Not before time, the UK is now working hard to reframe its relationship with the European Union. The act of wilful self-harm known as Brexit is water under the bridge and is less likely to be undone any time soon.
But the wrong-headed and incompetent British Conservative Party politics which followed look to be at an end. Britain’s overtures to the European Union via the “arch-Leaver” but pragmatist prime minister Rishi Sunak are being positively received in the various European capitals.
All signs are now that a new EU-UK relationship can be fixed relatively quickly. The benefits for both sides are self-evident, as are the many positive spin-offs for Ireland, which has long risked becoming the “meat in the sandwich” as that relationship between the two big beasts soured.
After a well-received and exquisitely choreographed visit by Mr Sunak to meet French president Emmanuel Macron last Friday, some welcome UK grown-up diplomacy will quickly gather pace.
Next Sunday week, Britain’s King Charles and Camilla, the queen consort, will travel to France and onwards to Germany on a visit which will run from March 26 to March 31. No pomp will be spared. President Macron will host a state banquet at the Palace of Versailles. In Germany, King Charles will be the first British sovereign to address the Bundestag, the German parliament.
The royal couple will also visit memorials to Allied bombing in Hamburg and to young Jewish refugees who fled the Nazis. Think the British queen’s visit to the Garden of Remembrance and Croke Park in 2011.
This outbreak of new EU-UK relations brings with it an opportunity to re-inject much positivity in Dublin-London relations.
This contact was at an all-time high in the wake of the first-ever British royal state visit to Ireland in May 2011, However, relations deteriorated in the years following the UK’s divorce from the EU, which was voted on in 2016.
The reality is that Ireland can help the UK broker better relations with the EU now that London and Brussels have eventually framed a compromise on the North’s special trade status post-Brexit. Mr Sunak’s visit to Paris began the unlocking of five years of British-French distrust.
Some people will be surprised to learn that while Ireland often coat-tailed the UK over four decades of EU membership, this country also frequently came to London’s aid in matters European.
Albert Reynolds quietly supported an embattled John Major in the EU in the early 1990s. In the process, he forged a relationship which oiled the wheels of new initiatives on peace in Northern Ireland.
Later, Enda Kenny did the same with David Cameron, helping him broker a deal on a new EU relationship which ultimately proved inadequate to stop the ill-starred Brexit referendum.
It is now paramount among Irish interests that the best possible relations are fostered between all our near neighbours and our most important trading partners.