David McWilliams: Ireland can't be a "wallflower" in Brexit talks

Our most important negotiations since "Michael Collins went across to London"

With Article 50 triggered today and Brexit's "phoney war" at an end, economist David McWilliams has stressed the importance of Ireland putting its best foot forward in upcoming negotiations.

"It's crucial," McWilliams told The Pat Kenny Show, "that the outcome of these negotiations that the Government brings back from Brussels is not something that is so negative to Ireland that it could misjudge the mood of the nation."

The Brexit talks represent "the biggest negotiations we have ever been in, arguably, since Michael Collins went across to London", he said.

If Ireland gets a raw deal, he reckons, it could serve to foster anti-EU sentiment on the island.

McWilliams feels that the "real lesson" of Brexit for all parties thus far has been that "it's incredibly dangerous if a government misjudges the mood of the people".

He cited former UK Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to hold a Brexit referendum in the first place, and the insufficient assurances the European Commission made to him on the issue before it went to the polls.

Irish aims

So what should Ireland be looking for?

"What we need is free trade with Britain, which is still by far and away our biggest single trading partneras a country.

"Free movement of people, which we've had throughout all The Troubles between the two islands. And no border with Northern Ireland."

Outsourcing Irish concerns to the European Commission could be problematic, he ventured:

"The mood can sour...

"A little Ireland, if not represented properly, probably won't get a look in."

"Should we be seeding those competences to a Frenchman?" he asked, referring to the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier (pictured).

Picture by: Thierry Monasse/AP/Press Association Images

While McWilliams believes that a mature outlook would mean there was no need for the EU to seek a kind of revenge for the UK's decision to pull out, given the current climate he predicts "it's almost imperative to teach Britain a lesson".

So how does Ireland make its voice heard?

"We can't be wallflowers," he concluded.

"If we choose to be the wallflowers, then you get what you get at the end of the night. Whereas if you choose to dance, at least you're in the game."