Over the last several weeks there seems to have been a certain hardening in the diplomatic language deployed by Ireland in its Brexit negotiations with the United Kingdom. At the start of June, Charlie Flanagan, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, highlighted Dublin’s determination to maintain the existing post-conflict environment on the island, the two decades of “soft reunification” initiated by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, making this a prerequisite for any Irish acceptance of a final deal between the European Union and the UK.
That tougher line has been taken up by his successor, Simon Coveney, who has been unusually forthright in his discussions with London and its unionist proxies in Belfast. While this has offended the hibernophobes of the Democratic Unionist Party, now acting as a parliamentary prop for the Conservative Party’s minority government in Britain, it has reassured some northern nationalists who have grown understandably fearful of a new “Brexit partition”. One which would forcibly sever their treaty-recognised ties with the majority community on the island.
Speaking to Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in the United Kingdom, Coveney had these interesting points to make for his British audience:
Our preferred solution is that we find a way of maintaining as close to the status quo as possible. We don’t believe we can do that by simply using technology on the border. There needs to be quite a unique political solution agreed between Ireland, the UK and the EU that can allow the free movement of goods and services and people, and the normal environment that has been created in the border area on the island of Ireland, to continue.
Don’t forget that this is very much part of the development of the peace process as well as a functioning economy, and that is something that we need to protect.
When asked what Ireland expects of the UK, the minister replied that London must accept that there is:
…a political solution required here rather than a technical one.
You have a 500 kilometre border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland… about 1.8 million cars cross the border every month; there are 400 road crossings on the border. So the idea that we’re going to put up checks, whether it’s through cameras or through physical stops on the road – we can’t accept that.
The evident frustration and irritation felt in Irish government circles as politicians and civil servants observe Britain’s wilful retreat into an ersatz vision of Empire 2.0 is beginning to take its toll. Which may be no bad thing.