Editorial: 'Taoiseach must leave Boris Johnson under no illusions'
It is important to keep one salient point in view today as the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, visits Dublin for his first face-to-face meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
It is that this meeting is, of itself, a very important encounter. During the past three decades, a worthwhile relationship of good neighbourliness has developed between these two islands amid a mutual search for peace in Northern Ireland and co-operation on achieving EU goals.
Since the UK Brexit referendum in June 2016, Ireland’s and the UK’s EU paths have diverged. Ireland is determined to stay part of the EU which, even after the UK’s departure, offers access to a market of 440 million people in 26 neighbouring countries.
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The UK has determined for various reasons to leave the EU. But the wide variety of business, cultural, sporting and personal links between these two islands must be preserved.
The Brexit issues have been compounded by the need to sustain the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and the absolute need to avoid the return of a visible Border between Ireland North and South. To avoid misunderstandings on any of these matters, frequent and frank face-to-face meetings are needed at every level between Dublin and London.
The European Union, and its move to a single market, and Ireland and the UK’s mutual EU membership, have done more to defuse Irish Border tensions than any other entity or effort since the foundation of the Irish State.
The constant contacts between Irish and UK officials and politicians on EU issues have been a pathway to better understanding and friendships.
Up to Ireland joining the then EEC in January 1973, no UK prime minister had visited Dublin to meet their counterpart. Happily, that has been remedied in the decades since. Thus the practice of frequent visits by the respective leaders and ministers to each other’s capital must be continued whatever the outcome of Brexit.
Ahead of these talks, the Taoiseach has moved to dial down expectations of any kind of breakthrough. Mr Varadkar has said if any such breakthrough is to come, it must happen at EU leader level, possibly at a summit next month.
Mr Johnson comes to Dublin after a week of political reverses which have left him in a very difficult situation. Lamentably, UK politics is currently going through a very confused and upset period.
None of this is any cause for pleasure in Ireland. It is in everyone’s interests on all these islands that wise political remedies be found to deal with the problems we all now face. But in expressing goodwill and support for Mr Johnson’s current travails, the Taoiseach must make it abundantly clear that remedies must be found via meaningful UK talks with the EU.
Time is now very short and a number of obstacles appear intractable. But all our shared histories have shown that, where meaningful negotiations are engaged upon, real remedies can be found.
The reverse has also been painfully true. And our mutual past is littered with missed opportunities to act in a timely fashion to avoid calamity.