Euroscepticism has always coloured Britain's relationship with the EU. But Ireland saw membership as a way to take a new role on the world stage—one they won't relinquish lightlyby Patrick Thompson / December 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
Has Britain ever understood the EU? It’s a question which is both fascinating and frustrating.
There are a range of reasons for Britain’s lukewarm engagement with the European project: British exceptionalism, a fixation on the relationship with the United States, poor timing, domestic realpolitiks and arrogance have all played a part. Over forty years ago, when the campaign to join was at its height, pro-European politicians from Ted Heath to Dennis Healey found themselves talking up the economic argument and ignoring, for the most part, the political one.
Prior to Brexit, the most serious public discussion about the EU since joining concerned the economics of the single currency, not wider issues of European integration on ideological grounds.
While the UK’s future is unclear, what is certain is that our tendency to view membership as little more than an economic convenience has blinded us to how our closest European neighbour relates to the EU.
The Republic of Ireland joined the EEC, as the EU was then, at the same time as Britain in 1973. Over 80 per cent of Irish voters were in favour.
In many ways the British move—which would result in the six counties of Northern Ireland joining the European community—encouraged the Irish government. Indeed, an earlier Irish bid to join the EEC had been shelved when Britain’s application was dropped. There is, however, a deeper relationship between Ireland and the European Project which Westminster would do well to realise.
After a tumultuous first half of the 20th century, the Irish Republic within the EEC was more confident than it had ever been. Membership of the EEC made Ireland economically independent from Britain—a reality that British Eurosceptics seem blind to even now—and was a driving force in giving women independence through European directives on equal pay.
The European framework was also an important part of the Peace Process, a fact that has been highly relevant but largely ignored until recently.
It has even been argued that Ireland’s application to join the wider European community marked the end of a particular tradition of nationalism and helped birth a new, outward facing nation.