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Why this man is not apocalyptic even if 'Brexit' is a reality by next Christmas

The British ambassador to Ireland visited TheJournal.ie today to talk about the UK’s In/Out referendum.

Would Brexit be fatal to Anglo-Irish relations? British ambassador Dominick Chilcott spoke to TheJournal.ie…

Source: Cianan Brennan/TheJournal.ie

IT’S QUITE POSSIBLE that by this time next year the UK will have voted to leave the European Union.

The British ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott, doesn’t want that to happen but acknowledges that his country’s support for EU membership is only “wafer-thin”:

While it’s only wafer-thin, and there’s this swell of concern about our membership which is seen by UKIP, for example, getting four million votes in the last general election, then it needs to be addressed.

It’s the reason why David Cameron has begun his efforts to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU. Once this process is complete there will be a referendum within four to six months, which probably means in the autumn of next year.


The official UK government position is that it wants to stay in the EU subject to negotiating better terms in these four broad areas:

  1. Protection of the single market for Britain and others outside the eurozone 
  2. Competitiveness to be written into the EU’s DNA
  3. Exempt Britain from the ‘ever closer union’ principle and strengthen national parliaments
  4. Control inward migration from the EU

Three and four are widely considered the most difficult points of the upcoming talks.

But would the idea of exempting the UK from the ‘ever closer union’ principle not lead to other members demanding the same and undermine the entire European project?


No, says Chilcott:

I don’t think it fatally undermines any of the European project and indeed it’s a reflection, I think, of the reality now in the European Union that not every member state is heading for the same ultimate destination and that we’re going to have a more varied geometric European Union for the future.

While other major nations like France and Germany seem committed to even greater integration the UK almost stands alone in wanting less of it.

Chilcott acknowledges that this may come across as arrogant, but he wouldn’t use that word. It’s about British exceptionalism, he insists:

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Source: Cianan Brennan/TheJournal.ie

“The UK is not really modernised by the European Union in any meaningful way,” he said.

Our political institutions survived the two global wars of the last century and emerged more or less unscathed and perhaps in fact even stronger. So we don’t feel that sort of visceral sense that belonging to the European Union is vitally important for maintaining ourselves as the country that we want to be.

The Irish government has been very clear in its desire for the UK to remain in the EU in recent months. This is welcomed by Chilcott particularly given the “unprecedented good cooperation” between London and Dublin.

But would ‘Brexit’ be fatal to that close Anglo-Irish bond? Chilcott says:

I’m not a kind of apocalyptic type about this and, in fact, one would want to be careful using words like ‘damage’ because it all crucially depends on the nature of the terms in which we were to leave.

“You don’t know those by definition because the aim of the game is to remain in a reformed Europe and not have to go down that path.”

Poll: Is the UK right to hold a referendum on its membership of the European Union?

Poll Results:

Yes (1465)
No (308)
Don't know (85)

There will be more from our interview with Ambassador Chilcott on TheJournal.ie in the coming days. 

Read: Will the UK leave the EU …and what would it mean for Ireland if it did?

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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