Consider yourself warned. AFP is reporting that ahead of next week’s British general election the government of Ireland has initiated an unprecedented campaign to caution their nearest neighbour and biggest trading partner against leaving the European Union. The move is said to be have been prompted by David Cameron’s manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on membership of the EU in 2017.
Simon Harris, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, spoke favourably of the United Kingdom’s impact on the EU saying that “a European Union with Britain in it is a stronger European Union,” but also spoke from his own national perspective adding, “but it’s also a better European Union for Ireland.”
Of particular concern is the risk to Ireland’s economy as it continues to recover from the devastating property crash of 2008. Although now a growing economy, the unemployment rate in Ireland is still 9.9 percent and government debt remains very high. It is feared that the close economic ties Ireland shares with the UK would be damaged in the event of a British withdrawal from the EU.
In its recent publication “Britain and Europe: The Endgame – An Irish Perspective” the Institute of International and European Affairs warned of the economic impact. With huge food and drink exports to the UK sold by businesses employing nearly 200,000 people in Ireland, the Dublin-based think tank predicts a reduction in Irish exports of 3.6 per cent if trade barriers are erected between Britain and the EU.
Speaking at the recent launch of the book Charlie Flanagan, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, acknowledged the “serious concerns” of British voters regarding EU membership but added that “the Brexit ship has certainly not sailed. Far from it. That belief is why the Government is focussed on working hard to keep the UK anchored in the Union.” He concluded:
“We should never forget just how remarkably successful the European Union project has been. That is why keeping the EU intact, with the UK at the centre of it, is really worth fighting tooth and nail for.”
Although his government did not intervene over last year’s referendum confirming Scotland’s position within the United Kingdom, the Ambassador of Ireland to Great Britain, Dan Mulhall, told AFP that he is now compelled to act, saying:
“There is concern in Dublin. Ireland is the country that would be most affected by a British exit from the EU, apart from Britain itself. Whenever I have the opportunity I will make the point.”
Ireland has itself held two referendums on its relations with the EU within the last decade. Having initially rejected the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon in a 2008 vote, the Irish electorate then permitted it when the question was put for a second time in 2009.