In just three paragraphs of the recent House of Lords report on Brexit ( paragraphs 170, 171 and 172 ), in which successive Irish Prime Ministers gave witness to the transformation of their relations with their UK counterparts as a result of their common EU membership, their Lordships concluded that this joint membership had indeed been a vital ingredient in the positive transformation of Anglo-Irish relations in recent years and in helping to to lay the foundation for the development of the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The Irish Prime Ministers stressed that it was working together over the years in the different EU Committees which had enabled them to build good working relationships with UK ministers and develop friendships, connections and mutual understanding. John Bruton stressed “ how a bilateral unequal relationship ( between the UK and the Republic ) which had all the difficulties that go with any bilateral unequal relationship, whether in a family, between states or between businesses “ had been transformed by their joint membership of the EU into an equal membership of something bigger than either of them.
What the EEC, and subsequently, the EU achieved in the reconciliation in continental Europe of former enemies, had once again been successful in the equally fraught area of Anglo-Irish relations. As Jean Monet predicted at the outset of the European adventure “ human nature does not change but when nations and men accept the same rules and the same institutions to make sure they are applied, their behaviour towards each other changes. This is the process of civilisation”. John Bruton’s statement also showed implicitly the relevance of EU membership to Anglo-Scottish relations and those of Spain and UK/ Gibraltar.
In reality, the overall objective of the European movement from the start has been to promote peace within the European continent after centuries of conflict, bloodshed and war and ultimately it is on its success in achieving that objective that it must be judged. For the Nobel Committee there was no doubt; it awarded the EU the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for advancing peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe over six decades. Its role in this endeavour must not be confused with that of NATO. The latter was and is an alliance to deter an external agression against its member states and has played no direct role in intra- European relations.
Over the last six decades, national politicians, civil servants and parliamentarians from the member states have been working together towards the integration of Europe whose ultimate form and governance, however, has yet to be decided. The creation of a Single Market has furthered the process of integration so that one set of commercial regulations henceforth replaces the national commercial regulations of the 28 member states. Over time, the 28 member states have grown together in a vast field of activities where they believe that cooperation and collaboration between them can lead to peace, security and progress in Europe and the world.
The threat of war in Europe , in fact, now appears to be so remote a possibility that peace is being taken for granted. This is a tragic mistake. One only has to look at the atmosphere in the UK following the referendum vote of 23rd June last to notice its effect. Racist and xenophobic incidents have multiplied; nationality has become an issue; the UK governments message of “UK interests first” has shocked its European partners. The popular press mocks and pours scorn on the EU and accuses the independent judiciary of being enemies of the people; even the London Times, which advocated Remain, interpreted a recent speech by the UK Prime Minister on the future negotiations with the EU as being “ Give us a fair deal or you will be crushed “. In a flash, the attitude of the UK government to the EU has changed from one of cooperation to achieve higher goals to one of confrontation and acrimony which will only get worse once the so called Brexit negotiations start.
The withdrawal from the EU by the UK implies its walking away from all those agreements reached with its European partners by successive UK governments since 1973. It means the UK will no longer be represented in the EU Council, Commission or EU Parliament and will have no say in the future construction of Europe or its future policies. The working relationships between politicians, civil servants and parliamentarians of the member states and those of the UK in all the different areas of cooperation within the EU will cease. This transformative process which has resulted in such mutual understanding and acceptance and has permitted reconciliation between European nations will, for the UK, be at an end.
However, the EU is not going to disappear and will continue to work to achieve the ambitious objectives set out in the Lisbon treaty. Indeed, the UK government has recently stated that it is in the UK’s overwhelming national interest that the EU succeeds. And yet, at the same time, the UK’s national interest is, apparently, to set out on a totally different path from the EU.
Clearly, though they state that they do not want to turn the clock back to the days when Europe was less peaceful , the present UK government have not learned the lessons of the history of the last 70 years. In making this decision, the UK government also overlooks the fact that it is an European country whose destiny has been and will continue to be inextricably linked to that of continental Europe and, all the more so, in the new inter-dependent global world.