As the government releases a number of position papers on its stance in the ongoing negotiations with the EU, a number of issues concerning London, its people, and our future relationship with other EU states are set to gain further clarity.
Such issues include the effects that Brexit might have on the economic security, and social arrangements between the UK and Ireland.
The possible impact of Brexit on this relationship has been well-documented, and not just during the referendum itself. Yet the impact goes far beyond just discussion of the border. It is estimated that as many as 6m people living in the UK have an Irish grandfather or grandmother. In London, nearly 200,000 people claim to be Irish. As such, the human element – along with matters including security and economics – matter.
The good news is that the government certainly recognises this.
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire promised Wednesday to maintain the “invisible border” between the UK and Ireland after Brexit, and to maintain the Common Travel Area.
This was something that both Iain Murray and I called for in our book, Cutting the Gordian Knot: Roadmap for a British Exit from the European Union. For Irish people living across the United Kingdom, and those in London, both this and the “British Isles Schengen Area” proposal that has come out of the Brexit department should generate confidence that the relationship between the UK and Ireland can be strengthened post-Brexit.
This confidence is grounded in a range of factors that can help create a stronger and deeper relationship between the two countries.
Economic ties, for instance, remain strong. Ireland is the UK’s fifth largest export market and imports more from the UK than any other country. For Ireland, this importance is reciprocated, with the UK being its third largest export market. For London businesses and entrepreneurs, the opportunities are there. Of course, with the UK accounting for 30 per cent of Ireland’s imports, there is already a high base. However, if London can both retain and develop further new industries such as fintech, then it can continue to grow its exports of high quality global goods and services.
The challenge for the next few years won’t be just seen in the field of economics though. While innovations in the economy will be crucial to the UK and London’s future success, it is also necessary when it comes to security. This is especially the case after the attacks in both Westminster and London Bridge, and the sharing of data and information is crucial to ensuring successful security operations happen in both Ireland and the rest of the European Union.
Of course, the UK has had a long, and often troubled, relationship with Ireland when it comes to security. This should not be forgotten. However, both UK and Irish intelligence services have over the years worked closely with one another to enhance cooperation and the security capabilities of both nations.
The UK has also informed and improved the security networks within the European Union throughout its membership. Indeed, the UK’s involvement in security matters has in the past been seen as critical to the security operations and capabilities of the EU.
This is judged through two key factors: the advanced technology that the UK possesses, and the information it gathers. Although security services on the continent have elements of both, because the UK is a member of international information sharing groups such as the Five Eyes Alliance, when other EU member states are not, it has been invaluable to the EU.
The EU in the forthcoming weeks and months will want assurances from the UK over many things.
Security cooperation will be one of them.
However, given the strong infrastructure and links created with Ireland, there is a case for the UK to lobby for their inclusion into the Five Eyes Alliances – extending it to six. In doing so, the UK can signal to the EU that it wants to keep cooperating, and to Ireland that it wants to have a stronger and deeper relationship between the two separate states post Brexit.
Extending security ties with Ireland, along with keeping the Common Travel Area and sensible trade and border agreements, can continue to foster trust and friendship between the UK, Ireland and the EU going forward. This would benefit all parties – including those in London.