Today I met Irish ambassador to Britain, HE Dan Mulhall. At a special event in Liverpool, Ambassador Mulhall spoke about the possibility that Britain might leave the EU. And he wasn’t equivocal on the matter.
Mulhall thinks Brexit would be disastrous for Irish-British relations and he is not afraid to say so.
It’s unusual for a diplomat to weigh in as heavily on political affairs in his host state as Mulhall has. He worries that British-Irish relations, Irish-Northern Irish relations and general European relations would be profoundly and negatively affected by Brexit. And he wasn’t holding back from using the “f” word: Fear.
‘Project Fear’ is an insult thrown at the Remain sign by the Brexiters, but Mulhall used the term a lot. He was afraid, he said, about the peace process being jeapordised by the re-emergence of a closed border between Ireland’s six northern counties and the Republic.
Interesting one, that, since some Irish nationalists hold the hope that Brexit would bring with it the breakup of the UK – including, perhaps, the unification of Ireland. But Mulhall was clear that most people in what can be loosely termed the ‘nationalist community’ in NI would be voting to remain, and that was also the overwhelming desire of ‘liberal nationalists’ like him.
He also covered trade, foreign relations and the place of the Irish community in Britain.
There were, however, limits to the Ambassador’s candour.
For example I asked him about Michael Gove’s sarcastic reference to the potato famine in a pro-Brexit speech the day before.
Mulhall, perhaps understandably, wouldn’t be drawn, excusing the remark as made in the heat of the moment. Fair enough, I suppose, since it would have been logical enough at the end of a Brexit-bashing speech to stick the boot into Gove.
Instead, he gave diplomatic response: and that’s, naturally enough, the mark of a diplomat, I suppose.