Ireland should support Britain to help get Brexit deal - Former ambassador

A former ambassador says Ireland should be doing more to help Britain secure a Brexit deal with t...
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

20.32 1 Oct 2020

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Ireland should support Britain...

Ireland should support Britain to help get Brexit deal - Former ambassador

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

20.32 1 Oct 2020

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A former ambassador says Ireland should be doing more to help Britain secure a Brexit deal with the EU, rather than being "straight in that Brussels camp".

Ray Bassett, the former Irish ambassador to Canada, was speaking after the European Commission started legal action against the UK over its plan to breach the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Westminster’s Internal Markets Bill was "in full contradiction" to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which prevents the return of a hard border in Ireland.


But Mr Bassett told The Hard Shoulder Ireland is not blameless, and should be helping its nearest neighbour.

"I was a bit taken aback by Simon Coveney going over to Washington and saying 'Brexit is based on emotion and nationalism' - it's not a good idea if you're trying to do deals to actually have a go at the other side.

"Brexit has occurred, we shouldn't be continuing to fight that war - and so I don't think that's particularly helpful in bringing about an agreement".

He said Ireland's Brexit policy to date has been "fairly disastrous".

"We didn't help David Cameron, we resisted his attempts to get concessions, then we more or less nobbled Theresa May with her backstop and in the process destroyed the moderate wing of the Conservative Party.

"So we've been beating this drum, but unfortunately the results haven't been particularly good.

"There's no way you could say Boris Johnson is more sympathetic than Theresa May or David Cameron, but we've contributed to that situation.

"So I think it's time for us to say 'We're going to be a bridge between London and Brussels', not sort of sitting on the side for Brussels and being used in some cases as a weapon against the British".

'Ireland broke the Good Friday Agreement'

"In some ways, we broke the Good Friday Agreement in not discussing the issue directly with the British government.

"It's in the Good Friday Agreement that either side has the right to discuss anything with each other.

"And remember the Good Friday Agreement is, in its essence, an agreement between the Irish and the British government - they're the only people who signed it.

"Now the Americans helped and the Canadians helped and others helped: but the very core of the agreement is that the two countries would act as friendly neighbours and partners - that's actually wording from the agreement.

"I think both of us have let it down, but we certainly have not been without blame.

"When Britain was in trouble, particularly when Theresa May was looking for allies, we were one of the ones that were very, very hard.

"We were getting all these speeches by the then-Taoiseach and Tánaiste saying 'the EU is much stronger than Britain, it's the first time we've been in the driving seat': all that is terrible stuff if you're going to get an agreement.

"During the time that Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair were trying to get an agreement, they never ever attacked each other".

"Our interest is the best possible deal for Britain with the EU, because there's 600,000 of our citizens living on the island of Britain, and most of our SMEs trade with Britain very heavily.

"So this idea where we stand up and whether we're more European than Europeans, it's not really in our national interest.

"We should be focusing on what's good for Ireland: we need a deal, we need to have our lorries being able to go through the land bridge, we need to make sure that a border isn't created - either by the EU or by the British.

"But at the moment, we tend to be straight in that Brussels camp, and not looking for special arrangements that would avoid these type of things in these islands".

On the EU's legal action, he said: "I think it's much more symbolic than operational."

"It normally takes cases to the European courts 35 months - so in 35 months' time, or even two and half years, we'll either have a trade deal or we won't.

"And if we don't have a trade deal, it's probable that the UK will ditch the whole withdrawal agreement anyway.

"So this is symbolic, it's a recognition that the European Union is annoyed with Britain - and in this case probably rightly so - but operationally I think this is a side-show compared to the negotiations which are going on on the trade and the security side at the moment.

"And hopefully they will be successful".

Asked if these talks will be a success, he replied: "I think in the end we'll get something".

Main image: A European Union flag is seen outside the British Houses of Parliament in London, Britain in 2019. Picture by: Han Yan/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

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Brexit Brexit Deal Britain Brussels Dublin Ireland Legal Action London Ray Bassett The Hard Shoulder

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