Irish Ambassador to the United States Looks Beyond Brexit

Ambassador Daniel Mulhall said Irish-U.S. relations will strengthen after Brexit during a visit to the Elliott School.

Daniel Mulhall
Ireland's Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall visited the Elliott School Thursday to discuss the implications of Brexit on the future of Europe. (Colette Kent/Elliott School)
April 01, 2019

By Tatyana Hopkins

Brexit will likely strengthen the economic and political bonds between the United States and Ireland, according to the Ambassador of Ireland to the U.S. Daniel Mulhall.

Following Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU), Ireland will be the union’s only predominantly English-speaking member state, and in turn will be the natural destination for American investors and businesses looking to plant roots in Europe, he said.

“When a U.S. company looks at Europe now they will say, ‘where do we put our European base,’” Mr. Mulhall said. “In the past they might have put it in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or England. Now, they may not put it there because that may limit access to the European market.”

He said Ireland will be more attractive to American business because not only do the two countries share a common language, but Ireland’s EU membership will give companies full access to the European workforce and market.

Mr. Mulhall visited the Elliott School of International Affairs Thursday to discuss the implications of Brexit on the future of Europe, especially Irish international relations at an event hosted by the George Washington University Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies. His visit came just one day after the British Parliament voted on eight different Brexit options, with no plan winning a clear majority.

“What happened, really, is that the [British] people voted to leave the European Union, but the Parliament cannot decide what kind of Brexit the people wanted…and that’s the crux of the problem and that’s the problem that still needs to be resolved by the British Parliament and government in the weeks and months ahead,” Mr. Mulhall said.

The ambassador began his current post in September 2017. He was previously ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2012 until his current appointment.

Having personally campaigned against Brexit in 2016, the ambassador said he regrets Britain’s decision to leave the EU, but that Irish policy on the matter has been to offset its negative impacts by taking advantage of its upsides and opportunities.

He said Irish concerns about Brexit are “two-fold.” The first being Brexit’s potential to damage British-Irish relations, “which have undergone a positive transformation over the past 40 years.” The second, uncertainty about what will become of the border between the republic and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Mulhall said most people don’t notice the border.

“And we are determined to keep it that way because the fear is that if you harden that border, you create additional tension between the communities in Northern Ireland,” he said.

He acknowledged that lack of border control could allow the U.K. to undermine the EU’s single market through illegal exports from Northern Ireland to the republic.

Despite the adverse implications of Brexit, Mr. Mulhall said Ireland will act on its opportunity to attract foreign business and increase its role in the EU’s trans-Atlantic relations. 

He said 750 U.S. companies in Ireland are already responsible for about two-thirds of its exports, and 70 of those companies moved to Ireland specifically because of Brexit. The largest to move, he said, was Bank of America, and one of the most notable was an investment firm partially owned by Rees Mogg, a British Parliament member and avid supporter of Brexit.

“J.P. Morgan is building a big high-rise building in Dublin,” Mr. Mulhall said. “Others will follow suit.”

He also noted that as many as 100 more companies are in discussion with Ireland’s central bank about being regulated in the republic.

In addition to increased business with the United States, he said Ireland is also looking to “play a more prominent role” to bridge the divide in trans-Atlantic negotiations, which have been strained in recent years over trade and foreign policy.

“We really are moving towards seeing ourselves as a country that's not just there to benefit from the international opportunities, but also a country that contributes to a more sensible international framework for peace, security and prosperity,” Mr. Mulhall said. 

He said political upheaval throughout Europe by populist parties following the financial crisis 10 years ago has resulted in a loss of “instinct in trans-Atlantic cooperation” that existed among their predecessors.

“In America likewise, you've got a government that doesn't have the same instinctive traditional U.S. view of trans-Atlantic relations,” Mr. Mulhall said.

He said Ireland already has a special relationship with the United States through its economic and political ties that can help them become more active in the trans-Atlantic space.

“We feel we can play a bit of role in explaining the European Union to the United States but also in helping the Europeans to understand where the Americans are coming from too,” Mr. Mulhall said.

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