Although the date is not yet known, Prime Minister Cameron has confirmed that before the end of 2017 a referendum will be held in the United Kingdom regarding their continued membership of the EU. The final decision on the matter, therefore, lies with the UK electorate.
As independent studies have shown, a UK exit from the EU has the potential to be most damaging for Ireland. The reasons for this are well documented. A UK withdrawal would likely have a significantly adverse impact on our economy and could also be unhelpful both for the peace process in Northern Ireland and British-Irish relations more generally. Furthermore, Ireland does not believe that a UK departure from the European Union is in the best interests of the EU itself.
Ireland is not, however, the only EU member state that highly values the UK’s place in the EU. It is widely recognised across the Union that the EU is better and stronger on account of the UK’s EU membership, whether because of its strong economy or the influence it wields on the international stage. This is why none of our EU partners wishes to see a so-called “Brexit”.
For these reasons, through the ongoing negotiations process in Brussels, the Government is committed to doing all it can to help ensure the UK remains in the European Union. It is therefore no surprise that the EU-UK relationship features significantly in discussions I have had with my European counterparts, especially in the margins of meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council. This is the same for the Taoiseach, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy, and many other Ministers in the contacts they have with their respective counterparts. The subject is also consistently raised at high-level official meetings, while I would add that Ireland’s embassies across the EU, and further afield, also remain actively engaged on this issue.
Given our close ties with the UK and its government, EU member states often wish to know our views and where we stand on Prime Minister Cameron’s EU agenda. Our response has always been to confirm that we believe it is in all our mutual best interests that the UK remains in the European Union, and that we will continue to be constructive and flexible in the negotiations process, while respecting the fundamental principles of the Union.
Equally, we use every opportunity to explain to our European partners why UK membership is particularly important to Ireland, especially at it relates to our economy and to Northern Ireland.