‘Brexit – facing up to sovereignty in Ireland’


Sir, – In a recent Irish Times piece, Chris Bickerton from Cambridge University and my colleague at the London School of Economics Peter Ramsay argue that Ireland and the UK need to face “up to their sovereign responsibilities” and “drop the [Northern Irish] backstop and work together to introduce a minimal land border, and to achieve a future UK-EU that preserves the close links between the two countries” (“Brexit: Facing up to sovereignty in Ireland”, Opinion & Analysis, July 9th).

The argument might have been stronger had Brexit been the result of a process of consultation both within the UK and with its friends beyond its borders. But of course it was not. Foisted on Ireland in the name of a country determined “to take back control”, why should Ireland now forgo control of its own future to assist the UK in the horrific quandary its dash for “freedom” has made for itself?

Taking back control works both ways. The backstop is not the result of some kind of elite manipulation by nefarious EU and Irish forces.

The British agreed it before Christmas last year because those in charge of their withdrawal discussions with the EU (negotiations is too grand a word) know how weak their position is, whatever purists – political and academic – might be saying about sovereignty or anything else on the sidelines of reality.

The EU timetable for the talks, the money owed and so on were all conceded without a fight for the same reason.

And it will get worse: the so-called Chequers agreement (a government agreeing with itself!) has already fallen apart.

Ireland’s sovereignty is immeasurably strengthened by its ties with Europe. It would be catastrophically weakened by returning to be the poodle of the British. Chris Ramsay and Peter Bickerton acknowledge the possibility of deep economic damage in Ireland and (although they are sceptical) a renewal of political violence in a way that suggests that these might be the reasons Ireland should now cave in.

True, there are some nice noises in the piece about the authors’ desire for a united Ireland, reminding me of those English left-wingers from the 1980s who were always disappointed to find I did not support the IRA.

Imperialism has never been the exclusive preserve of the Right. – Yours, etc,


Law Department,

London School

of Economics.

Sir, – This week the EU signed a comprehensive free-trade deal with Japan that eliminates or reduces tariffs on most goods.

It is a major and welcome agreement in a trading world under threat from Donald Trump’s protectionism.

As part of this deal, Japan does not have to be a member of the single market or customs union.

It also does not have to agree to the free movement of people over its borders. And Japan does not have to accept the ultimate jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice; instead, as is normal in free trade agreements, any disputes will come under World Trade Organisation auspices.

Japan will also be able to pursue other free trade agreements with whoever it wishes.

If all this is possible with a country thousands of miles away, why is the EU not able to provide a similar deal with the UK, unless it intends to punish the country for having the temerity to comply with the democratic vote of its citizens?

If the Taoiseach continues to support the EU in this punitive action instead of Ireland’s closest and most important ally, the end result could be a hard Brexit, causing more damage to this country than any other in Europe. For what purpose? Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

A chara, – Vincent Hearne makes several errors in his criticism of Fintan O’Toole’s article on the 1971 British EEC white paper (Opinion & Analysis, July 17th).

Contrary to the repeated claims of anti-Europeans, the EEC that the UK (and Ireland) joined was not a simple common market. It was a politico-economic union, with a supranational council, court, and commission, institutions which have served the member states well since their inception and allow the union to function effectively.

The European treaties explicitly laying out “ever closer union” as a key aim were overwhelmingly approved by the British people in the 1975 referendum.

Mr Hearne’s separate claim that EU bodies are unelected echoes similar claims in the British media. However, unlike the majority unelected UK parliament, every member of the European Council, European Parliament, and, yes, the European Commission, are either directly or indirectly elected by and accountable to the citizens of Europe.

Unfortunately, such claims are characteristic of British public discourse on Europe, dogged since the Thatcher years by a persistent and worsening failure to understand the union the UK helped create, culminating in Brexit.

If, as Mr Hearne suggests, the UK is to be applauded, it should only be for reminding Europeans of the value of unity in troubling times.

Brexit is the tragic offspring of ignorance and hubris, and the sooner Ireland and Europe can move on, the better. – Is mise,