Ireland would need to negotiate a special deal with Brussels if Britain leaves the EU, Fine Gael MEP and director of elections Brian Hayes has told a hearing of the British House of Lords.
Britain leaving the EU would cause enormous disruption to British-Irish relations, but would also change Ireland’s relationship with Europe, he said.
A special committee of the Lords was in Brussels for a two-day visit, hearing evidence from a range of representatives from the European Commission and the parliament in the run-up to the in-out referendum in Britain.
Britain leaving would create an enormous problem for Ireland, said Mr Hayes. “The central argument is that we could only join when Britain decided to join.”
If the British vote to leave there would then be a fresh round of negotiations to agree the conditions of the split.
“Nobody knows what the terms would be and a separate set of negotiations [would be required], and we would need a special deal from the EU, because we could not be disadvantaged by their leaving,” he said.
Issues to be considered, he said, include the North, agriculture, economy, trade, and financial services. There would have to be agreement that any regulations agreed at EU level, which would also apply to Ireland, could not disadvantage the country should Britain introduce rules more advantageous to themselves.
“A special deal would have to be constructed for us, and nobody has thought what that could mean,” said Mr Hayes. “We will still be in the euro and we believe in further integration, but they need to be aware of these issues for Ireland as we are not part of their concern at the moment.”
Mr Hayes was selected by the EPP group, the largest in the parliament and of which Fine Gael is a member, to speak at the hearing and answer questions with EPP leader in the parliament, Manfred Weber.
He said negotiations between London and Brussels were moving towards an agreement at the EU leaders’ meeting on February 18 and 19.
Mr Hayes said he believes that, if there is a deal, the British referendum would be held in June rather than in September.
British prime minister David Cameron has promised a vote before the end of next year.
Mr Hayes said he considered the work of the House of Lords in setting out basic information to a British audience as a crucial part of the debate in the UK.
The House of Lords is more open to the EU and anxious to have a deal go through in February.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved