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Diplomat calls for Anglo-Irish Brexit summit in a bid to smooth relations

By David Young

A former senior Irish diplomat has called for the British and Irish governments to hold joint talks about relations in the post-Brexit era.

Dr Ray Bassett, who served as Dublin's Ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, warned the Republic may suffer for maintaining its position of solidarity with other EU states during the Brexit negotiations.

Writing in the Sunday Business Post, Dr Bassett said he feared that without new Anglo-Irish talks to address the complexity of the links between the two countries, the Republic's interests would be marginalised in the main Brexit negotiations.

The former diplomat, who was one of the negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, gave a stark warning of dire potential consequences for the Republic if it left all Brexit negotiations to Brussels.

"We risk acquiescing in a second partition of our island; the decimation of our most important industry, agri-food, and the killing of our fishing industry," he said.

"The links between north and south on this island and our links with Britain are so numerous and deep that it is virtually impossible to enumerate them.

"Over 600,000 Irish-born people live on the island of Britain; 80% of our total exports travel through the British transport system.

"Hence, the price we may be asked to pay for EU solidarity could be very high. The question is whether it is too high."

German interests will dominate the EU Brexit negotiations, Dr Bassett said, adding: "There is not even a pretence nowadays that the members of the EU are in any way equal.

"Therefore Ireland, once again, must look to our 'gallant allies' in Europe, with Merkel standing in for the Kaiser in the latest round.

"Hopefully, Germany will be more effective than it was in 1916."

The former diplomat said he sensed a political determination in mainland Europe to 'punish the Brits', in order to discourage other countries from leaving the EU.

"The European Commission is used to throwing its weight around with smaller countries such as Greece, Cyprus, Ireland and Switzerland - but Brexit is of an entirely different magnitude. The commission needs to develop its diplomatic skills rather than relying on bullying tactics," he said.

"For Ireland, we must impress upon the European authorities that Brexit must be a success because if it is a failure, as Juncker reportedly deems essential, then Ireland will be the victim,"

He suggested that Anglo-Irish relationships after Brexit could be considered using a mechanism from strand three of the 1998 agreement which permits the two governments to enter into high level contacts on issues concerning 'the totality' of British/Irish relations.

SDLP MP Mark Durkan last night backed Dr Bassett's approach to the Brexit negotiations.

"We have been calling for the use of strand three of the Good Friday Agreement to discuss the implications of Brexit, in the form of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference as a mechanism for relevant dialogue between the Irish and British governments," he said.

"We believe that this would allow the two governments to have bilateral discussions under an existing bilateral agreement, without the Irish government breaching any protocols of their membership of EU27."

Long-serving Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said he agreed that Dublin has the most to lose from any EU proposals aimed at punishing the UK for leaving. But even if there were UK-Ireland talks, anything agreed at them could be blocked by the other EU member states, the UUP MEP said.

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