“UK policy is towards a more unilateral approach which carries with it many dangers…”

Interesting speech by Micheal Martin at Queens at the end of last week. Certainly an attempt at providing a grounded analysis, by a senior Irish political leader speaking in a U.K. University which even in the best case scenario is unlikely to do well out of any putative Brexit deal.

First, a well aimed dig at ‘Perfidious Albion’ for breaking with the EU:

It is simply impossible to look at the referendum debate and the arguments used to promote Leave and miss the desire to recapture a vision of the past, with Britain being a buccaneering free-trader, seeing Europe as ‘them’ and proud to stand alone.

It was not an open and generous message. The posters and endless front pages about hordes of refugees ready to swamp Britain were real. The endless caricaturing and scapegoating of Europe was central to the campaign.

The crass and false claims about a funding choice between Europe and the NHS happened.

And it wasn’t an aberration – the political discourse in England has for over thirty years rested on a foundation of finding ways of describing the European Union as a conspiracy against English common-sense.

The bananas were never straightened but the myth of Euro-madness kept growing.The pioneering work of Linda Colley on the origins of Britishness post the Scottish Union in 1707 talked about the centrality of ‘the other’ in shaping identity through a direct contrast.

While the other nations in the United Kingdom have evolved their nationalism in different ways, both the rhetoric and substance of English nationalism has a remarkable consistency to it.

In practical terms this is a distorted even pro-EU discourse. That’s how Euro-positive leaders like Tony Blair so regularly talked about how they were “resisting” and “facing-down” Brussels.

The majority vote was very clearly in favour of the idea that the UK should be able to set its own rules and it rejected the idea of shared sovereignty in critical areas. It can of course be argued that people were misled or ill-informed, but this is not relevant to the issue of dealing with the outcome.

What the referendum result means is that an important and powerful country is stepping away from multilateralism and is seeking to reinvigorate an old, and I believe failed, model of weaker cooperation between states.

As I will say later in relation to London’s attitude to agreements concerning Northern Ireland, there is every reason to be concerned that UK policy is towards a more unilateral approach which carries with it many dangers.

As I’ve said, it is my position, that of my party and of an overwhelming majority of both members of the Oireachtas and the people we serve that Ireland must remain a member of the European Union.

Therefore the success of the Union after Brexit is a major concern for us. We do not have the luxury of saying simply we want to mitigate the impact of Brexit on this island. We also want to make sure that what emerges is a Union which is strong and effective.

An absolute prerequisite for this is that membership must have its benefits. It is not possible to allow an exiting country to retain all of the benefits and none of the commitments made by the remaining members.

This is the core of the argument in relation to Single Market access. That market is dependent on an approach to rule-making and judicial oversight which has been ruled-out by the UK government.

I don’t believe that the EU is being hard-line by setting out a position based on implementing the core principles contained in the Treaties. And a country which has rejected these principles in the name of national sovereignty is in no position to attack others for freely accepting them.

The conditions for access to the single market and customs union are not credibly up for negotiation for the UK as a whole. If they were then what we would be talking about is a complete rewriting of the Treaties – something which is not happening.

That, of course, remains to be seen. However he went on….

Within the Commission a new role for relations with close European neighbours such as the UK and those in the EEA should be created – and this should be mirrored in the Parliament and Council.

Everyone will lose if the UK just drifts off into the night and an air of suspicion and resentment defines the relationship between the EU and its former member.

On domestic matters…

We have to be able to help them to mitigate the immediate impact and we have to be able to help them to diversify their markets. State aid rules as they have traditionally been applied serve an important purpose in underpinning fair competition between member states. However I don’t see how we can properly help those most impacted by Brexit within these rules.

I believe the EU should accept the principle that it must lead in mitigating the impact of Brexit on member states. As part of this it should allow direct aid particularly to help companies through a period of transformation and to diversify their products and markets.

And with regard to Northern Ireland and the wider political (as opposed to constitutional) framing of the Belfast Agreement:

The majority vote was very clearly in favour of the idea that the UK should be able to set its own rules and it rejected the idea of shared sovereignty in critical areas.

It can of course be argued that people were misled or ill-informed, but this is not relevant to the issue of dealing with the outcome.

There are enormous challenges facing the world, and in particular facing liberal democracies.  The European Union is a unique organisation in world history which has created a multilateral organisation which ensures permanent engagement, shared rule-making, independent enforcement and strong institutions.

What the referendum result means is that an important and powerful country is stepping away from multilateralism and is seeking to reinvigorate an old, and I believe failed, model of weaker cooperation between states.

As I will say later in relation to *London’s attitude to agreements concerning Northern Ireland, there is every reason to be concerned that UK policy is towards a more unilateral approach which carries with it many dangers*. [Emphasis added]

So what of the Republic’s (now, because of Brexit, necessarily) unilateral approach towards the future? Martin says:

…the success of the Union after Brexit is a major concern for us.  We do not have the luxury of saying simply we want to mitigate the impact of Brexit on this island.  We also want to make sure that what emerges is a Union which is strong and effective.

An absolute prerequisite for this is that membership must have its benefits.  It is not possible to allow an exiting country to retain all of the benefits and none of the commitments made by the remaining members.

This is the core of the argument in relation to Single Market access.  That market is dependent on an approach to rule-making and judicial oversight which has been ruled-out by the UK government.

I don’t believe that the EU is being hard-line by setting out a position based on implementing the core principles contained in the Treaties.  And a country which has rejected these principles in the name of national sovereignty is in no position to attack others for freely accepting them.

So…

…it is important that the EU find a means of actively engaging with the UK.  For all of the childish name-calling directed towards Brussels, the UK is an important economic and political voice in international affairs and it cannot be allowed to assume the position of just another non-member.

A formal structure for ongoing dialogue and negotiation is required.  This must involve more than an annual summit.  In fact there should be an effort to create formal and permanent ministerial-level engagement.

Within the Commission a new role for relations with close European neighbours such as the UK and those in the EEA should be created – and this should be mirrored in the Parliament and Council.

*Everyone will lose if the UK just drifts off into the night and an air of suspicion and resentment defines the relationship between the EU and its former member.* [Emphasis added]

The corrollory:

The EU also needs to show more urgency and ambition in reforming its own workings. In the past the UK agenda of seeking to roll-back the Union led to risk-averse and limited discussions.  Following the recession only some elements of the deficiencies of the EU and the Eurozone have been tackled.  It must renew its commitment to giving each member a credible route to growth and assistance in achieving it.

…the EU should accept the principle that it must lead in mitigating the impact of Brexit on member states.  As part of this it should allow direct aid particularly to help companies through a period of transformation and to diversify their products and markets.

On a more national level Brexit makes the case for being much more aggressive in pursuing the knowledge-economy policies which have worked so well in the last decade and a half.  Investment in research and innovation has directly led to the creation of high-value, secure employment in sectors which remained vibrant during the recession.

Progress in de-commoditising our trade has been swift and must now go much further.

There is also something that is going by the board almost entirely by default. And it is something mentioned early in the changes voluntarily undertaken by the Republic in the first passages of the Belfast Agreement: ie, the transparent maintainence of relationships:

In terms of our East-West relations we have to find new ways of maintaining them. There has been an undeniable drift in the quality of these relations in the last six years.

In some ways the Strand 3 structures of the Good Friday Agreement have allowed a formal interaction replace what should be a more organic approach.

During my time as a minister, and in particular in the education and enterprise departments, I maintained regular visits and policy exchanges with London counterparts independent of Strand 3 and independent of exchanges at EU Council meetings.

On a more basic level, East-West interactions are a core part of both of our cultures.  It is decades since someone other than an Irishman presented the Eurovision Song Contest on the BBC.

West Cork’s own Graham Norton and Bray’s Dara O’ Briain remain unequivocally Irish and an integral part of British life.  The seamlessness of movement back and forth across the Irish Sea has benefitted us both and must be maintained once the protection of EU law is removed.

The building of respect and understanding between us was facilitated by the fact that our leaders met regularly at EU meetings and worked to a shared agenda.  This relationship cannot be taken for granted.

And on Northern Ireland:

 

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