Brexit puts “Irexit”, Ireland’s departure from the EU, on the historical agenda … Statement by Anthony Coughlan

The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre

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Speaking at a meeting-cum-party of Irish EU-opponents in Dublin held to show solidarity with UK Brexiteers on “Brexit Day”, Anthony Coughlan, Director of this Centre, said:-

It is only since Boris Johnson’s victory in last month’s UK election that the possibility of a second Brexit referendum to overthrow the result of the first has disappeared.

The UK’s legal departure from the EU today means that Irish people are starting to realise for the first time that a real Brexit is happening.

What someone termed a state of “stunned passivity” has recently prevailed among the minority of UK “Remainers” who refused to accept the result of the 2016 democratic referendum vote – and their cheer-leaders in Ireland.

Irish policy-makers and opinion-formers need now to start thinking seriously on the full implications of Brexit for this country, long-term as well as short-term, as they possibly have not been doing up to now.

For Brexit undoubtedly puts “Irexit”, Ireland’s withdrawal from the EU, on the historical agenda.

If the Republic seeks to remain in the EU while Britain and Northern Ireland leave, this will add new dimensions to the existing North-South division of the country. Does the current generation of Irish politicians really want to be responsible for a new Partition of Ireland?

To imagine that Irish reunification will be brought nearer by the Republic remaining in the EU when the UK leaves  is to live in fantasyland.  Can anyone realistically think that Northern Unionists will ever embrace the disfunctional euro-currency in a united Ireland within the EU; for doing  that would be a requirement of their EU membership? The truth is that the Republic’s politicians put a huge obstacle in the way of Irish reunification by their joining the euro-currencyon its inception, unlike Britain and the North . . . Just as their resolve to remain in the EU now can only solidify Partition.

The first duty of a democratic politician is to maintain the independence of the State that he or she is citizen of, as the legitimacy of all other State policies, domestic and international, depends on their being independently and democratically adopted.

Since 1973, when Ireland joined the then EEC, most Irish politicians have supported the surrender of successive tranches of legislative, executive and judicial power to Brussels, thus hollowing out the independent State they were entrusted with and depriving the Irish people of the right to decide most of their own laws and public policies through the representatives they elect.

It is unsurprising that President Eamon De Valera, who realised full well the implications of what EU membership involved, with its treaty commitment to “ever closer union”, remarked on the eve of our joining the EEC on 1 January 1973: “I am the first and last president of an independent Irish Republic.”

The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon gave the European Union the constitution of a supranational Federal State, with sovereignty being divided between the Federal EU level and the Member State level and everyone being endowed with two citizenships, just as in such classic Federations as the USA and Federal Germany.

One can only be a citizen of a State, and in 2009 the Lishon Treaty made Irish people citizens of a Federal-style EU without their being informed or being made aware of its full implications. The statutory body that was charged with informing them, the Referendum Commission under the chairmanship of then High Court Justice Mr Frank Clarke, did a woefully inadequate job of doing that.

In the years ahead the citizens of the Republic, like the citizens of the UK, need to take back control of their laws, money and borders by regaining their independence from the EU.

This should be all the more necessary and advantageous now that the Republic has become a net contributor to the EU Budget and does more of its foreign trade with the English-speaking countries of North America, the UK etc. than it does with the continental EU.

By leaving the EU the Republic would regain control of its sea fishing waters, whose annual value, if exploited by Irish fishermen, is far greater than any money we get from the EU.  With Britain and Northern Ireland out of the EU, continued EU membership for the Republic of Ireland will come to be seen before long as entailing significantly more costs than benefits for us.

A referendum is not needed to enable Ireland to leave the EU. In the

1972 constitutional amendment which enabled the State to join the then EEC, later the EC and then the EU, and which permitted European law to have primacy over Irish law, the people gave the Government a permissive power, not a mandatory one. That amendment stated that the State “may join” the European Union, not that it  “must” or “shall”

join it. Ireland can therefore leave the EU when that becomes Government policy.

In the years ahead Ireland will have to adapt to UK policy-making post-Brexit –  and the UK will have to adapt to Irish policy. Clearly one thing that UK Government policy will have to decide is its longterm relation with the Irish State.

Is it in the UK’s interest that the Republic of Ireland should continue on its course up to now of ever closer integration with a quasi-Federal European Union?  Or alternatively, will the UK wish to see the Republic move away from that, and indeed leave the EU in due time, with the political and economic support of the UK?

In the event of a putative Irish reunification with consent coming about at some future date, as mooted in the 1998 Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, can it ever be in the interest of the British State that the whole island of Ireland should become part of a continental European Union that will inevitably be dominated by Franco-Germany, with its own foreign and security policy and probable common army, while Britain is outside that?

Control or influence over Ireland has always been an objective of Britain’s / England’s continental enemies – Spain in the 16th century, France in the 18th and 19th, Germany in the 20th. It has been a consistent concern of British/English policy over the centuries to prevent this happening.

Past Irish Governments have recognised the validity of this concern.

But with EU leaders now openly talking about an EU army, and what is left of Irish “neutrality” being in tatters, what credence can be put in that?

Maintaining the common Anglo-Irish travel area as well as support from the Bank of England for restoring an independent Irish pound are likely to be key elements in negotiations between London and Dublin over these matters in the years ahead.

The common Anglo-Irish  travel area is a virtually unique arrangement between States.  It is a privilege which each Government, the Irish and the British, accord to one another’s citizens. But it is not a right. It is more important for the Irish side than the British, however, for it has served as a traditional social “safety-valve” for the Republic’s longstanding emigration problem.

Irish citizens will not lightly forgive any Dublin Government that puts it in peril by a policy that seeks to align Dublin longterm with Berlin and Paris rather than with the Anglophone world of London, New York, Toronto and Canberra, with which Irish people have much closer historical, cultural, personal and sentimental ties.

In the years ahead it is quite on the cards that Germany will come to see advantages in Ireland following the UK out of the EU, such that the Bundesbank and the European Central Bank would cooperate with the Bank of England in supporting the initial stages of re-establishing an independent Irish pound.

Germany may well come to see the departure of the two neighbouring English-speaking EU members as strengthening German dominance of an increasingly federalized EU. This has been an aspiration of key German policy-making elites for decades – foolishly in our view; but let them at it.

The departure of the UK, one of the largest national economies in the world, as an EU Member, will, be a severe  blow to the supranational Euro-federalist project.  It will encourage the democratic forces in every EU country that want to leave this anti-democratic and unhistorical construction, win back their national democracy and independence and hasten the inevitable disintegration of both EMU and EU.

That is why this historic “Brexit Day” is a day of celebration not just for people in Britain and the North but for consistent democrats and internationalists right across the European continent.


Anthony Coughlan


N.B.  See the accompanying attachment below on Anthony Coughlan’s retirement as Director of this Centre.