The European Union and the coming UK referendum on EU membership
I am often asked by members of the Irish community here about my views on the European Union and the coming referendum on EU membership to be held on 23 June. Here is how I normally respond to such questions.
I value the European Union because of the role it plays in keeping our continent peaceful, prosperous and united. It has also supported the peace process in Northern Ireland.
As friendly neighbours, we respect the fact that this is a decision for the British electorate, which includes the extensive Irish community in Britain and a large British community in Ireland. But we do have views on Britain's future in Europe as this is something that will affect Ireland in important ways as a fellow member of the EU and the only country that has a land border with the UK.
EU membership has been good for Ireland, which is now a far more prosperous and outward-looking country than it was when we joined with Britain in 1973. It has helped us to expand our trade, to attract foreign investment into Ireland and to develop our infrastructure and the skills of our people.
Membership has also been good for our relations with Britain, which are much warmer than they were before we both became members.
My fear is that a UK exit from the EU would have negative effects in three areas.
First, Ireland and the UK, after more than forty years working together successfully within the EU, would no longer be partners in this unique European family of nations. Ireland will remain an EU member and we would like Britain to be there with us in the future. Our enormous two way trade with the UK, currently worth €65 billion annually, could be reduced as a result of a UK exit. This would be bad for jobs and prosperity in both our countries.
Second, I would have concerns about the impact of the UK leaving the EU on North-South ties in Ireland. At present, we enjoy the benefits of an open border with Northern Ireland without any customs or immigration controls. This means that people can move freely across the border to work, visit families, do business and as tourists. Companies from both parts of Ireland can now trade with each other within the European single market and this is something that benefits both our economies. There is also a possibility that a UK exit from the EU could affect the longstanding right of Irish and British citizens to move back and forth between our two countries.
Third, a UK decision to leave the EU would be a blow to the European Union, which has helped maintain peace and develop prosperity in Europe since the 1950s. A British decision to leave the EU would be the first time that any member has left the Union and such a decision would make waves across Europe and around the world. The UK’s European partners would all be genuinely sorry to see it leave.
Many international authorities, including the International Monetary Fund, have pointed to the risk of damage being done to the British, European and world economies. Anything that threatens to damage the EU would be most unwelcome to Ireland as we see our future firmly within the European Union. We earnestly hope that the UK will continue to be with us around the EU table in Brussels, working to make the Union more effective and trying to do the best for our two peoples and our many overlapping interests.
The EU is far from perfect, but it does bring European countries together to find common solutions – peacefully and by agreement - to problems that confront us. It would, in my view, be a shame if this beneficial cooperation between European neighbours were to be weakened by a British departure from the EU. It is hard to think of a significant problem in today's world that cannot better be dealt with by pooling our strengths as European countries instead of trying to tackle them alone.
I urge Irish citizens in Britain to register to vote and to bear in mind the importance for Ireland that we continue our friendly engagement with the UK as fellow members of the European Union, which hugely benefits both our countries and our peoples.
Daniel Mulhall is Ireland's Ambassador in London