The Irish Times view on Brexit and British-Irish relations

Rhetoric could damage relations

The increasingly shrill nature of the rhetoric around Brexit is a worrying development that has the potential to do as much damage to Irish-British relations in the longer term as the practical consequences of the process itself.

Politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea need to be mindful of the fact that a bad situation can be made significantly worse by ill-judged insults thrown at those who disagree with them.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster may have had a point when she called on Taoiseach Leo Varadakar to “dial down” the rhetoric. But the injunction is even more relevant to some of her own MPs such as Sammy Wilson, her right-wing Conservative allies and their acolytes in the British media who have targeted the Taoiseach for unpleasant abuse.

Nobody has done more to dial up the rhetoric than new British prime minister Boris Johnson with his pledge to take the UK out by October 31st regardless of whether or not there is a deal. This has taken the Brexit controversy to a new and dangerous level.


There is no disguising the deep divisions that have opened up within the United Kingdom and between Britain and Ireland over Brexit. There are sincerely held views on all sides, but an unpleasant level of crass stereotyping has crept into the exchanges.

Politicians of every stripe are quite entitled to state their case in robust terms.

In fact they have a duty to do so about an issue which has such profound implications for the people of both islands. What is unacceptable is the descent into the kind of abuse that is a standard feature of exchanges on Twitter. This only inhibits rather than encourages open debate.

While all sides need to be mindful of the need to avoid inflaming the situation, the fact remains that the entire Brexit process and all of the tensions associated with it have arisen because of the decision of the British people to leave the European Union.

The total lack of clarity about what that would entail has plunged British politics into chaos for the past three years and there is still no knowing how that will ultimately play out.

The leaked British government memo suggesting that a no-deal Brexit could trigger consumer panic, food shortages and an increased security threat within a fortnight shows just how big the potential disaster could be.

The suggestion that cross-Border agricultural trade in Ireland would come to a virtual stop within 24 hours is an indication of how this country could be affected. With the stakes so high, it is hardly surprising that politicians on all sides are getting hot under the collar, but what is needed now, more than ever, is calm negotiation and a sober assessment of reality by all involved.