I thank the Chairman and the committee for inviting the IIEA to appear. I wish to make a few points, mainly of a general nature, that are additional to those in the written submission I provided last week and largely relate to the two particular questions asked by the committee in its letter to the IIEA with regard to the new and future relationship between the UK and the EU and an analysis of the latest developments in Brexit and the implications for Ireland.
The first point I wish to make is that the trade deal is a very thin one. There were areas in which the EU was prepared to make arrangements but the British did not want them, apparently on the basis of the sovereignty ground that they stress. For example, the British were offered much better arrangements on policing, legal matters, Erasmus+, financial matters and so on but they rejected them all on the basis that the arrangements were not in keeping with their desire for sovereignty.
There are, perhaps, two major issues to this notion of sovereignty in the UK. The first is that the British have a long history of enacting and utilising power through Westminster. Historically, they consider it very important to have power resting in Westminster, including the power to enact legislation. Second, there is a strong view among Brexiteers that they can better protect and advance their interests if they are outside the EU rather than inside it. This was probably best expressed by Ian Duncan Smith when he used the word "buccaneering". That buccaneering nature is deep in the British psyche and dates back to the 16th century and the 17th century. As a result, it is quite likely that the future negotiations between the UK and the EU, of which there will be many because there are many areas where arrangements have not been made, may be quite fractious.
In Brussels, there is little trust of the UK. There is also very little trust of the UK among some member states and one major member state in particular. The manner in which the British decided last September that they would break international law in the context of the Northern Ireland protocol, as well as the bilateral decisions they took earlier this year about the bilateral protocol, have not served to build trust between London and Brussels. As all members will be aware, if one is really trying to do business internationally, there must be trust.
The EU will be a very different place without the UK. The absence of the UK will allow for changes in the EU that may not have occurred had the UK remained a member.
A primary example was the deal done last year to address the results of Covid-19 and to make available to member states a big support package of more than €700 billion. I and many of my British friends, particularly the remainers, are quite certain that those support measures would not have gone through the EU had the UK remained a member. There may well, in the future, be areas of co-operation which will advance different types of unity in different areas and that would have been stymied by the UK had it remained a member. The whole area of taxation is an example of that. Ireland, largely in step with the UK, has been able to prevent certain things happening that we thought were not in our interests. It may be a little more difficult for us in the future.
Another loss for Ireland in the absence of the UK lies within the Commission. The Commission is forever drafting directives and all sorts of things, the bulk of which are drafted by people who have been brought up within the European legal system and not within the common law system. The UK had large numbers of people employed to examine those drafts and to try to make sure, before they became law, that there would be no unexpected consequences. That may cause difficulties for us, down the line, with the absence of the UK.
However, on the other hand, there may be advantages now that the UK has left the EU. We will be the only European country that speaks English and relies entirely on common law. This may be helpful in attracting investment but it also may be helpful in legal areas. London is one of the prime locations for the resolution of commercial difficulties because large numbers of companies facing commercial difficulties prefer to resolve them in a court using Anglo-Saxon law. There may be an opportunity here, to a certain extent, for Dublin to do some of the legal work that was done in London prior to Britain's exit. I note, for example, that a large numbers of British queen's counsel, QCs, are establishing themselves here so they will be able to do legal business both here and in London.
I will turn briefly to consider Brexit and its effects on Ireland. This will be an area of very great difficulty for us in the future because the UK and Ireland are now, in effect, on opposite sides of the table. During the years when we were together in the European Economic Community, EEC, and then the EU, the fact that we were both members was very helpful in getting us to work together to try to help resolve the issues in Northern Ireland. We are now on different sides of the table. There are many people in Britain who think that many of the problems that were caused for them in the negotiations were not a result of Brexit, but a result of the Irish being stubborn and trying to look after their interests. There may be problems there.
A further problem is that it is more than 20 years since the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. The vast majority of the politicians and civil servants who worked through those negotiations and the negotiations which followed, ending in 2010 or thereabouts, have passed on. There is not a great working memory in London of the many hours, weeks and years of work that British and Irish politicians and civil servants spent together trying to resolve issues around Northern Ireland. One can see the result of that in the way in which the British Government has dealt with Northern Ireland since the time that former Prime Minister, Theresa May, went to the country approximately four years ago, after which the UK Government became dependent on the votes of the DUP.
Even as recently as last week, the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, opposed a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, effectively because the unionists did not like it and despite the fact that he was told that Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party all want such a meeting. The Good Friday Agreement talks of rigorous impartiality on the part of both Governments towards the communities and parties in Northern Ireland. There may be a little question mark about the extent to which the rigorous impartiality existed in London in the albeit very difficult circumstances of the Government trying to negotiate Brexit in circumstances where it did not have a majority. The loss of those sorts of informal meetings between British and Irish civil servants, politicians and so on will not be very helpful as we go along the way to try to do something about what is happening in Northern Ireland.
I will say a couple of things about the unionists. There is no doubt that unionists, particularly political unionists, have been very badly spooked. The people of Northern Ireland had voted to remain in the EU but the running over the past four years was made practically entirely by the DUP, not in the assembly or the Northern Ireland Executive but in the Parliament in London. The DUP turned down Mrs. May's deal and supported Boris Johnson. Then Boris Johnson supported the protocol which, for them, is a very serious betrayal. Other things that have spooked them are: the Bobby Storey funeral - seeing those lines of people all dressed in a kind of uniform brought back memories of the past which many of them would have preferred to forget - and the recent decision not to prosecute some of those who attended the funeral; calls for a referendum; talk of Protestants not being in a majority in the next census; and it being quite clear that there are many people in London who no longer care about them very much, not least George Osborne. The prospect of Sinn Féin being in government both in the North and the South or Sinn Féin being the major party in Northern Ireland is spooking unionists. There is precious little leadership or guidance being provided for the sort of people who are out throwing Molotov cocktails at the police in Belfast and so on. The North is in a very bad position. We must be exceedingly careful in how we try to bring some sort of normality back to it. The latter can only be done by the two Governments working together in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, but that is exceedingly difficult in the current circumstances. We need to try to stand back a little and work as well as we can with the British Government and with all of the parties in Northern Ireland to try to put the Good Friday Agreement back on track.