If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, there’s no such thing as a good Brexit. The economic and social impact of Brexit has already been quite damaging, while the onslaught of Covid-19 creates further harm. Yet regardless of what form Brexit takes and how the Irish protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement is implemented, there will always be a need for a working UK-Ireland relationship.
To generalise centuries of shared history, this relationship has always been, to put it mildly, difficult. That said, in recent decades it has evolved to become far more mature and more equal than possibly ever before.
The visit of the Queen of the United Kingdom to Ireland and the reciprocal visit of President Michael D Higgins to the UK perhaps signified the high point. And where once Ireland exported 60 per cent of goods to the UK, that figure is now about 11 per cent, so the relationship has become far less dependent.
Understandably, the Brexit referendum and the negotiations which have followed have had a significant impact on relations, not helped by the political machinations that have gripped Westminster as a result – political machinations which at times became as volatile as anything seen in peace time since the enactment of the Corn Laws.
The more nationalist global political trend which has gripped the US, Italy, Hungary and beyond has also run through British politics, leaving matters of international engagement in a difficult position.
All that said, there is still a clear need to maintain the relatively warm relationship between Ireland and the UK. While the details of the trade negotiations are beyond the direct control of the Irish government, the UK will still be a crucially important economic partner for Ireland regardless of sector. Ireland and the UK will maintain clear shared interests in areas beyond economic ones, thanks to the Common Travel Area that remains.
As the Brexit farce continues to roll on in London, and as some of the actions become increasingly difficult to stomach, there is a temptation to revert to outdated animosities. To hear an opposition TD state in the Dáil recently that “you can never trust the British” is unhelpful and disingenuous to the many good relationships in place.
Earlier in the summer, Matt Cooper wrote eloquently in this newspaper that it is never okay to “Brit-bash”, and that should continue to frame the thought process in the coming testing days. Not everyone in the UK is a rabid Brexiteer, nor do they share some of the loathsome opinions of Nigel Farage or the more odious views from the Conservative backbenches.
Clearly, it is in Ireland’s interests for the EU and the UK to have a good working relationship in the future. It is in Ireland’s interest to make sure we can continue to do business of all kinds with our nearest neighbours, not least in being a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.
Indeed the Good Friday Agreement and the many institutions related to it provide the tools to allow for Ireland to have much closer relations with the UK post-Brexit than any of our EU colleagues will have. Maximising these relations will be in everybody’s interest but must be done in a tolerant manner.
We can and must be firm with our neighbours, especially when it comes to Brexit responsibilities, but there is nothing to be gained and everything to be lost if we lose sight of the need for warm relations.
Neale Richmond is a Fine Gael TD for Dublin Rathdown