Irexit: Expert says ‘leaving on WTO terms isn’t option for Ireland’
And Ray Bassett believes the next few years will be characterised by a fundamental reshaping of relations between Dublin and Brussels which could result in Ireland following the UK’s lead and quitting altogether with a so-called Irexit. Speaking earlier this week to the pro-Brexit think tank Facts4EU, eurosceptic academic Anthony Coughlan, Associate Professor Emeritus at Trinity College Dublin, claimed the tide was turning against the EU – with “Irexit now on the agenda”.
Prof Coughlan predicted people would become increasingly critical now that Ireland – led by Taoiseach Micheal Martin – was a contributor, as opposed to a net recipient.
Mr Bassett, Ireland’s former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, who helped negotiate the landmark 1998 Good Friday Agreement, told Express.co.uk: ”I am a good personal friend of Tony Coughlan, a man I admire because of his bravery and, at times, lonely opposition in Ireland to Euro Federalism.
“He has been subjected to personal abuse over the years, simply because he failed to follow the official narrative.”
Ursula von der Leyen and Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheal Martin
The political landscape is changing, and Ireland would need to adapt fast, stressed Mr Bassett, who outlined his own Euro-scepticism in his 2020 book ‘Ireland and the EU Post Brexit’.
In a reference to the closeness with which Mr Martin’s predecessor Leo Varadkar cleaved to Brussels when it came to Brexit, he added: “The days of being the EU’s catspaw in relations with London are probably over.”
Events on the UK side of the Irish Sea had major implications for Irish politics as well, Mr Bassett pointed out, citing the Northern Ireland Protocol, the mechanism for preventing a hard border on island of Ireland which Unionist critics say has instead resulted in a border down the Irish Sea.
He explained: “The decision of the British Labour Party to provide an undertaking that it will not seek re-entry into the European Union, or the Customs Union or the Single Market, has extinguished the last remaining hopes of anti-Brexiteers in Ireland.
“Some still clung to the hope that Keir Starmer might reverse the result of the Brexit Referendum.
“It is now clearly in Ireland’s interest that the EU and the UK establish a good working relationship and that the remaining issues, relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol, be resolved. There is no point in waiting for a Labour Government to come to the rescue.”
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Give sufficient political will, outstanding sticking points could be resolved relatively quickly, Mr Bassett argued.
He said: “It will require some changes to the text of the Protocol but the arrival of a new Prime Minister in Downing Street should be seen as an opportunity for a fresh start.
“Hence Ireland will have to stop seeking, on all occasions, to push the agenda of the EU and think more about the long term interest of the country.”
Ireland’s two most important trading partners were the United States and the United Kingdom, with the Republic relying less on trade with other members of the Single Market than any other member of the EU27, Mr Bassett said.
He continued: “The growing cost of Ireland’s net contribution to the EU budget and the increasing role of Brussels in Foreign Affairs and Defence are areas which may in the future cause friction with Dublin.
“While pro-EU sentiment remains strong within the Republic of Ireland, it has fallen somewhat from the very high levels at the height of Brexit.
“Some of that pro-EU support was wrapped up in dislike for the British Government and when that element is removed from the scene, there may be a more balanced view taken of the EU connection and a further fall in support.”
The future election of a Sinn Fein-led government in Dublin led by Mary Lou McDonald would undoubtedly cool some of the Irish administration’s traditional devotion to Brussels, Mr Bassett suggested.
He said: “Sinn Fein is a nationalist party that believes in national sovereignty and a more intergovernmental approach to EU cooperation.
“It describes itself as euro-critical rather than euro-sceptical.
“It is in my opinion that while Irexit is not imminent, longer-term trends point to a more robust and less obsequious role for the Republic of Ireland in the EU. The eventual destination of that evolution is still up for grabs.”