Ireland needs to consider the issue of Britain’s potential exit from the EU and the difficulties it could cause for this country and other member states, a Government minister has warned.
European Affairs Minister Paschal Donohoe stressed if Ireland’s nearest neighbour was to leave the union, it would have serious political and economic consequences.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Donohoe said debate was needed here following a commitment by British prime minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on EU membership.
Britain is Ireland’s most important economic partner in trade, investment and tourism. Some €1bn in trade alone in goods and services flows across the Irish Sea every week.
While any vote on Britain’s EU membership is unlikely until 2017, after the next general election there, senior government figures have already held informal talks with at least one former British prime minister about how to campaign against our nearest neighbour leaving the EU.
Mr Donohoe cautioned against any interference with Britain holding a vote, but warned: “It would be a huge event for us were they to decide that they were going to leave the European Union or change their terms of membership.
“We should have a debate in Ireland about what that all means for us and what would happen. That debate is now starting. I think it is more than likely going to develop next year.
“If an event like that was to take place it would be a cause of significant uncertainty in the European Union itself. That kind of uncertainty could cause difficulties for Ireland and for the ability of the European Union to move forward.”
Senior Government members have begun raising the consequences of a British exit regularly in speeches.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore will emphasise that Britain is best served by staying within the union during a key speech, to be delivered in February at the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce event in Belfast.
Mr Donohoe emphasised that among the significant impacts for Irish citizens with a British exit would be the immediate changes on the island. On a political level, it would affect the border arrangements with the North, he said.
“The question is what affect would all of that have for the ability of people to move between the Republic of Ireland and the north of Ireland, the ability of goods and services to do the same,” he said.
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