Irish politician NEALE RICHMOND on his sadness as the end of the Brexit transition period nears.
When the people of the United Kingdom voted narrowly to leave the EU in 2016, it felt for us in Ireland like they had gone and shot themselves in our foot.
There is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland, but we have had the social and economic impact of this fateful decision foisted upon us. The most concerning aspect of course is the impact of the UK leaving the EU upon the very fragile peace that exists on this island since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
That fragile peace had been allowed to normalise very quickly though a common EU membership that reduced so many obstacles to economic harmonisation between Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, as recently as October, we saw the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee reiterate that the dissident terrorist threat in Northern Ireland remains severe.
The Withdrawal Agreement and the Irish protocol contained therein protects that fragile peace by primarily ensuring that there is no return to a hard border through customs or regulatory checks across the island. However, this Withdrawal Agreement must be fully implemented, the negotiations in this regard are long over, the responsibilities are clear.
The economic impact of Brexit on Ireland is stark, of all the EU countries, Ireland is the most exposed to the UK’s economy in per capita terms with a particular exposure in certain sectors such as the beef and dairy industries. That said, Ireland’s economic reliance on the UK is not what it once was. When Ireland joined the EEC in 1973 alongside the UK, exports to the UK were 55%, this has now dropped to 9%.
Of course, the country that suffers the most economically from Brexit is indeed the UK itself. The economic arguments have been made repeatedly and the compounding impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will heap misery on many people in the UK, particularly those in the regions that voted for Brexit in the largest numbers.
The Brexit campaign before, during and since the referendum brought out the very worst of a certain section of the British population with pure bile and misinformation thrown at the EU while we in Ireland were regularly demonised especially by certain extreme newspapers.
Political commentators traded off the most extreme takes while numerous Brexiteer politicians went unchallenged with some of their utterances, the regular countenances that Ireland would leave the EU next or possibly seek to re-join the UK were tossed about without any real understanding of Irish history let alone the contemporary dynamics of Irish politics.
Irish support for remaining in the EU has consistently been one of the highest in the EU and this was accentuated through the unfolding of the mess that the Brexit negotiations have proven to be.
All that said, when the UK did leave the EU on January 31, the reaction in Ireland was simply one of profound sadness. Despite our complicated history, the relationship between Ireland and the UK is a warm one, intertwined with so many personal relationships.
And so, with the Brexit transition period ending, what are the final lingering thoughts of Ireland towards our friends in the UK when it comes to Brexit? For Ireland, the EU is not a prison, it is very much a home and for our British friends, please remember the light will always be on.
Neale Richmond is a Fine Gael TD and spokesman on European Affairs