Brexit provides economic opportunity for Ireland
‘Special relationship’ with United States the long-term goal
WASHINGTON — The “special relationship” between Britain and the United States has been a fixture of international politics for decades. Could Washington now also have a “special friend” in Ireland?
Daniel Mulhall, Ireland’s ambassador in Washington, thinks so. And he says it’s because of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
“Brexit is a game-changer for Ireland,” Mulhall said. “We become a bridge between the European Union and the United States both for investment but also for influence.”
Those hopes even have a tangible symbol: This month, seeking to expand its diplomatic mission in Washington, the Irish government closed a deal to buy a 6,500-square-foot building once used by the Egyptian Embassy.
It’s a far cry from Britain’s gargantuan embassy compound, one of the biggest in Washington, but it’s a signal of Dublin’s intent.
Before he took up residence in Washington last year, Mulhall served as Ireland’s ambassador to Britain. He personally campaigned against Britain’s vote to leave the EU in 2016.
After voters pased Brexit, he told a reporter, he felt “sadness” that Britain’s relationship with Ireland was at risk.
Now he sees Brexit as a new opportunity for Ireland — one that could rival Brexiteers’ hopes for an economic future that relies on greater trade with the United States and other nations outside of Europe.
“Britain is under a cloud of uncertainty as far as its future access to the European single market in concerned,” Mulhall said. “We feel that any country that’s looking at either expanding its presence in Europe or establishing a presence for the first time will look less favorably on Britain and more favorably on Ireland.”
After Brexit, British leaders have clung to the idea of an unbending AngloAmerican bond. British Prime Minister Theresa May was the first world leader to visit President Donald Trump after he took office last year. Both leaders praised the “special relationship” during that visit,
Spain says it will back Brexit divorce.
with May saying it was based “on the bonds of history, of family, kinship and common interests.”
But at the same time, Britain’s position as a member of the EU was one of its key selling points.
“We are strong and active members of the European Union, the gateway to the world’s largest single market,” said May’s predecessor, David Cameron, in a 2010 speech.
Many other EU countries are now pledging to become Washington’s new “gateway to Europe.” Ireland may be a particularly attractive base for American companies: Its common-law system is similar to the American legal structure, and it is known for being one of the most business-friendly countries in the EU.
Ireland and the United States also share a common language.
“We will be the only English-speaking country left in the European Union,” Mulhall pointed out.
Outside experts agree that Ireland is well positioned to strengthen its ties to the United States.
“Ireland’s institutions have been calibrated toward attracting U.S. investment for decades, which places the country in a strong position to attract investment which may pivot away from the U.K. post-Brexit,” said Neil Dooley, a politics lecturer at the University of Sussex.
Given that Ireland is a relatively small country — just 4.7 million — even a small change could have profound effects on the economy. Irish firms are reforming their business plans for a post-Brexit future, according to Sean Davis, the regional director for Enterprise Ireland, a state economic agency that promotes new export sales.
Companies sponsored by Enterprise Ireland opened 59 offices in the United States last year, according to Davis. There are more than 800 Irish-owned companies in the United States, with 100,000 employed by Irish-origin companies.
That’s a useful talking point given the Trump administration’s focus on protecting American jobs, but there could be other issues.
The United States has a considerable trade deficit with Ireland, and Trump has called out the country as a “tax haven.” The tax cuts passed by Republicans in 2017 appear to have hit U.S. investment in Ireland, according to Irish estimates.
With Trump, there’s the risk of unexpected feuds. The president is at odds with the Irish government on a variety of foreign policy issues; he has canceled one trip to Ireland amid planned protests. But any hopes for a “special relationship,” with this president may be premature.
“I don’t think Ireland kids itself that it has a special, meaningful relationship with the U.S.,” said Brian Lucey, a professor at Trinity Business School at Trinity College Dublin. “Particularly with Trump, where there’s a hard-nosed, mercantilist approach.”
“Brexit is a game-changer for Ireland,” said Daniel Mulhall, Irish ambassador to the U.S.