While Brexit undoubtedly posed some challenges, London’s ties with Ireland remain strong and constructive, writes Michael Mainelli, Lord Mayor of the City of London
In 2021, a blog posted by the London School of Economics – of which I am an alumnus – warned that “the totality of UK-Irish relations [was] at risk because of Brexit”. And while in the immediate aftermath of our departure from the EU the path ahead did admittedly, at times, appear rather bleak, fast forward three years and UK-Irish relations are now on a much stronger, more constructive and collaborative footing – a point I look forward to making when I visit Ireland later this week.
After all, despite the bumpiness of the Brexit journey, Ireland remains the UK’s sixth largest trading partner (and our fourth largest services partner), with UK foreign direct investment in Ireland amounting to £70.bn. Moreover, the total trade in goods and services between our two nations – some £88.4bn last year – is up by 15.9 per cent over the last twelve months alone.
Brexit has undoubtedly posed challenges to that relationship – something the City of London Corporation is under no illusions about. But in equal measure, let’s be clear: the foundations upon which our partnership is built are more than sturdy enough to circumvent, and find solutions to, the issues our withdrawal has created.
Unsurprisingly, Northern Ireland is the UK region with the highest levels of trade with the Republic of Ireland, but London comes a close second, reiterating the strength of the link between our nations’ capital cities – two diverse, international, and outward looking hubs of commercial activity.
During the course of my 60-hour stay, where I’ll have the honour of meeting with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, as well as with the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and, of course, with businesses large and small, it is that potential to work even closer together that will be at the forefront of my mind. The very welcome steps the government and the EU have taken to secure the Windsor Framework and to solve the dispute on the Northern Ireland Protocol make that task easier, as does the EU-UK Memorandum of Understanding on Financial Services, signed last June.
We now have a fantastic opportunity to collaborate – and importantly, learn from each other – on everything from fintech and regtech (an industry that is thriving on the Emerald Isle), to navigating environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and harnessing the benefits of AI, not
least in the legal services, fintech and regtech sectors.
Taking advantage of the Common Travel Area and the deep and diverse talent pools we enjoy, there is also huge potential for Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to connect and address some of the biggest challenges facing our planet, like climate change and space debris, through a new innovation supercluster. The UK’s reaccession to the Horizon programme at the start of this month, allowing our researchers to access the scheme’s €95.5bn funding pot, will certainly help those efforts and is an area of discussion I will be taking forward with both Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin during the course of my visit.
As many in the City have noticed and welcomed, we are beginning to enjoy closer relations with our friends in the EU, something my mayoralty will reflect with more trips scheduled to European nations than in recent years – Ireland being just one of them.
Speaking ten years ago at a dinner at Guildhall during the first state visit by an Irish president to the UK, President Higgins commented that “the vibrancy of our relationship now irrigates every aspect of our societies”.
By extending our partnerships and building on the already extremely strong economic, social and cultural history between us, we can, and should, realise that full potential he spoke of – one that comes about when our two nations work together.