Brexit: Time to start working the lobbies and corridors of Westminster

Recruiting sympathetic backbenchers just as important as having front bench onside

The lady's not for talking. Not small talk anyway. As she said during her leadership bid, Theresa May isn't one for gossiping in the tearooms of Westminster. A researcher friend of mine once found himself next to her at a lunch. Struggling to make any sort of casual conversation flow, he asked her if it "was busy being home secretary'. Whatever the reply was, she certainly finds herself busier now.

As a Dubliner who spent 4½ years as a policy adviser in the House of Commons, I can say that Westminster is a funny old place. As well as the large quantities of recently spilled blood that must still be soaking into the carpets, the parliamentary estate contains a restaurants, post office, hairdressers, florist and numerous bars serving the cheap pints . With Angela Merkel all but ruling out Ireland getting special status in Brexit negotiations, it is imperative the Irish Government starts manoeuvring through the narrow corridors under Big Ben to make sure we are at the table and not on the menu, as the classic line goes.

Theresa May, a pragmatist who likes to get on with the job, should work effectively with Irish Ministers. Her advisers are known to be especially protective and devoted to her. She does not have a high turnover of staff. People would do well to have their numbers crunched before meetings.

Honeymoon period

A majority of only 12 in parliament means the honeymoon period for the new prime minister will be short. MPs, and especially Conservatives, pride themselves on holding the government to account. David Cameron was forced into a lot more U-turns than he would have liked during his tenure thanks to the independence of those sitting on the green benches behind him.

The new "minister for Brexit", David Davis, chose to return to the backbenches in 2008, spending the remaining eight years there before his elevation to cabinet this month. Liam Fox, minister for international trade, was also a big figure on the Tory backbenches. Both men will be keen to listen to their backbench colleagues.

Niche groups

If niche groups such as the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association see fit to hire a parliamentary affairs executive, Ireland should too. Every time legislation is debated in the Commons, MPs are sent background information, the government's position and "helpful" questions to ask in the chamber. I was often inundated with data to "consider" from interest groups while drafting a brief. Ireland's case needs to be made every time a Brexit-related Bill is before the House. Recruiting sympathetic backbenchers is as important as having the front bench onside.

MPs can table questions in the House, write for a ministerial reply, sit on powerful select committees, pitch for debates in the House, introduce private members’ Bills and use various mechanisms in parliament to make their voice heard. They can also just have a word with ministers in the tearoom and, ultimately, they can rebel. Ireland needs people on the inside, recruiting friends; the more voices we have, the louder the call will be.

We cannot leave Irish diplomacy to an official level. Knowing which pubs special advisers decamp to on a Thursday could prove as vital as any official policy paper the Department for Foreign Affairs produces.

The Irish Embassy undertakes some fantastic work including throwing a legendary boozy Christmas parties for MPs and journalists. These efforts will need to be boosted. Lobbying may be a dirty word but the Brexit battle isn't going to be clean. The UK is in desperate need of friends.

Shane Fitzgerald worked in the Policy Research Unit of the UK parliament between 2011 and 2015