The future of UK diplomacy in Europe Contents

4UK-Ireland Relations and Brexit


61.Ireland is the UK’s nearest neighbour and one of its closest partners. As both the UK and the EU have made clear in Brexit negotiations, UK-Ireland relations will be a key element of the UK’s overall relationship with the EU after Brexit. The UK-Ireland relationship is uniquely broad and deep and the UK co-operates with Ireland more than it does with almost any other partner. For these reasons the Committee’s first visit was to Ireland. We travelled to Dublin and the border counties of Cavan and Monaghan to explore the implications of Brexit for UK-Ireland relations and, more particularly, what can be done to ensure that those relations remain as strong after Brexit as they were before.74

Positive momentum: UK-Ireland relations since 1998

62.Many of those we met in Ireland stressed that UK-Ireland relations had gone from strength to strength since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. This positive momentum was exemplified by the Queen’s State Visit to Ireland in 2011 and the Irish President’s State Visit to the UK in 2014. The breadth and depth of UK-Ireland relations is now evident in the range of areas in which the two countries co-operate closely. In her written submission to this inquiry, Dr Etain Tannam from Trinity College Dublin said that “Irish and UK governmental cooperation in the UN has been strong in global human rights and in development issues”. She also said that in recent years the two countries have enhanced their co-operation on UN peacekeeping.75

The consequences of Brexit for UK-Ireland relations

63.In its written submission to this inquiry, St. Mary’s University, Twickenham said that common EU membership had contributed to the improvement in UK-Ireland relations because “At the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland meetings in Brussels often provided a quiet space in which Dublin and London could talk”.76 On the bilateral level, “regular meetings across a spectrum of issues of mutual concern within the EU have kept Ireland and the UK strongly in each other’s orbit” and this has been “an unmeasured but powerful source of growth in mutual understanding and mutual endeavour”.77 Similarly, Dr Tannam said that the bilateral relationship has benefited from “the EU’s framework for corridor talks and increased communication”.78 Both St. Mary’s University and Dr Tannam warned that losing this EU-based co-operation could undermine the foundations of the UK-Ireland bilateral relationship.

UK-Ireland relations after Brexit

64.Many in Ireland told us that good UK-Ireland relations would endure after Brexit. This was echoed in St. Mary’s University’s written submission:

The relationship between the UK and Ireland will continue to be very close after Brexit. The personal ties alone between the two islands and the large number of citizens of each resident in the other jurisdiction make this inevitable. So do the ties of language, culture, geography and history. There are huge economic and trade interests in common. And there is the joint and continuing concern with the preservation of the peace process in Northern Ireland.79

However, both St. Mary’s University and Dr Tannam stressed that bilateral co-operation must be enhanced to compensate for reduced contact in Brussels. Dr Tannam said that since 1998 the UK and Ireland had recognised each other as “kinship states” but that this depended on institutionalised and informal communication at all levels. She noted that between July 2016 and August 2017 there were only two joint prime ministerial meetings and that the UK-Ireland Permanent Secretaries and Secretaries General Group did not meet.80 She concluded that “there is a clear need to revitalize, or create formal bilateral institutions to serve the relationship”.81 Similarly, St. Mary’s University wrote that “substantial existing institutional contacts between Dublin and London [ … ] range from the level of officials through parliamentary and political contact up to the highest level” and that this “will have to evolve rapidly and with a much greater degree of coherence than has been evident hitherto”.82 They also said that the UK and Irish Embassies in Dublin and London would have to “assume a new significance” after Brexit.83

The FCO and UK-Ireland Relations

65.In November 2017, the Foreign Secretary paid his first official visit to Ireland since assuming office. In an accompanying article in the Irish Times, he said: “Of the 52 countries I have visited as Foreign Secretary, Ireland is more closely tied to Britain by kinship and history than just about any other”.84 Echoing this, the FCO’s Europe Director told us that “an incredible level of shared understanding with Ireland” has been achieved in recent years, and that this has been combined with regular contact between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, the annual dialogue of permanent secretaries, and “a huge amount of other co-operation on defence, health, culture and many other areas”.85 The Minister for Europe also told us that “there are good contacts between the Foreign Secretary and the [Irish] Foreign Minister, Mr Coveney. I think that the closeness of personal contacts is pretty strong”, but he added that the bilateral relationship is experiencing “a slightly bumpy period”.86

66.Close relations with Ireland are vital to the UK’s national interest. We therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to preserving the progress that has been made in UK-Ireland relations in recent years and its pledge that there will be no return to the borders and the violence of the past. We regret that tensions in the period leading up to the European Council summit in December appeared to endanger the hard-won positive momentum in UK-Ireland relations. We welcome the progress made thus far, but recognise that much more needs to be done.

67.In order to ensure that the foundations of UK-Ireland relations remain as strong as they can be, we recommend that the FCO increase its diplomatic presence in Ireland, both in terms of size and seniority, beyond the additional UK-based staff deployed in the Embassy in Dublin after the Brexit referendum. This additional deployment of UK-based staff should focus on public relations as well as inter-governmental relations.

68.By July 2018, the FCO, working as necessary with the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, should produce an analysis of the UK-Ireland bilateral relationship, containing recommendations to improve it and options to revitalize existing, or create new, bilateral institutions.

74 We note the work being done by other Select Committees on the specific circumstances of Brexit for Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the communities either side of the border in particular. See the inquiries being carried out by the Exiting the EU Committee and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

75 Dr Etain Tannam (EUR0017) para 18

76 This submission draws on contributions from Mary McAleese (President of Ireland, 1997–2011); Professor Sir Ivor Roberts (former UK Ambassador to Ireland, Italy and Yugoslavia); Professor Noel Fahey (former Irish Ambassador to the United States and the Holy See); and Professor Francis Campbell, Vice Chancellor of St Mary’s University.

77 St. Mary’s University Twickenham (EUR0009) para 2

78 Dr Etain Tannam (EUR0017) para 5

79 St. Mary’s University Twickenham (EUR0009) para 1

80 The Permanent Secretaries and Secretaries General Group was set up in 2012 to bring together senior Civil Servants from both jurisdictions to produce plans to intensify UK-Ireland co-operation.

81 Dr Etain Tannam (EUR0017) para 16

82 St. Mary’s University Twickenham (EUR0009) para 6

83 St. Mary’s University Twickenham (EUR0009) para 7

84 Boris Johnson, ‘UK and Ireland can strengthen ties via Brexit’, the Irish Times, 17 November 2017

85 Q208 [Caroline Wilson]

86 Q213

29 January 2018