Sutherland says Ireland should align itself to EU's ‘inner core’

Former European commissioner say Ireland should insist UK be denied access to single market

Ireland should respond to the UK's withdrawal from the EU by aligning itself more closely with the European "inner core" and insisting that London be denied access to the single market, former European commissioner Peter Sutherland has said.

Describing the outcome of the British referendum as “a disaster”, Mr Sutherland said Ireland’s strategic priority should now be to “stand four square with other EU member states” even if that “may not always lead to happy conclusions for Britain”.

“Britain cannot be outside the EU and have the same relationship in trade and services as it had when it was within it. This has consequences, and they are important, because if there were no consequences you might as well dissolve the EU tomorrow.”

Mr Sutherland said he expected Ireland to benefit from increased foreign direct investment as a result of British withdrawal, but that Dublin would incur a cost in the form of new uncertainty about the future trading relationship with Britain. He suggested a seven-year time frame for negotiations on a British exit was “very optimistic”.


"From an Irish perspective, the biggest disaster that we could foretell would be irreparable damage to the EU itself. Our only strategy, economic and political, has to be reinforcing the European Union and being part of the inner core of that European Union. We cannot sit on the sidelines saying nice words to everybody. We have to have clear political direction."

A former attorney general and chairman of Goldman Sachs International, Mr Sutherland is special Representative of the United Nations secretary-general for migration.

In an interview with The Irish Times, he said a prolonged and costly period of "deep uncertainty" would now begin. The crisis, which he said was the worst for the European project in more than half a century, was the result of British political decisions that were "ill-advised, badly prepared and badly orchestrated".

"Britain has always been a negative force in Europe. It has never agreed with the Common Agricultural Policy, which is vital to Ireland. It has never agreed with the transfer of structural funds from the richer to the poorer states, which has been vital for Ireland. It has never agreed with the sharing of sovereignty, which has been vital for the development of the internal market.

“So we have different objectives. We must help our friends but we must do so in a manner that is consistent with our fundamental objective of keeping the EU together and continuing on its course of integration.”

Mr Sutherland was scathing of the referendum debate. He described “listening to nonsense on British television” from pro-Leave campaigners claiming the UK could rely on trade with China and India, when in fact “Britain sells more to Ireland than to both of those countries combined”.

“I feel terrible. I feel that the European Union is the most noble political project in a thousand years of European history. Sharing sovereignty is a noble project which, after centuries of division and war, has created an entirely new situation in Europe.

“The British are good friends in many ways, but they have now brought about, through their own actions, the destruction of many of the aspects of Europe that I think are vital to Ireland.”

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is an Assistant Editor of The Irish Times