Editorial: ‘We’ve too much in common not to work with the UK’

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Editorial: ‘We’ve too much in common not to work with the UK’


Britain's Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington, Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley, Ireland's Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Ireland's Minister for Justice and Equality Charles Flanagan during a press conference in London. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Britain’s Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington, Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley, Ireland’s Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality Charles Flanagan during a press conference in London. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

German satirist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg mused: “If countries were named after the words you first hear when you go there, England would have to be called ‘Damn it’.”

By such a rule, Ireland would probably be called ‘Feck it’ or something worse.

And after being at each other’s throats for more than 850 years, it’s fair to say our two islands have had their differences.

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That said, the relationship is a special one; even if it has not been especially good of late.

If Brexit has set us at odds, real bonds built of blood, family and friendship will not be forgotten. These unique ties were to the fore once more yesterday when the Irish and British governments signed a deal to guarantee that rights offered by the Common Travel Area (CTA) will continue when the UK exits the EU.

The value of what is known as the memorandum of understanding between Dublin and London is incalculable. It secures the free movement of people between Ireland and Britain, and also grants access to social security, health and education.

The arrangement goes back to the 1920s. Its preservation was the product of two years of painstaking work by Government departments. And its value can be seen in that, even should the UK leave without a deal, reciprocal rights between the two islands will still stand.

In recent months, the focus had understandably been on looking towards fresh opportunities and building alliances, both in the EU and the US. Our reliance on the EU has been well rehearsed, as have our economic links with the US.

Our globalised economy is dependent on investment by US multinationals. Some 700 US companies have investment here.

But managing and building on our relationship with the UK is also enormously important.

The UK was the Republic’s biggest import market in 2017. Last year’s figures, published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), show the UK accounted for 24pc, or €19bn worth of food, fuel and other merchandise imported into the State last year. This was nearly €3bn more than the value of Irish exports to the UK.

It is to be hoped the talks between the British government and Labour aimed at reaching a compromise that would enable the Withdrawal Agreement to be ratified can be successful.

The signing of yesterday’s memorandum effectively gives Irish citizens elevated status among EU nationals living in the UK, and also protects the rights of UK citizens here.

There is little doubt a chain of difficult events has challenged progress made in our relations since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Perhaps there has been too much buy-in to the William Burroughs view of the UK as: “Ingloriously foundering in the backlash and bad karma of empire.”

This would be wrong. We need to build on the future. We have far too much mutually in common not to work together, as the signing of this agreement demonstrates.

Irish Independent