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.


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  • Ciarán Doherty

    Sadly I expect Dublin to play soft ball, asking rather than demanding from Westminster and failing to use this opportunity to strong arm the EU into supporting Brexit policies that will result in a significant boost to Ireland as business leaves the UK.

    The result of a soft ball approach as Dublin usually takes with London will mean a worst of all worlds for the Republic; little to no significant shift of business to Ireland, meagre effort from Brussels to ensure trade lost with Britain is picked up elsewhere, the worst kind of border etc. etc.

    It’s time to be selfish, after all that is the primary ideology of the English that created this mess.

  • Gavin Smithson

    No, it was the idealogy of the British people as a whole collective unit from Belleek to Shetland to Cardiff to Cornwall, created this opportunity (not a mess as you called it)

    Remember that 44% of people in NI and a similar percentage in Scotland voted against the EU. Don’t make the mistake that support for the EU is unanimous in NI.

    Also, Wales voted against EU membership. Wales is hardly English.

  • Ciarán Doherty

    Yeah all very nice but the English vastly outnumber all you lot in the satellites and they voted for their own interests. Ask a typical English Leave voter what they think of NI and if they are even aware of it’s existence their feelings towards it will be ambivalent, sure it’s a nice little colonial trophy for world maps but on the other hand, they perceive you lot as non-productive foreign scroungers just like they do Poles and Turks and everyone else.

    The Conservative Party has to keep them happy, not you. The fate of NI is really a minor footnote for May, and so too should the fate of the English be a minor footnote for the Taoiseach.

    There is no realistic hope that England will profit from Brexit but there is the potential for Ireland to benefit, and also the potential to lose out significantly. Placating Westminster might have served Dublin well in the past but that’s not the case with Brexit, they will need to play hard ball.

    I know none of this computes in your British nationalist mentality but British nationalism is well and truly dead. Get on a boat and take a trip to middle England and have a chat with some locals about Brexit and you will understand. English nationalism is the force at play here and to these people you’re just another furriner come to steal their taxes and nick their jobs.

  • SleepyD

    It’s just lucky we have such a stellar devolved administration to look after our interests. Well done guys / ✋

  • scepticacademic

    The selfish, hard-ball approach that you advocate would do more harm to the Irish economy than you seem to realise and far outweigh any new business that could be diverted out of the UK after Brexit. And what about the impact on the tens of thousands of people in the border region (on either side) whose lives and livelihoods depend on free movement? Have you so little regard for the welfare of your fellow Irish men and women? Or don’t they matter in the face of your hatred of the English nationalists?

  • Ciarán Doherty

    It is of historical importance to the English working class, not just the European public, that Brexit is shown to be an abject failure. That Brexit will be a negative for the British economy is obvious, and the extent will be determined by how hard or soft the Brexit – the danger is a soft Brexit that allows the UK to remain much as it is now in terms of prosperity, that is successfully portrayed by PR as a hard Brexit and a victory for the far right.

    In that world, the English working class will for the foreseeable future be convinced that right wing ethno-nationalism is a solution to the misery of capitalism. If kicking out the Euros worked, why not kick out the rest too? Why not kill prisoners en masse instead of housing them in jails (note the recent polls on the attitudes of Leave voters).

    It is time for England to lose it’s mythological views of itself as superior to the rest of the world.

    If they want to reject the rest of the world then they should get what they ask for and see if that really is the solution to their problems.

    That means losing passporting rights for the City and seeing a significant exodus of FS to Dublin/Frankfurt/Paris, that means it’s agricultural industry collapsing under the weight of tariffs, that means thousands laid off at car factories in the Leave voting heartlands – because THAT is what they voted for, and Dublin should benefit wherever possible.

    Give it 10 years and they will be back in the EU, restoring their economy and ready to engage with the world without their delusions of grandeur clouding their vision – and even more importantly, the working class can see clearly their enemy is the rich and not the block down the road with a turban.

    I say that in full knowledge that most Leave voters are good people with genuine economic difficulties in their lives that have been lied to repeatedly that the EU is the cause and after 40 years of it, what else could they do but believe it. But they need a cold hard dose of reality or they will be stuck in this mentality forever.

  • scepticacademic

    None of which has anything to do with the points in my comment, which was focused on the implications for Ireland.

  • Brian Walker

    So Brexit MUST fail in order to prove an ideological point? What an antique form of Marxism you picked up

  • Ciarán Doherty

    Like I said, the extent to which Brexit is a failure is the extent to which it even occurs. The more complete the extraction from the economic and political cooperation with it’s neighbours, the worse the impact for Britain.

    All the next 2 years are is an attempt by everyone else to water down Brexit as much as possible whilst convincing the English that they are getting what they asked for. Consider me a democrat, they voted to get rid of immigrants even art the expense of their own prosperity – give it to them, and afterwards we won’t have to worry about them going any further down that far right path.

  • Ciarán Doherty

    You don’t really know the economic implications of a tough stance on Britain on Ireland, not one in which Ireland was savvy enough to take this opportunity get it’s own good deal with the EU. The EU dictate the terms in this negotiation after all, the only question is who wins the most concessions: Paris and Berlin all to themselves, or does Dublin get a piece too? That depends on playing hard ball.

    But I won’t claim now the future either, so if it really would be far worse for Ireland then I would agree with you, there’s no point in two countries committing pointless self-harm in the next 2 years. All I’m saying is that whenever there is a chance for Ireland to profit from the English retracting into their own hysterical nationalism, they should take it. It’s win win, Ireland profits and the English are further dissuaded from this mentality in the future.

  • Ciarán Doherty

    By the way I like the fact that you considered my entire post as being by definition “Marxist” presumably given that I uttered the phrase “working class”. So adorably post-ideological.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Let’s forget she’s got the trappings of Prime Minister and just look at this in terms of a woman trying to get support for her position.

    A woman speaks
    … Speaking accomplishes nothing
    … … Woman has no evidence to back up her claims
    … …. … Skeptical audience judge that there’s no authority to her statement
    … … … … People who didn’t think the speech would accomplish anything still don’t
    …. … … … … Woman hoped for a different response.
    …. … … … … …. Audience learns to ignore and distrust the woman
    …. … … … … …. … Repeat again the next time the same woman or a different person who does the same thing.

  • Roger

    Warm words for Ireland?
    She again insists on not even using its name.
    A contrast from her recent speech in Dublin. No oversight.

  • Philip Murphy

    Honestly if I was German or Swedish I would largely agree that they need to fail and fail hard to finally knock some sense of reality into them, that they are a midsize country, already slipping down the GDP rankings.

    But I’m Irish. I know that economic devastation in the UK will mean economic devastation in Ireland, EU or no EU (and I am firmly in the pro-EU camp). We have managed to diversify greatly since joining the EEC and are thankfully not nearly as economically dependent as we once were on the UK, but we still trade huge volumes with them, so we should hope that their Brexit is soft, even if this fails to teach them a lesson in humility.

    I do agree that Ireland needs to aggressively push our EU partners to give us the lion’s share of whatever crumbs fall from the negotiators’ table. We should, given our far higher dependence on UK trade, be given priority by our EU partners when it comes to deciding where the large EU agencies like the medicines board relocate to.

  • Karl

    If these platitudes do actually come to something, it will mean a border at Stranraer with all that entails. Cue “Unionist fury” headlines in the BT.

    The outcome of the negotiations will provide SF with a challenging balancing act. A hard Brexit hastens the chance of a border poll. It cannot call for one (tough EU stance in negotiations) because of the impact on the people.

    Expect them to wail about the inequity of it all but be ready to launch a campaign for unification off the back of it.

  • Salmondnet

    Quite a while since I have seen class and national bigotry so openly articulated. There was me thinking English membership of the EU is a matter for the English in much the same way as Irish membership of the EU is oh, I don’t know, perhaps a matter for the Irish, but I now see the error of my ways.Obviously we must be forced to act in accordance with what you perceive to be your interests and your grand plan for the world.
    Thank you for telling us what you really think. I am sure that the nascent English nationalist movement will take due note and act accordingly.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    May is as dumb as a bag of spanners – the female part is just co-incidence. Compare her with Nicola Sturgeon, who is one of the smartest politicians in Europe.

  • 1729torus

    This rhetoric about “deep ties”, “bonds of affection”, “special relationship”, “our two countries”¹, and so on is starting to sound overbearing, presumptive, and obstrusive. It’s looking like a crude attempt at shaping perceptions and pretending that Dublin isn’t really independent.

    The inevitable outcome of repeatedly violating other countries’ boundaries and taking their support for granted is either overt resistance, or they quietly and slowly drift away and say nothing.

    I’m engaging in ethnic stereotyping here, but this seems to be an example of that English arrogance that asssumes that others will come crawling to you combined with notions of “spheres of influence”.

    ¹ It’s always “our two countries” or “our countries”. You never see “our two respective countries” or “our respective countries”. It suggests a sense of shared fate (as distinct from shared interests) that is unjustified.

  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    Theresa May’s main political skill is using lots of words to say absolutely nothing

  • Katyusha

    There was me thinking English membership of the EU is a matter for the English in much the same way as Irish membership of the EU is oh, I don’t know, perhaps a matter for the Irish,

    Oh, if only it was. The English are perfectly welcome to decide whether or not England should be in the EU, as long as they leave Scotland and Northern Ireland behind I don’t see the problem.

  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    It’s gas that you think that people in Belleek are ‘British’. You’ve probably never been to Belleek.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Truth has been one of the casualties of Brexit. I think the status of the British government in NI has been undermined by the language coming from London, with its simplistic analysis, deliberate confusion between passport and customs checks, and general minimisation of the problem. Words about a special relationship are all very fine, but this is a special relationship where the other party of moving away from you while continuing to assure you that there isn’t a problem.

  • Reader

    Katyusha: The English are perfectly welcome to decide whether or not England should be in the EU, as long as they leave Scotland and Northern Ireland behind I don’t see the problem.
    England is not a member of the EU. It was a UK wide vote for the future of the UK. The English have as much right to vote as they choose as anyone does.

  • Katyusha

    So you agree with me then, in refuting the point that English membership of the EU is a matter for the English as England is not a member state at all.

    Thanks for that.

  • Reader

    It was certainly poorly phrased. Can we agree on the following. “Each English voter has as much right to vote as they choose as any Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish voter.”
    And perhaps you might agree with me that the result we have now is the legitimate outcome of a UK referendum on UK membership of the EU.

  • Katyusha

    I do indeed. You can’t fight against something without recognising that it exists, after all.
    In that light the way the Brexit process has been progressed has demonstrated quite beautifully just how desperately the UK’s political structures are in need of reform.

    Well, personally, I’d take collapse as a viable alternative to reform, but you would think that those who wish for the UK to survive would have an interest in modernising and maintaining it. Apparently not.

  • Erewhon888

    It seems there is reluctance to mention the elephant in the room except by the Telegraph’s Evans-Pritchard whose current piece includes the observation:

    “The ECB will have to taper and ultimately end its bond purchases as global reflation builds. The markets know that once Frankfurt rolls back emergency stimulus, as it must do to avert a political storm in Germany over rising prices, Italy, Portugal, and Spain will lose a buyer-of-last-resort for their debt.

    The core problem remains: the conflicting needs of Germany and the South cannot be reconciled within EMU. The gap in competitiveness and debt burdens is too great. They should not be sharing a currency union at all.

    As matters now stand, Italy’s anti-EU Five Star movement leads the polls by a six-point margin with 32pc of the vote. The four anti-euro parties are likely to win over 50pc of the seats between them in the Italian parliament in the elections early next year.

    Whether it is this cycle or the next cycle, voters will ultimately elect a rebel government in a eurozone state that is too big to be crushed into submission “a la grecque”.

    I note financial newsletters agreeing with this, so the question remains – what happens when the inevitable failure of the monetary union occurs?

  • Fred Jensen

    I wouldn’t worry about us, thanks very much guys, especially the Ulster Unionists, i know you were especially worried about the economic effect of Brexit on the ROI 😉

    I’d say the 1,000 jobs announced today by JPMorgan in Dublin as a Brexit move will ease the pain somewhat.

  • pegan

    As an American I don’t have a clue to all of this, but of course that won’t stop me from chiming in. 1. I want what is best for Ireland. That’s a bottom line. 2. Most predictions of financial ruin never come true because people find a way to make business happen. I suspect that will happen after Brexit. 3. (Here’s where I will get hate): I favor Brexit because I am appalled by the rules and regulations of Brussels. Americans would riot in the streets if they were forced upon us. I also favor Brexit since it might make the relationship with USA and Britain better. 4. (Now for even more hate (since no one can take a joke, sorta)): I can solve Ireland’s problems easily: Make it the 51st state of the United States. Off California several thousand miles, we have the islands of Hawaii. Off New York a couple thousand miles, we could have the island of Ireland as part of America. Good-bye Brussels! (Patrick Egan, jamming with the Bard)

  • epg_ie

    So she has expended more words on us down here than on you up there?

  • Karl

    What rules / regulations do you object to so much that would inspire riots amongst US citizens?

  • runnymede

    If Ireland leaves the EU and rejoins the UK it will almost certainly not be worse off.

  • Fear Éireannach

    How can you possibly say that? Joining a bigger less prosperous and slow growing place is not a good plan.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Holiday pay.

  • lizmcneill

    Paid maternity leave, universal health care.

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    The regulations that stop us putting lighter fluid into food

  • scepticacademic

    Here’s two things I do know:
    1. The Uk is a large market and a major destination for Irish exports, esp. indigenous firms and SMEs, esp. in agri-food (economically very important to rural Ireland). Any hardball approach from the EU side will result in significant impediments to trade with this key market (tariff or non tariff barriers).
    2. Many Irish goods exports currently travel to mainland Europe via the UK. Ditto re consequences.
    Ergo, hardball = self harm.
    Fortunately, I think the Irish government and civil service realises this.

  • pegan



    Let me be clear: Hate speech is terrible. Insulting speech is rude. Nice people do not do it. But Americans have the First Amendment. We want no speech, except libel and “Fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire, curbed by the government. Take that away and we will riot.

  • pegan

    It is up to the company. Why would we let the government impose that on a company that cannot afford it or does not want to give it? They will lose good employees. And employees are free to find other jobs. Government restrictions are usually bad. Thoreau: “The government that governs best, governs least.”

  • pegan

    Maternity leave: It is up to the company. If it is draconian, the company will lose good employees. Why encourage the government to impose its standards on companies? Companies have rights, too, not just employees. Maternity leave is an issue between employer and employee; the government needs to keep out of it. Too many laws is bad.

    UHC: We may eventually have that because the masses want something for free and will vote to have the wealthy pay for it. Thatcher, a paraphrase: Socialism is great until you run out of other people’s money.

  • pegan

    Most Americans like lighter fluid in our fluid. It’s like a hot spice. One must be careful of lighting up a cigarette after a meal though. When Ireland becomes the 51st state of the United States, you will get a chance to try it.

  • lizmcneill

    How do all these other countries manage it then?

    TFW you have the same amount of paid maternity leave as Liberia…

  • pegan

    Versus Left leaning Democrats in Chicago, IL U.S.A. who use very few words, all monosyllabic to say nonsense. I guess the question is what is best? Saying nothing or saying nonsense.