continuum of European problem children, Ireland naturally sits more favourably with Brussels, given its now more progressive trajectory. It’s certainly not one of those ‘show me the money but bollocks to your values’ Eastern miscreants.

But it is one of the historical takers that has now been promoted to the top table of givers. And there they all were thinking that it would be only the Germans and the French who’d be digging deeper. Time to think again, chaps.

So, it’s going to be an interesting few months. For the moment, he’ll continue to squat in office, but the direction of travel will be for Ireland to install EU ideologues for a more closely aligned future of the bloc’s now largest remaining island state.

Whatever happens, everybody in Ireland will have learned the lesson regarding the importance of long spoons when attending questionable suppers.

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