Bertie Ahern and John Bruton unite to raise Brexit concerns

Former taoisigh addressing House of Lords committee about Brexit impact on Ireland

Former taoisigh John Bruton and  Bertie Ahern at the European Union select committee in the House of Lords in London. Photograph: PA Wire

Former taoisigh John Bruton and Bertie Ahern at the European Union select committee in the House of Lords in London. Photograph: PA Wire

 

Bertie Ahern and John Bruton have warned British peers about the damage Britain’s departure from the EU could do to the Irish economy and the political institutions in Northern Ireland.

The former taoisigh detailed the importance of the economic relationship between Britain and Ireland, particularly for the agri-food sector and small and medium-sized businesses.

Mr Ahern said that, if Britain leaves the EU customs union, tariffs could “cripple” the Irish food industry.

He said the two governments, and the executive in Northern Ireland, should seek to agree a common position on key issues before the main negotiations get under way in Brussels.

“It is hugely important that we try to deal with these issues together. If we just wait for the whole issue to be at European level some things might well be pushed to the sidelines in Brussels,” he said.

“The entire discussion cannot just be taking place at a European level. I would strongly hold the view that that doesn’t hold up. I know in the first instance people said everything has to be dealt with through Europe. But there is the small matter of an international agreement, the Good Friday Agreement.”

Inquiry

The two men were giving evidence before the House of Lords EU select committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the impact of Brexit on UK-Irish relations.

Mr Bruton said he expected other EU member states to be sympathetic to the special circumstances of the island of Ireland after Brexit, but that it would be for the Government to make the case in bilateral talks with all EU partners.

He pointed out that the EU treaties had numerous protocols recognising the particular circumstances of particular territories.

“This is an all-island matter. It is not confined to Northern Ireland or to the Republic. I think that some recognition in a protocol or in a declaration recognising these particular difficulties can easily be added to whatever treaty is finally agreed,” he said.

Mr Bruton criticised the failure of the referendum campaign to take adequate account of the likely impact of Brexit on British-Irish relations. And he warned the British government against adopting an ostentatiously self-interested approach to exit negotiations with the EU.

He said it was hard to overstate the impact of Britain’s decision on Ireland and the regret felt by most Irish people about it. “We’re feeling a great sense of loss at this time but we’ve got to live with that loss and do the best we can.”