'Brexit is extremely damaging to British-Irish relations,' conference told

An underlying, "low-grade hostility” to the Irish voice in the UK had emerged as a result of Brexit and relation between the two countries will never be the same again, an economic conference has been told.

Brigid Laffan, professor and director at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, said in some sections of the UK media and in some circles, either Ireland was “a stooge” of the EU, or Ireland was running the EU.

“Neither is true,” Ms Laffan said.

Professor Brigid Laffan

Ireland was simply doing what it should be doing as an independent country in the context of something over which it had no control, she said.

There was a troubled past between the two islands. However, membership of the EU had facilitated closer cooperation between England and Ireland, which culminated in the Queen’s visit in 2011 - a visit which was the normalisation of the relationship between the two. For the first time in the history of this State, a British monarch could safely visit here, she said.

But Brexit had changed that.

Brexit is extremely damaging to British-Irish relations,” Professor Laffan said.

There is low-grade hostility in The Sun and other papers and “low-grade constant harassment if you tweet, I can tell you,” she said.

Relations were not as bad as during the Troubles, but they would never return to the highs of the Queen’s visit, she predicted. Unlike Ireland, England would now be a non-EU State.

“It will be in some ways the final breaking of that umbilical cord,” Ms Laffan said of the impact.

However, sharing the platform at the Killarney Economic Conference, Henry Newman, director of Open Europe and a former advisor to British minister Michael Gove, warned Ms Laffan that low-grade hostility could work both ways.

He said diplomatic and security relations between the two countries is stlll good at official level, but the UK's relationship with the EU has been “a problem festering for decades”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin gave the keynote address of the conference's second day and described Brexit as “the defining issue of our age”. He felt the decay of British politics had been a tragedy and urged Ireland to reposition itself not only in terms of its relations with the UK, but also to take a more active role in Europe.

The European Union was under “many threats” and French President Macron was right in calling for a larger budget, Mr Martin told the conference.

It was unfortunate Ireland did not speak up more in support, he said.

The EU needs a larger budget if it is to achieve the objectives which we set for it. It cannot create an innovation-driven Union or deliver regional cohesion, or help countries caught in economic crises if its budget is capped at the equivalent of 1 per cent of combined national incomes,” Mr Martin said.

Going forward, this country had to face up how much the EU had changed, he said.

“In recent years Ireland has too often been a bystander. We have failed to understand fully how much has changed in the Union and how our old strategies are out of date.” “ We don’t just need to join new groupings, we need a new agenda,” he said.

New relations would also have to be constructed “with our nearest neighbour” also, post Brexit, Mr Martin said, calling for “a formal structure for meetings to discuss not just trade but health, pensions, education, qualifications and much more.

“Something like the Nordic Council of Ministers needs to be discussed,” he said.


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