The Irish Times view on Anglo-Irish ties: time to reboot the relationship

UK-Irish connections are too important, warm and deeply intertwined not to overcome tensions over Brexit

 Taoiseach Micheál Martin and British prime minister Boris Johnson greet each other with an elbow bump at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast last August. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and British prime minister Boris Johnson greet each other with an elbow bump at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast last August. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds.

William Shakespeare ( Sonnet 116)

‘We are committed to a strong bilateral partnership with Ireland, with which we enjoy a Common Travel Area,” the new review of United Kingdom foreign policy asserts. “We have a shared responsibility and an essential common interest in upholding the 1998 Belfast Agreement in all its elements.”

But that relationship is not in a happy place. Brexit has severed a multitude of lines of communication, exposed diverging interests, and injected a contentiousness and degree of mistrust into the relationship. Now the European Union, and Ireland as a member, are suing the UK for non-implementation of a treaty agreement, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has spoken bluntly in the same context of Ireland not having a partner it can trust.

If not quite the “marriage of true minds”, however, the UK-Irish relationship is too important, warm, and deeply intertwined not to overcome this “alteration”, or temporary blip. But it needs rebooting on both sides of the Irish Sea.

A reset will rest on somewhat different foundations – most importantly, differing understandings of what Dublin sees as the central place of multilateralism as the basis of state power and cornerstone of strong alliances internationally and of Irish diplomacy. The delusion that the UK can build its new global role on the back of purely bilateral relationships, or that it can use them to divide EU partners from each other, as it tried unsuccessfully to do during the Brexit process, would be a shaky basis.

The context of any relationship with Ireland is its membership of the EU and the reality that it is both part of the EU’s decision-making and allows the latter to negotiate on a range of competences from fisheries to the now-vexed issue of policing external trade. But Dublin can and should talk to London bilaterally about anything, and in a range of ways that go beyond the usual heads of government meetings. The State is opening a new consulate in Manchester, reopening Cardiff, and is determined to continue working through Belfast Agreement structures such as the British-Irish Council – though it would be useful if the British prime minister attended, like the first ministers of Scotland and Wales. Officials meet regularly, developing personal relationships and trust.

Just as important is the recognition in Dublin that the UK is not a homogenous whole and that relationships must also be developed with the nearly 50 per cent who did not subscribe to the go-it-alone vision of Brexit. This post-marriage relationship will survive and can again thrive.

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