Will Ireland really turn its back on Britain to please Brussels?

Ireland is umbilically attached to Britain. There is a special relationship

BY Iain Martin | iainmartin1   /  6 January 2017

If you do not read the economist David McWilliams, you should. Even if you do not agree with every word of his views – I certainly do not – there are few writers and performers out there (he turns his events into a performance) with a better gift for exploring and explaining complex themes in a manner that is entertaining and easily understood.

Earlier this week, the Irishman wrote a fascinating column on Brexit and the implications for Ireland, calling on the Irish political class to get its act together.

“It appears that the Irish government has decided that there is no special relationship with Britain, and that our attitude to Britain and Brexit will be subservient to the EU’s attitude. The idea that there is no special relationship is not only patently false (I’m writing this from Belfast, for God’s sake!), such a cavalier attitude to our nearest neighbour is extremely dangerous economically, verging on the financially treacherous.”

Ireland’s position, says McWilliams, cannot be compared in the Brexit negotiations with France, or Germany, or Hungary. The UK and Ireland have a land border and there are 500,000 Irish citizens living in England. There are ties of history and deep tensions addressed in a bilateral international treaty, the Good Friday Agreement.

He says:

“We are umbilically attached to Britain in our two most labour-intensive industries, agriculture and tourism, where the British are by far our biggest clients. One-third of our imports come from Britain. The Dublin/London air corridor is the busiest route in Europe and one of the busiest in the world. In fact, the Irish airline Ryanair is the biggest airline in Britain, carrying far more British people every year than British Airways.”

The concern that McWilliams has is that Ireland’s relations with the UK (its leading ally)  are being outsourced by the Irish government to the federalist Michel Barnier, the EU’s negotiator on Brexit.

“The omens are not good. The government’s stance that there can be no negotiations with Britain before Article 50 is triggered does not make sense for Ireland. It may make sense for a federalist French politician, but for Irish people, it makes no sense – unless our critical faculties are now subservient to the shibboleth of being ‘Good Europeans’. What if being a good European means being bad Irishmen and women? If so, what is the point of the entire exercise?”

Indeed. McWilliams is no Eurosceptic. Membership of the EU has been good for Ireland and good for the EU, he believes. But he makes an important point that illustrates once again that the Brexit business is asymmetric and more nuanced than is acknowledged by ultra-Remainers weeping and wailing that the UK has no hand and has committed national suicide, and by Faragists who think it is all as easy as Nigel F ordering three pints of Spitfire and a round of cognac chasers.