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Why I hope the UK will remain in the European Union

I have been involved with EU affairs on and off throughout my time in our diplomatic service and have come to appreciate the EU's achievements and continuing value to Europe.

In Ireland, we do not have a say in the coming referendum (except that British people in Ireland and Irish people in Britain do have a vote on 23 June), but we do have a view and, as friendly neighbours, it is incumbent on us to let our position be known. We would not be good neighbours if we failed to express the very real concerns we have about the risks and potential consequences for Ireland and Europe of a British exit from the EU.

As someone with a deep interest in European history, I can see that the past 70 years have been, for our part of the continent at least, one of the most peaceful periods Europeans have ever experienced. Today's Europe is also a notably prosperous part of the world and the EU can, I believe, claim some of the credit for this. Furthermore, there are no guarantees about our future and, in my view, it makes far more sense for Europeans to band together in pursuit of shared interests instead of going their separate ways.

In my long experience of EU affairs, I can say with conviction that the European a Union is not a nascent super state. If it were ever to move in that direction, this would require the approval of all 28 member States including Ireland and the UK.

The charge often levelled against the EU that it is bureaucratically driven does not square with my own experience. All key EU decisions are taken by politicians with electoral mandates - Government Ministers meeting in the Council of Ministers and democratically-elected members of the European Parliament.

Furthermore, some of the key issues of public policy - health, education, social welfare, personal taxation, justice and defence - are dealt with solely or almost exclusively at national level.

As far as sovereignty is concerned, our view is that effective sovereignty is enhanced by being pooled at EU level. We have always been comfortable with the concept of pooled sovereignty, which, it seems to me, is more valid than ever in a world where so many issues are clearly best dealt with by means of concerted action.

EU membership has been very good for Ireland, enabling us to strengthen and diversify our economy and attract high quality inward investment.  It has also been good for our relations with the UK, which have never been stronger than they are today. Membership has also had a positive impact on North-South ties in Ireland, having brought about the open border that exists today to the benefit of both parts of Ireland.

The evidence is mounting - from the IMF, the OECD, the UK Treasury, the Bank of England and others – to the effect that a UK exit would damage the UK, EU and international economies. Ireland cannot expect to be unscathed by this kind of development as our economic ties with the UK are very important to us. Two-way trade between us is currently running at €65 billion a year and growing. Our Economic and Social Research Institute has warned that our trade with the UK could be reduced by 20% or more as a result of the impact of a UK exit. Any significant curtailment of our trading links would hurt both countries and threaten jobs and prosperity on both sides of the Irish Sea.

My conclusion is that a UK exit from the EU carries many risks - for Ireland, for our relations with the UK, for North-South ties in Ireland and for Europe.  The current open border between North and South in Ireland could not be guaranteed to continue unchanged in a post-Brexit scenario.  In the event of the UK leaving, we would also miss the productive partnership we have developed within the EU where our two countries have discovered that we have very similar approaches to many of the issues on the EU policy agenda.  It would, therefore, be a shame if Ireland and the UK were to find ourselves separated in any way as a consequence of Brexit. 

As a country that has committed its future to membership of the European Union, we hope that our nearest neighbours will continue to accompany us on that journey of partnership within the EU that has served us both so well this past 43 years and that has helped promote peace and  reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

 

Daniel Mulhall is Ireland's Ambassador in London