Theresa May’s warm words for Ireland do little to calm Irish fears about the implications of Brexit

A special version for Ireland of Theresa May’s letter to the EU president triggering Art 50 has appeared above her name in the Irish Times. It extends  the same tone of friendly conciliation to Ireland as to the whole of the EU.

We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies of Ireland and all our friends across the continent.

The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have a unique relationship founded on our distinctive geography, history and trade – and above all the deep family ties and bonds of affection that unite us.

I understand the special significance of this relationship and I am personally committed to strengthening it, not weakening it, as the UK leaves the EU.

That is why in my letter to Donald Tusk I have made clear that one of the key principles for the negotiation ahead is that we must pay close attention to the UK’s unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

I know that for the people of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the ability to move freely across the Border is an essential part of daily life.

So my letter makes clear that we want to avoid a return to a hard Border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us and to make sure that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland.

My letter also sets out the important responsibility that we have to make sure that nothing is done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland, and to continue to uphold the Belfast Agreement.

But there should be no reason why we cannot agree a new deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU that works for us all.

Trade between our countries is worth over £43 billion a year and supports 400,000 jobs. There are also complex supply chains that benefit both our countries.

So it is in all our interests for the partnership between the UK and the EU to allow maximum freedom for British companies to trade with, and operate within, European markets, and the same for Irish companies in the UK. It would be to the detriment of us all if unnecessary barriers to trade were erected.

 

Apart  from these sections   mentioning Ireland, most of her  message is about the EU as a whole, leaving Ireland to  take what they can from it. While  her pitch is well meaning  it may not be much of a comfort.  On the EU side the question is, will Irish interests be lost in an EU 27 or will they be better served because they are supported by 26 other states?

Although it  may be ungracious when she is calling for an even stronger British-Irish relationship,   it’s  fair  to say that  the stilted language of diplomacy of May’s article  takes us little further  forward.

It’ll do very little to calm  the high levels of apprehension  in PatLeahy’s report  on the fact that the Brexit die has been cast at last.

… it’s clear even at this stage that the UK’s determination to leave the customs union means that some Border procedures will be necessary. Even a free-trade deal with zero tariffs – the best possible outcome for Ireland – would require some controls, officials say, as the UK would be a “third country”, and the EU would to ensure that other countries’ goods are not entering the union through Britain.

Yesterday the Taoiseach said that “the best minds in Ireland and Britain are going to have to deal with this”. Well, they have their work cut out.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was also asked – repeatedly – what assurances he can give that people will not be worse off after Brexit. Kenny waffled a bit. The truth is: he can give none.

The future for Ireland is deeply uncertain, and our ability to control future events that deeply affect us is highly limited.

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London