UK needs to heed Ireland’s friendly advice on Brexit
2017-08-15 -

By Michael McGowan

In Europe, it is widely considered that the United Kingdom is making a serious mistake in deciding to leave the European Union, and should think again about this disastrous move. Indeed, the UK would be wise to heed the advice of its closest neighbour and friend, the Republic of Ireland, with which it joined the union in 1973.

There is a concern across both sides of the Irish Sea that Brexit would undermine relations between Ireland and the UK, which have become even closer through membership of the EU, and that’s besides the fear of damaging the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Speaking at Queen’s University recently on his first visit to Belfast as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar expressed the view that Brexit has the potential to “drive a wedge” between Britain and Ireland. He said that no one on the island wanted to return to the days of a militarised, heavily policed border which was “a place of bloodshed and violence”.

The Taoiseach also made it clear that a hard Brexit would be “a barrier to trade, prosperity and peace” and “a brutal physical manifestation of historic divisions and political failure”.

On devolution and power sharing being restored in northern Ireland, Varadkar said: “We need the executive, the assembly, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council up and running and acting in the interest of our people. We need that more than ever, and we need it now.”

Varadkar’s comments were echoed by the Irish Ambassador to the UK, Dan Mulhall, on a visit to the Liverpool Irish Centre before taking up his new post as Ambassador to the United States.

On the impact Brexit might have on the question of a united Ireland, Mulhall said it was a possibility, but there would need to be evidence that a majority in Northern Ireland would vote for unification.

Mulhall also expressed his belief that the British position was beginning to soften on what Brexit would look like. When asked about the possibility of businesses relocation to Ireland post-Brexit, he said that Ireland would prove a natural choice.

There is a strong contrast between Ireland and Britain when it comes to attitudes towards Europe, with Ireland being positive and forward looking while the UK appears to be stuck in the past and not coming to terms with its history.

Until the sharp reality check of 1956, when it had to back down from its ill-fated campaign over the Suez Canal, Britain existed under the delusion it was a world military power because of its past empire and being on the winning side in two world wars.

Despite joining the then EEC in 1973, Britain has always been half-hearted about the EU, whereas Ireland is a fully committed member and often compares the boost of joining the EU with that of achieving its independence.

Throughout Europe there is amazement that Britain wants to leave the EU. More amazing still is that it appears the UK has wasted more than a year since the referendum result and has still no plans in place for the practicalities of leaving the union – not least of those involving the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.


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