‘You Came Out Pretty Aggressive There, Dan’


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From top: Economists Liam Halligan and Dan O’Brien

This morning.

On RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke Show.

Economist and Telegraph columnist Liam Halligan joined controversial fellow economist and Irish Independent columnist Dan O’Brien to discuss the prospect of a Brexit [Britain leaving the EU}

Their discussion followed Mr Halligan – ex-political correspondent with the Financial Times and former economics editor at Channel 4 News – recently writing a column headlined, ‘Why Ireland has nothing to fear over fallout from Brexit’ in The Telegraph.

Things got a little… tense.

Liam Halligan: “We’ve done trade across the Irish Sea for millennia, the idea that Britain and Ireland couldn’t strike an overarching bi-lateral trade deal, if there was a British exit, is simply nonsense. We traded through thick and thin, through hatred, jealousy, enmity, nothing has ever stopped the constant ebb and flow of commerce between people across the Irish Sea because it makes sense for both sides, to the existence of people like me who are citizens of both countries, somebody with a lot of Irish blood, who knows Ireland well, is testament to that. The UK has a huge trade surplus with Ireland so Britain has every single incentive to strike a trade deal if there was a Brexit.”

Sean O’Rourke: “Despite the fact that a recent report prepared, and you allude to this yourself in your column on Sunday, for the Irish government,  it indicates we could see a serious drop in trade?”

Halligan: “I just don’t buy that at all. Do you honestly think that Irish and British people need the permission of the European Commission to do trade and we’ve done trade together over hundreds and even thousands of years. Of course the Irish government is massively against the Brexit. Brussels is massively against a Brexit. The whole European political establishment is massively against a Brexit. But if there was a Brexit, it’s in everyone’s interest to do a trade deal between Britain and Ireland, not least the British themselves. And it’s in Germany’s interest to do a deal with Britain, as it is in Italy and Spain’s interest to do a deal with Britain. A lot of it’s scaremongering I think, Seán.”

O’Rourke: “Ok, Dan, you’re shaking your head.”

Dan O’Brien:Look Liam I’ve never met you and I don’t mean to sound controversial or, or aggressive towards you but you don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m afraid to say. When you join the European Union, you give up the right to trade deals with other countries, that’s how it’s been since 1950s. The notion that Ireland can do a bilateral deal, a country-to-country deal with Britian, if it leaves, is simply factually incorrect, OK? Further than that, the Lisbon Treaty, that’s also the same with foreign direct investment. That’s exactly why Britain doesn’t have a trade deal with the United States, what’s being negotiated now the TTIP, is something that’s negotiated between Brussels and Washington. London does not have a trade deal with America, Ireland does not have a trade deal with America, you cannot have a trade deal with a third country when you’re in the EU. So, you simply don’t seem to understand that fact. So for you to come out and say it’s nonsense and scaremongering, when you don’t understand the very basics of trade diplomacy, is quite shocking.”


Liam Halligan: “I just don’t buy it. People get very hot under the collar about this. A lot of people’s livings depend on the European project. A lot of people have devoted their lives to the European project. They don’t like to be proved wrong or even entertain the fact that somebody could have a different point of view from them. If they’re, you know, we were told that the Euro was forever, remember? Oh you can never leave the Euro.

Now it’s completely clear that countries can leave the Euro. We were told the Stability and Growth Pact and Schengen would always hold. Then the facts on the ground change and the rules change. It strikes me that Canada’s just struck an incredible deal with the European Union, the European Union will be under extreme pressure if there is a Brexit. There will be a loss of credibility, it will have to scramble in order to stop other countries form leaving the European Union. And, in that political vacuum, a country like the UK, the world’s fifth biggest economy, will be able to do trade deals with countries where it has very, very strong commercial links. Not least the Republic of Ireland.”

Sean O’Rourke: “And what about, Liam, what about Dan’s point – whatever about the Irish and we would be very well disposed to continuing the relationship that’s there – other countries might not be so well disposed for example, France.”

Halligan: “Of course, in the immediate aftermath of a Brexit, if there was one, or a Brexit vote and the polls are suggesting that that’s a very real possibility now, then of course there will be an uncomfortable period. The political establishments of France, Germany are very, very closely wedded to the European project. But, you know, across the European Union, look out of the window, look at what’s happening in the opinion polls. There’s a lot of Euroskepticism out there. Some of it is pretty ugly and takes the form of discomfort towards immigration. Some of it is based on the fact that countries feel they’re losing their sovereignty. Look at what we saw in Greece, for instance. So it strikes me that we should stop insulting each other and actually have a conversation about what could happen if there is a Brexit because that could easily be the stated will, the democratic will of the British people.”

Dan O’Brien: “And Liam, we fully respect that. And this is not a thing about insulting. We’re entitled to…”

Halligan:You came out pretty aggressively there, Dan, I have to say. [Inaudible] judges conducted themselves more politely than you…”

O’Brien: “You have written something that is completely, we’re all entitled to our opinions, we’re not entitled to our own facts.”

Halligan: “And I’m saying is that the political facts on the ground are saying the rules will change. We have had a series of massive rule changes within Europe where previously, almost semi-religious ideas have been blown up by political reality.”

O’Rourke: “OK, Liam, just…”

Halligan: “The Stability and Growth Pact, Schengen, look out of the window.”

O’Brien: “And many things could change. The European Union is weak, the Eurozone is weak, many things could change. Britain…”

Halligan: “I don’t know what I’m talking about even though I’m suggesting something..”

O’Brien: “Just like another third country, you mentioned Canada, exactly. That’s exactly what will happen. London doesn’t negotiate with Canada, Dublin doesn’t negotiate with Canada, the trade bureaucrats in Brussels negotiated that deal with Canada and it covers us all. They’re just the basic facts…”

Halligan: “The Republic of Ireland does 19% of its trade with the United States, the US wasn’t a member of the European Union last time I looked.”

O’Brien: “Sorry?”

Halligan: “The Republic of Ireland does 19% of its trade with the United States, the US wasn’t a member of the European Union last time I checked.”

O’Brien: “All of that happens within EU trade laws. There’s a bilateral trade deal between the EU and the US. It’s not a bilateral deal between Dublin and Washington, it’s between Brussels and Washington and that’s just the basic fact.”

Listen back here

Schulz: EU Parliament’s approval of UK deal not guaranteed (RTE)

Previously: Rule Number 1: No Touching Of The Hair Or Face

37 thoughts on “‘You Came Out Pretty Aggressive There, Dan’

  1. Nigel

    Brexit sounds like a kind of breakfast cereal that masquerades as healthy and nutritious but is really full of sugar. That’s not some sort of political allegory, that’s just what I think of every time I hear it.

  2. Serf

    What is it between BS and DO’B (is he related to REDACTED or something)? From the above, it seems he was entirely correct to call out some loose talk from a dubious expert. Halligan’s narrative reflects the uninformed naivety of a lot of what passes for authoritative eurosceptic commentary in the UK. The question is not so much whether a non EU UK would be able to re-negotiate trade and other agreements with the EU, but rather how long, messy and uncertain a process that would be.

    1. Rob_G

      Not very familiar with Halligan, but his non-sequitur about trade with the US makes him appear a spoofer.

    2. Anne

      Halligan acknowledged that – ” then of course there will be an uncomfortable period”

      Dan seems like a bit of a pea-brain in fairness.
      He claimed what Liam was saying was factually incorrect, (“The notion that Ireland can do a bilateral deal, a country-to-country deal with Britian, if it leaves, is simply factually incorrect, OK?”) when Liam is saying the rules change, they would have to if there’s a Brexit.

      How are you supposed to have a debate with that? ‘There are no other alternatives, coz da rules don’t allow it” and then he goes and insults the man. Pea-brain.

      1. classter

        But Ireland is bound by those rules.

        The idea that Ireland would simply do a quick side deal is not correct.

        Also the type and volume of trade between these islands has fluctuated over time for different reasons – Corn Laws, Economic War, etc. The idea that trade would be completely unimpeded by Brexit at any stage is not convincing.

    3. MoyestWithExcitement

      “What is it between BS and DO’B (is he related to REDACTED or something)? From the above, it seems he was entirely correct to call out some loose talk from a dubious expert.”

      Ok, and what have Broadsheet said about O’Brien’s comments? I mean, they posted a transcript of a conversation he was in but you are making out like they’re misrepresented him in some way or passed some judgement. I just can’t seem to find it. Can you help?

      1. Serf

        Introducing him as a “controversial” economist. Pretty obvious slight for a practitioner of the dismal science.

    1. classter

      So can you tell me how he spoke about Scottish independence.

      Did he say, ‘We’ve done trade across Brotain for millennia, the idea that rUK and Scotland couldn’t strike an overarching bi-lateral trade deal, if there was a Scottish exit, is simply nonsense. We traded through thick and thin, through hatred, jealousy, enmity nothing has ever stopped the constant ebb and flow of commerce between people on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall.’?

  3. Anne

    I have to say too, Liam is a bit of a beefcake.
    Dan, well, he’s a grand head on him….. for the radio

  4. mauriac

    the Brits have forgotten what happened when they set up a free trade northern European zone as an an alternative to the EEC.it was a disaster .

    1. Rob_G

      I googled that and couldn’t find what you mean – do you have a link for that, please?
      (I am intrigued…)

  5. ahjayzis

    It’s an attitude I’m encountering a lot. That the EU will be so sad to see Britain go they’ll essentially retain all the benefits of membership for free and with the freedom to undercut Brussels on workers rights, regulations etc.

    In reality a spurned EU will crush them at the exit negotiations as an object lesson to anyone else thinking they can go it alone. It’ll be a knife in the back of the EU at a time of crisis and there’ll be no good will towards the UK – in fact they’ll probably be promising Scotland all sorts to break off and rejoin.

    1. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

      You know, I’m not convinced that the UK will vote to leave. If I was the in campaign I would beef up the focus on cheap holidays abroad, with no passport queues and lots of delicious wine from France. These are the things the people who will vote love.

      1. Joe835

        I think they will vote to leave, especially if they’re bounced into a referendum this year. British voters are not used to referendums and don’t research the issues properly; the AV vote a few years ago is ample evidence of this.

        It was a no-brainer; fix the utterly-skewed and undemocratic first-past-the-post method that’s kept two parties neck and neck for over a century – yet they voted no and then were left gobsmacked with the 2015 result. It went bad for the left and right; the Lib Dems got 8 seats instead of the 51 they should have gotten and UKIP got 1 seat instead of the 82 they’d have got under AV.

        So yes, I’m quite confident they’ll sleepwalk into the next referendum too!

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          ‘British voters are not used to referendums and don’t research the issues properly;’

          Just a quick little aside on that, I remember seeing a vox pop asking Brits about the Euro before it came in. One play school worker said she didn’t want the Euro cause she’d have to teach the kids to count again.

          1. Cup of tea anyone?

            When they brought the euro into Ireland I remember an auld lad from Cavan proclaiming that the Euro wouldn’t catch on down there.
            There are people like that everywhere.

        2. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

          “British voters are not used to referendums and don’t research the issues properly; the AV vote a few years ago is ample evidence of this.”

          You wot m8? No.

          They weren’t gobsmacked by the result, they were gobsmacked because the polls were telling them something completely different, it had nothing to do with AV. The polling was out. The Lib Dems got so few seats because they were massive sell outs and the electorate saw that and said “on your fupping bike Nick you pillock”. UKIP would have got a lot of seats but so would the Greens.

        3. classter

          Tbf – AV was little discussed in the media.

          Whatever the outcome, the EU is a hot topic in the UK & has been for some time now

    2. milk teeth

      There are no exit negotiations to speak of. From a treaty perspective once you opt to leave you give up your rights to negotiate your leaving package. The remaining 27 states will shut the door and discuss the UKs exit with out it.

  6. Joe835

    Please excuse my massive thought experiment (but in fairness, there’s a TLDR below):

    I think Liam Halligan is hopelessly-naive to think the EU will just stop the ride, let the UK get off and allow them to strike up favourable trade deals with individual EU members, never mind the EU itself. And it will change the UK forever.

    First of all, individual EU members cannot make trade deals with other states; the idea of the single market is that the EU negotiates on behalf of all 28 states in these matters and ok, rules can change but the single market is a 24-year old reality that won’t be swept away in one day to suit Britain.

    During our bailout, there was talk of “moral hazard”; the idea that if you just gave countries all the money they wanted, there’d be no incentive to be wary or prudent in fiscal matters because there’d always be that safety net. And I can’t help thinking that if Britain was allowed to leave and not suffer any consequences, there would then exist no “moral hazard” in this context.

    Say the UK got a deal, an EU-UK Free Trade Agreement that says goods and services can be traded with the now-27-member EU the same as it ever was. Italy, should its chickens come home to default, could then choose between tightening austerity and remaining part of an important trade bloc, bolstering itself and the European economy as a whole – or just dropping out of the EU altogether and using its own new lira to sort itself out, all the while enjoying the benefits of free trade with the EU thanks to a similar EU-Italy Free Trade Agreement. Why would they even try to implement EU-directed austerity policy when they will always have an option to drop out without suffering any consequences? If there’s no consequences, rabidly right-wing governments like Denmark’s, like Hungary’s one, like Poland’s new one – all could just decide to throw in the towel and enjoy all the benefits of a free trade agreement without that costly, pesky EU membership.

    The answer is, of course, consequences. As the first state with a realistic chance of leaving the Union, Britain could be made an example of – just to show other member states that “moral hazard”. That if they leave the EU, they leave all the benefits behind too – free trade being the big one. They control their borders, sure, but their citizens, their goods and their services will be treated like Thailand’s. How on earth could it not be? If the EU didn’t do this, it would be equally if not more earth-shattering.

    There’s a lot of red herrings in the debate; the example of Norway is irrelevant; Norway was never in the EU and there’s no benefit to shutting out a country that was never a member. In any case, it’s a small economy (albeit with a big bank balance). The UK-France border agreement (where UK controls are in Calais and French controls are in Dover) is a separate issue and since the UK was never in Schengen, there won’t be much change at their other borders either.

    Except for one. The border on this island would be a real issue, since the EU will have to assert some kind of control, some kind of consequence. Otherwise, you have free trade between a part of the UK and a part of the EU where no such treaty exists. Enforce the rules and you end up with Irish authorities attempting to define, control and patrol the most disputed border in western Europe while enforcing customs posts so strict that groceries would attract duty before being permitted to cross. And they’re just the logistical and economic consequences; the social ones would be even worse – Northern Ireland’s uneasy peace would be tested by the reinstallation of border controls, the emphasis on its separateness from the rest of the island, the reality that it’s being dragged out of the EU by the votes of English people (last time I checked, the NI public was fairly positive towards the EU).

    The answer might be what I’d call a “Reverse Greenland” solution. Greenland left the EU in 1985; most people don’t know this but it doesn’t really count as a loss to the EU because it was a grey area. They voted for it in 1982 because they didn’t want to come under the common fisheries policy. Greenland is a bit like Denmark’s Scotland; it’s Danish officially but day-to-day, it runs most of its own affairs. So despite Denmark being an (unenthusiastic) EU member, Greenland isn’t and the sky hasn’t fallen in yet. A case could be made for Northern Ireland to gain a bit of independence and become an EU member in its own right, perhaps as a British Overseas Territory like Bermuda or the Falklands. It would enjoy free trade with Britain because it remains technically British but would be sufficiently-unattached to be (or, more accurately, remain) part of the EU. It would mean passport checks for NI citizens travelling to Britain and vice versa but then who flies without a passport these days?

    The upshot for unionists is that NI remains British and gets the chance to assert its own identity, for nationalists it means no separation from the rest of the island and more independence from London interference.

    As for Scotland, the combination of two prospects – being wrenched out of the EU against its will and the fact that England will continue to dominate the British national discourse in this and other matters even more outside the EU will lead to a deafening call for another referendum for independence, purely for the chance to decide upon their EU status themselves. Unlike the last referendum, where countries with their own breakaway regions like Spain would have fought to keep an independent Scotland out of the EU, the prevailing wish amongst the rest of the EU will be to seek to retain any friend in that part of Europe, especially one with natural resources. If London refuses a new referendum, there could be a Catalan-style stand-off and unilateral declaration of independence, which will finally and peacefully end the link – but I doubt it would come to that.

    TLDR; the UK would not be let leave the EU without being disadvantaged in some way. Northern Ireland would be a key region in a new UK-EU relationship and its repositioning within the British realm might be the only solution to let it stay within the EU while the rest of the UK leaves – except for Scotland, which would sooner leave the UK than the EU

  7. Jake38

    “…………joined controversial fellow economist and Irish Independent columnist Dan O’Brien……” How exactly is Dan controversial? Maybe if your economic perspective and insights were on a par with those of Eamon Dunphy you might consider Dan controversial………Oh…I see………

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