Brexit deal will be more important than 1921 treaty - MEP

Mairead McGuinness calls idea UK could leave Customs Union and then rejoin under new terms “fanciful”

Brexit will shape Ireland’s future as much as the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921,  MEP Mairead McGuinness told the 95th annual Beal na Blath commemoration in West Cork.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Brexit will shape Ireland’s future as much as the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, MEP Mairead McGuinness told the 95th annual Beal na Blath commemoration in West Cork. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

The forthcoming treaty between Britain and the European Union will shape Ireland’s future as much as the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, MEP Mairead McGuinness told the 95th annual Beal na Blath commemoration in West Cork.

Ms McGuinness, a Vice President of the European Parliament, said that Ireland remained “in the dark” about the shape of the new treaty or indeed whether there would be one, but no one should underestimate its importance to everyone on this island.

“Our relationship with the UK will be more radically changed by Brexit than it was by the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish Treaty or the Declaration of the Republic in 1949,” Ms McGuinness told an attendance of several hundred.

“If the shape of Brexit is a hard one then the separation will be more definitive and absolute than anything envisaged by those involved in the foundation of the state, including Michael Collins. a brave soldier, outstanding administrator and a minister who displayed decisiveness at all times.”

Ireland knew the benefit of an all-island economy “but the particular issues which Brexit poses for this island and our peoples, north and south, were not given due consideration by those who peddled lies about the joys of a ‘free, independent and sovereign’ United Kingdom”.

This has been a significant week in the Brexit saga with the publication by the British government of two position papers on Northern Ireland and Ireland, and a separate paper on Future Customs Arrangements, she continued.

“No one wants to a return to the borders of the past and there is a desire for trading relationships to continue, but seamless and frictionless trade is what we have today precisely because we, the UK and Ireland, are members of the European Union.”

The idea the UK could leave the Customs Union in March 2019 and then rejoin under terms written by the UK was “fanciful” and every time a British politician repeats their determination to leave the Customs Union, “another brick gets placed in that border wall”, she said.

“But it is the UK that must take responsibility for re-instating borders and we must strongly resist attempts to shift that responsibility elsewhere,” adding that “any attempt to divide and conquer must be resisted”.

When he was shot dead in an ambush by Anti-Treaty forces at Beal na Blath in the Civil War on August 22nd 1922, Michael Collins died trying to convince people that what had been achieved under the Treaty was “a stepping stone to the achievement of the dream of nationhood”, Ms McGuinness said.

There are those today who seek to use Brexit as “a weapon to re-unite our country”, the MEP said, but such an approach is “misguided”, as the path to re-unification was already set out in the Good Friday Agreement, and voted for by people north and south.

“Our challenge is to be as brave as Collins was, to embrace and give ourselves fully to the commitments that we have signed up to. We cannot and do not turn our backs on the UK as our near neighbours and trading partners.”