The UK governments approach to Ireland and Brexit shows it does not understand the Irish psyche nor real concerns of the population. The Irish focus is on maintaining peace, growing the economy and making Europe work for it. The time is fast approaching for some blunt talking to put the Irish case forward.
To date, the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, has remained friendly and polite claiming that UK proposals are merely ‘confusing’, and asking the UK government for clarification. The response hides the underlying frustration in Ireland with the lack of progress and ability of the UK government to put a meaningful proposal on the table.
In Ireland, the feeling is that the British government has forgotten the murder and destruction of the ‘troubles’ and are willing to put minorities either in the conservative party or northern Irish politics ahead of everything else.
The UK’s first Brexit position paper, on the customs union, amounted to an exploration impossible proposals. The UK wants to leave the European union only to remain a member of a customs union. Liam Fox, the UK trade Secretary, mainly wants the freedom to negotiate trade deals with countries outside the EU and to benefit from EU trade. A position that is not attainable.
The focus on trade, while important to Ireland is not the primary concern. Ireland is and will, take its opportunity and lure as many companies from London to Dublin as possible. The decade the country has had since the crash means this is a chance too important to miss. The real concern playing on people’s minds is the risk that ‘brexit’ brings to the peace in Northern Ireland.
The Good Friday agreement signed on the 10th of April 1998, is still only nineteen years old. Many of us can still remember the bombs in Dublin, Belfast, Enniskillen, Manchester, Guildford and London. These are the atrocities and murderous days to which no one north or south of the border nor in the UK want to return.
There is an assumption that long-lasting peace in the north of Ireland is a given. This is not true. The assembly has and is not a functioning governing body. Social and economic conditions have stabilised, but the communities are not a homogenous group living in harmony. The short-sighted awarding of £1 billion to the DUP to prop up a minority conservative government does not help the case and will come back to haunt the Conservative party. The spark of violence and the ghosts of extremism can return at any time. The UK Brexit negotiators need to understand that South of the border, a return to the ‘troubles’ is not an option
To date, the UK has taken an approach to negotiations reminiscent of empire and the partition act of 1920. There is an unwillingness to sit around the table and understand Ireland's concerns. There is no recognition that as Ireland approaches 100 years since independence our standing in the world has changed, we are global, not local. We have learned from our past but are not defined by it. We are ambitious and have the education and confidence to grow internationally.
The May and Fox approach plays well with 'little England' but is naïve misinformed. It allows the British to claim that if anything goes wrong, it will not be their fault. Any problem at the border will be the consequence of Brussels and Dublin putting up obstacles. Any return to violence will not be their fault but belongs to someone else. For Irish politicians and people, this is risky and unacceptable and now is the time to let it be known.