Scale of victory can help Tories secure deal to keep UK in EU

Many Irish politcians wanted Labour win but Cameron’s majority may have a silver-lining

Five more years: A file image of  Enda Kenny (R)  with British prime minister David Cameron. Many politicians in Dublin were hoping for a Labour victory as that would have put paid to a UK referendum in the short term at least. Photograph:  Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.

Five more years: A file image of Enda Kenny (R) with British prime minister David Cameron. Many politicians in Dublin were hoping for a Labour victory as that would have put paid to a UK referendum in the short term at least. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.

 

The most obvious impact for Ireland of David Cameron’s victory is that a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union is now certain to happen in the next couple of years.

The potential damage that a UK exit would have on Ireland has caused considerable unease in this country across the political spectrum as well as among business and trade union leaders.

Many politicians in Dublin were hoping for a Labour victory as that would have put paid to a UK referendum in the short term at least.

However, the scale of Mr Cameron’s victory is something of a silver lining from an Irish point of view as it puts him in a strong position to lead the EU referendum debate and fight the campaign on ground of his choosing.

If it had been a hung parliament, as almost all of the polls and pundits were suggesting, Cameron might have retained power but would have been dependent on his own anti EU right wing or even UKIP.

That would have made it very difficult for him to get an EU reform package strong enough to placate the variety of anti-European forces in the UK and the referendum campaign could have turned into an unwinnable proposition.

David Cameron wants the UK to remain in the EU. This election victory puts him in a strong position to get a good deal from his EU partners and to convince the British public to stay so it’s not a bad result at all,” said one senior Government politician.

The Brussels think tank Open Europe came up with a similar analysis in advance of the British election. In a detailed report last week it argued that in the long term a Labour victory would have made a British exit from the EU more rather than less likely.

Referendum inevitable

Its thesis was that the debate on the EU has been whipped up to such a frenzy that a referendum is inevitable sooner or later with the best chance of a vote to remain in the Union being in circumstances where the Yes campaign is led by a pro Europe Conservative prime minister.

Nonetheless, there are real concerns in Ireland about the prospect of a No vote in a UK referendum and the consequences that will have here.

The current Irish government and the next one will have to work very hard to ensure that the British get the kind of deal that will enable Cameron to sell it to the British public. Ideally that will not involve a new EU treaty which would require a referendum here just to add to the complications.

The other positive aspect of the Cameron victory from an Irish point of view is that he has shown some interest in Northern Ireland and has very cordial relations with the government in Dublin.

Ed Milliband had shown no real interest in the North and a Labour government would hardly have done any better in getting over the persistent problems which continue to best the devolved administration in Stormont.

The setback for Sinn Féin in Fermanagh South Tyrone and the solid performance of both the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party was also welcome news for the Government parties in Dublin and for Fianna Fáil.

It demonstrated that the rise of Sinn Féin is not as inexorable as many assumed and that there is room for more moderate parties on both the nationalist and unionist sides of the sectarian debate.

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