With the United Kingdom gearing up to leave the European Union, its closest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland could potentially face an economic downturn post-Brexit.
A new report warns that Brexit potentially poses a huge threat to jobs that could cost Ireland billions each year.
“Seventeen percent of our national trade is with Britain, particularly around the food and agricultural sector, so we want to protect that as best as we can,” Ciaran Cannon, Irish minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, tells Al Jazeera.
“But ultimately, if Britain takes a decision to fully leave the customs union and all of the trading arrangements that allow goods and services to flow freely between Britain and Ireland, that is going to pose a challenge, not alone for Britain, but indeed for the whole of the EU,” he adds.
The UK is the second-largest destination country for Irish goods after the US, most of its imports come from the UK, and the Dublin-London air route is Europe’s most travelled.
And apart from trade, there’s another major Brexit-related issue: Ireland is the only country to share a land border with Britain.
“We’re a tiny island on the edge of Europe, and post-Brexit we will have the only land border between the EU and the UK. That is a significant part of the consideration on how exactly Britain structures and indeed the EU structures Britain’s exit from the EU,” says Cannon.
According to Cannon open borders are critically important for the small island nation where agriculture is a huge part of the economy.
“We have farmers producing milk in Northern Ireland in the morning that is processed in the afternoon in the Republic of Ireland. We have that free movement of people and goods back and over across our border which has led to significant economic growth in both those jurisdictions, which has led to peace in both of those jurisdictions. And that is what we’re trying to protect here. So people need to be aware internationally how important it is to Ireland that that border remains open, free, and seamless.”
Asked about the challenges facing Ireland and the UK’s way forward, Cannon says: “While there may be no perfect clarity from the UK government as to how they want to move forward in the approach, we have been nothing but clear as a country from the very beginning. We regret deeply the decision taken by Britain to leave the EU. I think ultimately it’ll prove to be a retrograde step for them.”
“But on the basis of that decision that’s been taken, we have to act and work in Ireland’s interest. And when I say Ireland’s interest I mean the whole island of Ireland including Northern Ireland because it is critically important that the hard-won peace that exists now in our country that took years of diplomacy and effort on all our parts – it can be at times a fragile one – so that needs to be protected in the context of Brexit and all the provisions of the Good Friday agreement which brought about that peace need to be honoured.”
Thankfully, there are significant opportunities for Ireland post-Brexit, according to Cannon.
“Post-Brexit, we will be the only English-speaking common law country in the whole of the EU, and when countries worldwide from all across Asia, the Middle East, the US want to establish a presence for the very first time in the EU in an english-speaking country where it’s very straight forward and very easy to do business, we’re hoping they’ll choose Ireland as that platform to launch themselves into a market for 500 million people, a market that we’re fully committed to, and a market where we’ve already established very strong trading relations.”
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