Billy Kelleher MEP writes: Britain didn’t become more illiberal and less tolerant overnight

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Brexit’s happening. There I said it. It is not what I, my party, or my island wants. I know it’s not what the Lib Dems want, but we are where we are.

The deal that Prime Minister Johnson agreed with the EU is not as good as Theresa May’s deal. While it is good for Northern Ireland, it may prove damaging for East-West trade between Ireland and Great Britain if a future relationship agreement isn’t agreed in time.

For the first time, the islands of Ireland and Great Britain are not on the same course – we are diverging. This brings with it huge challenges for all of us who live on either island.

On Ireland, questions are being asked, quite rightly, by Irish and EU citizens living in Northern Ireland about where their futures lie. Post Brexit, at least 600,000 EU citizens will be outside their Union against their wishes.

For many within the nationalist and, indeed, unionist community, a re-United Ireland inside the EU is now being viewed as a viable option to ensure continuity of EU membership.

This is an issue that we, north and south, east and west, Irish, British, and neither will all need to grapple with.

This conversation cannot be led by those from the past who damaged relationships and trust on our islands.

It must be led by the centre, and the Liberal Democrats, working with your sister party, Fianna Fáil in Ireland, must be part of this conversation.

Equally, we need a loud Lib Dem party championing the most open, progressive trade agreement between the EU and the UK. Too many livelihoods on either side of the Irish Sea are dependent on the free flow of goods and services between our two islands to leave it to the Tories or Labour to decide.

Never before has a liberal, progressive voice been needed as much in Great Britain. My party has been where your party is right now. Post 2011, many questioned our relevance – our very necessity of existing. However, we are on the cusp of re-entering government for the first time in nearly a decade. The reason is simple – we stayed true to our founding values and, if the Lib Dems do so too, you will be back – bigger and stronger.

My point is simple: elections are snapshots in time. They do not determine your party’s worth or your relevance to the future.

The British people did not become more illiberal or less progressive overnight. Therefore, I urge you to get back into your communities, listen to voters, (and yes, fix the potholes!) and put forward a vision of an open, tolerant and progressive Britain.

Never forget – you may not be in the EU anymore, but no vote can ever take away your European heritage, your European history or indeed your European future.

* Billy Kelleher is a Member of the European Parliament for Ireland South. He's a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary affairs. Billy is a member of Fianna Fáil, who are part of Renew Europe, the new name for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

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23 Comments

  • Tobias Sedlmeier 8th Jan '20 - 10:01am

    “On Ireland, questions are being asked, quite rightly, by Irish and EU citizens living in Northern Ireland about where their futures lie. Post Brexit, at least 600,000 EU citizens will be outside their Union against their wishes.”

    There are a lot more than 600,000 residents of the UK that are citizens of other EU member states and post-Brexit will be outside the EU – at least 3 million but likely more like 5-6 million. And then there are the many millions of UK residents that are only British citizens but didn’t want Brexit.

  • Donnacha Maguire 8th Jan '20 - 10:37am

    @Tobias Sedlmeier

    I think you are missing a point. The half a million Irish/EU citizens living in Northern Ireland are quire different to other EU citizens living in GB. They were born there, they grew up there, they know no different. They didnt move to the UK. This is their home.

    They would, by and large, prefer to be part of a reunited Ireland, as part of the European Union. Being in the EU allowed them to maintain strong links with their historic nation, and now that is being taken away against their will (it’s estimated that over 90% of catholic/nationalist/Irish voters in Northern Ireland voted to remain.

    I can see that you are angry about something. I’m sure it’s related to Brexit but being angry at other people who are being shafted because of Brexit isn’t a) very clever and b) very nice.

  • nigel hunter 8th Jan '20 - 10:55am

    Equally ,if we are to get back on track to fight Brexit (it will not go away) we need wise leadership who are not tainted with the last decade of disaster where the opposition can flog us to death and get away with it. .

  • Tobias Sedlmeier 8th Jan '20 - 11:01am

    @Donnacha Maguire I see that you are head of communications for Billy Kelleher from Fianna Fail who wrote this piece.

    As an Irish Republic born person living in England, I’m frankly less than happy that Irish politicians like your boss seem a lot more concerned with looking after the interests of the smaller number of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland than the larger number of Irish citizens living in Britain.

  • Tobias
    “600,000 living in Northern Ireland.”
    440,707 voted Remain in NI in 2016. EU citizens living there didn’t get a vote. People born in NI can get an Irish (EU) passport so maybe the figure is about right.

  • Tobias Sedlmeier 8th Jan '20 - 11:29am

    @ Manfarang Everyone born in Northern Ireland can get an Irish passport, but that would be 1.9 million people so clearly not the number that Mssrs Kelleher and Maguire have in mind. The most recent census found that only 21% of that 1.9 million hold an Irish passport, so that’s 400,000 people. I’m not sure where the 600,000 figure comes from but I’m a bit disturbed that Mr Maguire uses the term “90% of catholic/nationalist/Irish voters in Northern Ireland” suggesting that we’re back in the sad old world of the sectarian headcount based on religion (which is not only wrong in normative terms, it’s wrong in terms of reality also).

    As someone from the Irish Republic living in Britain, Brexit puts me in a much worse position than someone in Northern Ireland. Unlike those in Northern Ireland I don’t have British citizenship. Under Irish law, if I marry my spouse doesn’t get Irish citizenship without 3 years residence in Ireland, so unless I have British citizenship my spouse will have no right to reside with me in the U.K. The U.K. being in the EU allowed me to maintain strong links with both the Irish Republic. It’s sad, but not surprising, that people like Mssrs Kelleher and Maguire, obsess over those in Northern Ireland while having no regard to those who of us who are actually from the Irish Republic. The mentality of Irish politicians is that those of us living in Britain should return to Ireland and it’s not for them to look after us. That’s a real contrast with the position taken by other EU member states such as Poland and France in relation to their citizens who are resident in the U.K.

  • Tobais
    “so unless I have British citizenship my spouse will have no right to reside with me in the U.K.”
    That “right” is subject to financial limits i am afraid. Many British citizens are unable to bring their foreign (non-EU) spouses to the UK.

  • Let’s not forget that many traditional Irish republicans who believe in upholding the 1916 Proclamation have long opposed Ireland’s membership of the EU and welcome the Six Counties leaving it…

    ‘British EU Referendum result weakens old and new imperialisms’ [June 2016] *:
    https://republicansinnfein.org/2016/06/24/british-eu-referendum-result-weakens-old-and-new-imperialisms/

    The result of the British Referendum on membership of the EU is to be welcomed on two levels. […]

    We are proud of our record of consistently opposing the construction of a militarised and undemocratic Superstate in every referenda held in the 26 Counties since the original referendum on membership of the EEC in 1972. This is the only position that Irish Republicans can hold if we are serious about creating an independent Ireland based on the principles of the 1916 Proclamation. There is no point in removing the shackles of British imperialism only to replace them with the political and economic imperialism of the EU.

    * Note: Republican Sinn Féin is not the same political party as the larger and more well-known Sinn Féin, the original party having split in 1986. RSF have one elected councillor in Connemara.

    ‘Hardline group Saoradh launches Brexit policy document’ [October 2018]:
    https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2018/10/26/news/hardline-group-saoradh-launches-brexit-policy-document-1469269/

    The document describes Brexit as a “British construct and therefore a matter for the British people”.

    It also outlines the party’s opposition to the EU and says it is “opposed to the usurpation of Irish national sovereignty by the European capitalist and imperialist super state”.

  • Tobias Sedlmeier 8th Jan '20 - 12:58pm

    @ Manfarang First, that “right” is not currently “subject to financial limits” for EU citizens. That was the legal position when I moved to the UK and it’s shameful that Brexit should result in me losing a legal right.

    Secondly, post-Brexit a British citizen living in the UK has certain rights to have their non-UK spouse reside in the UK, subject to the financial criteria which you mention. However, an Irish citizen living in the UK (it having been agreed that there will be no immigration restrictions on Irish citizens in the UK) will have no such right in relation to a non-Irish/UK spouse. This isn’t about financial requirements on spousal immigration – this is about having no right to spousal immigration at all!

    Here’s a scenario that makes this clearer: Irish citizen moves to UK in June 2016. No entitlement to settled status until 5 years is up, June 2021 – add another six months to allow for paperwork, so say December 2021. If that Irish citizen marries a non-UK/Irish citizen during and period from 31 January 2020 until December 2021 that Irish citizen has no right whatsoever in relation to that spouse immigrating to the UK.

    It’s sad that a comment on this site about how problematic the position of EU citizens in the UK will be post-Brexit is met by a response that there are problems for British citizens, particularly when, as I’ve explained, the position of EU citizens post-Brexit will be much worse than that for British citizens.

    It’s also sad that Irish politicians can’t be bothered to even think about issues like this. It was Billy Kelleher’s party, Fianna Fail, that changed Irish law in 2001 so that a spouse of an Irish citizen is entitled to Irish citizenship only once they have both resided on the island of Ireland for a period of three years.

  • Bless Jeff that’s weak even for you. Tis the same as posting the views of the Socialist Workers Party as being the view of all socialists. Fringe no Mark party representing virtually nobody but Jeff posts their views as representative of the Nationalist community. Weak so weak.

  • “If that Irish citizen marries a non-UK/Irish citizen during and period from 31 January 2020 until December 2021 that Irish citizen has no right whatsoever in relation to that spouse immigrating to the UK. ”

    Are you sure about the Jan end date rather than Dec date as FOM ends on Dec 2020 if interim period not extended? (is Dec 2021 mistype?)

    Currently EU citizens are better off than Brits as they can bring their foreign spouse here as long as they are living in the UK whereas Brits have to meet various criteria including fiscal (probably even worse if in Boris takes us out of Euro human rights). The flip side of that was that Brits could do the same in other Euro countries, no idea what their rights are post FOM end (politicians don’t seem to even consider it).

  • Just to add, Euro president speech today indicated that everything, including FOM, is up for negotiation which sort of indicates no change in the interim period.

    i really hope the LibDems will salvage something from the Brexit mess by promoting FOM but with no access to welfare inc social housing for the first five years (with reciprocal ruling in EU), which would be acceptable to the vast swathe of the UK populace and get the youth vote back on side. I know this is far from ideal from a party that wants open world borders but its is a lot better than what Boris et al have lined up.

  • Tobias Sedlmeier 8th Jan '20 - 3:15pm

    @ Frank West The December 2021 date is referenced because by then (approximately) the Irish citizen will have been in the UK long enough to have received UK citizenship. I set that out in the sentence preceding the one which you quote. The 31 January 2020 date is because the terms of the withdrawal agreement don’t extend spousal rights where the marriage occurs during the transition period.

    The key point here is that although we are told by Irish politicians like Billy Kelleher that there will be no immigration controls between UK and Irish Republic post-Brexit that’s a very different and fundamentally weaker position than the current arrangements for Irish citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the Irish Republic. The really problematic thing is that Irish people may in some respects end up worse off than those from other EU member states, i.e. excluded from the scope of UK work permit arrangements because they aren’t considered to need them but then unable to avail of rights in relation to spouses that UK work permit holders from, e.g. Germany and France could have.

    Irish politicians like Billy Kelleher have completely failed to grapple with these issues, as evidenced by this story in one of the Irish newspapers last October: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/views/analysis/brexit-limbo-for-non-eu-people-in-ireland-with-uk-spouse-960772.html

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jan '20 - 3:26pm


    Therefore, I urge you to get back into your communities, listen to voters, (and yes, fix the potholes!) and put forward a vision of an open, tolerant and progressive Britain.

    What do you mean by the word “progressive”?

    There was a time when it seemed natural that the world was becoming more socialist. So “progressive” meant moving that way, while “conservative” meant being cautious about it with fear that moving too quickly can cause problems.

    However, it’s now been several decades since socialism collapsed, and the dominant issue in politics became that pushed by our Conservative Party: free market economics, reducing government control, more power to business leaders. So in that sense, the Conservatives became the “progressive” party, pushing the country forward in the inevitable way all countries are going, while Labour became the small-c conservative party in the sense of being cautious and wanting to slow down the inevitable way countries are developing.

    And the Liberal Democrats? Hmmm – we’ve had a leadership that wanted to jump in and support this new form of “progression” at just the time when it was becoming more clear it wasn’t doing what those who had first pushed it claimed it would do when it won control. A bit like in the 1980s becoming uncritical supporters of conventional socialism as developed by East European communists …

    I say this because this was, to me, one of the issues with Brexit. When you-know-who stood against Nigel Farage saying that Brexit would “turn the clock back”, that probably did more than anything else to support Brexit. People are unhappy about the way our country has developed, with the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and control over everything moving from government to billionaires running big industry. So they were encouraged to believe that this was all down to membership of the EU, and leaving the EU would reverse all those changes that have made people unhappy.

    I.e. ordinary people may now feel that “progressive” means making our country more unequal, and pushing power to billionaires.

  • Worth pointing out what Tobias said about Irish citizens not being able to take their none EU spouses to the UK applies to British citizens moving to Ireland. You can go but your spouse needs a visa. Of cause the Irish can get round this by granting citizenship on marriage, not sure they will want to but it would solve the problem.

  • Great piece. We need more awareness of Fianna Fail and Renew Europe.

    Ireland is a most desirable and progressive country now being both EU and part of the anglosphere and many envy its position.

    I have just posted an article here “Keeping the flame alive” which argues that the younger generation in England have every right to escape the poison of Brexit by living and working in Europe, including Ireland, to restore their human rights which will shortly be stripped away from them.

    The situation in England now is reminiscent of the opening scenes of “Watership Down”. Bad things are coming to the rabbits traditional home, and those fortunate ones who can get out, must do so. The ones who cannot escape are happy for the luckier ones who do, and at least Scotland may eventually get its freedom – and good luck to the Scots, if so.

  • How many Brits moving to NI would be needed to get a vote on Union through, then become Irish citizens because they were already resident in NI (assuming Eire would be grateful to them) and thence EU citizens again? Or ditto for Scotland (who actually need people to migrate there) and leaving UK? I am sure Ms Strugeon would be suitably grateful to these new “migrants” if Scotland got its freedom.

    Maybe this should be the new mass movement as it has a tinge of anarchy to it that might appeal to the more radical Liberals.

    Unfortunately, looks like the EU are not going to grant UK citizens any new rights unless it is reciprocal so no direct hope, unless someone tries the humans rights angle.

  • Kathy Erasmus 9th Jan '20 - 8:43am

    Great piece. Exactly how I feel this is not the time to give up our Liberal values it is time to fight for them

  • Peter Hirst 9th Jan '20 - 2:52pm

    If there is a possibility of Ireland uniting, then the least we can do is offer those who want to to live in our country with their families with the minimum of red tape. This is a humanitarian and human rights issue. We cannot have a fudged status for the people of Northern Ireland. They must know where they stand and what their options are.

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