Belfast Telegraph

SDLP's Eastwood defends diplomat who called for Ireland to leave EU

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has defended a ex-Irish diplomat who controversially called for Ireland to follow Britain out of the EU.

Earlier this month, Ireland's former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica, and the Bahamas Ray Bassett came in for a barrage of criticism after proposing the idea of 'Irexit' in a report produced for UK-based think tank Policy Exchange.

In it, Mr Bassett critiqued the Irish government's current position, and suggested that in the event of the UK leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, it would be in Ireland's best interests to follow them out.

Mr Eastwood was speaking at the annual political gathering at MacGill Summer School in the Glenties, Co Donegal.

Responding to Mr Bassett's analysis, the SDLP leader said: "Ray hasn’t convinced me and I’m pretty sure he never will - but there is a difference between disagreeing with someone and throwing them under the bus.

"In Ireland we’re sometimes too fond of those kinds of buses and less fond of allowing the development of ideas.

"Not only is Ray Bassett entitled to his considered view but it’s a view which actually calls on all of us with the opposing argument to improve and deepen our own positions on the European Union and our nation’s relationship with it.

"That’s how good public debate is supposed to work and it’s how good politics develops."

Mr Eastwood went on to state that the challenge of a hard border "is almost unmeasurable and unimaginable" - pointing out that 1.85 million cars, 177,000 lorries, and 208,000 light vans cross the border each month.

"In truth, the main effect of the imposition of a hardened border in Ireland would rip up and rip apart what have become the familiar pattern of life from Derry to Dundalk," he said.

"It would bring a shuddering halt to the familiar which we have all been living with since the beginning days of the peace process."

Speaking about the challenge facing countries across Europe, he said that "Brexit had been the catalyst through which Europe has rediscovered its mojo" and that the "twin pillars of Macron and Merkel have injected a renewed sense of purpose into the European Project".

Mr Eastwood also bemoaned the approach of the British government to the Brexit negotiations, saying that "meaningless mantra after meaningless mantra is a pitiful offering for what was once the most effective diplomatic machine on the planet".

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