The Irish Taoiseach’s threats to restrict access to Irish airspace for UK planes is both wrong-headed and illegal.

This article was contributed by Tom Jones, Tom currently works in public relations, and is the former Deputy Editor of Raddington Report. He also provides freelance foreign policy & defence analysis for outlets such as NATO and Foreign Brief, and can be found tweeting at @Jones219T.

Recently, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar threatened to restrict access to Irish airspace for UK airlines in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Varadkar stated that;

“If there was a no-deal hard Brexit next March, the planes would not fly and Britain would be an island in many ways. If they want their planes to fly over our skies, they would need to take that into account.”

Currently, the UK benefits from the EU’s “open skies” policy, which allows airlines from EU member states to fly between and over any European airspace. “You can’t have your cake and eat it” he continued; “You can’t take back your waters and then expect to take back other people’s sky”.

As an attempt to draw attention, it worked in that it grabbed headlines in the UK (unfortunately for Mr Varadkar, they were mostly mocking tabloid headlines, playing on his ‘plane silliness’). As an actual negotiating position, however, it is riddled with mistakes, and only highlights the EU’s bloody-mindedness when in comes to pursuing ‘vengeance’ against the UK for it’s vote to leave the EU.

The first mistake in Mr. Varadkar’s position is that restricting access to Irish airspace is simply foolhardy, as restricting access impacts far more than links between Ireland and the UK;  London airports serve as the major European transatlantic hub (which requires access to Irish airspace), offering easy access to the US. It also gives the UK the whip hand; flights from Ireland to continental Europe almost all use UK airspace and, were it to respond in kind, the UK would be able to make travel between Ireland and the rest of Europe far more arduous than it is currently by forcing Irish aircraft to either head west, then south, or take long routes north before turning east – both would massively increase fuel costs and seriously threaten the profitability of routes.

The second (and rather more important mistake, to readers of UK Defence Journal at least) is that the Royal Air Force and Irish Air Corps currently have an agreement in place – which you can find more details of here – which sees the RAF tasked with interception duties over Irish airspace. This covers potential incidents such as hijacked airliners – or Russian aircraft flying near Irish airspace, as occurred in February of 2017.

This is mostly because of a lack of capability in the Irish Air Corps. Defence is not a significant concern for Ireland and, as such, the nation has never become a member of NATO, whilst defence spending is just 0.3% – the lowest level in Europe, below even tiny nations such as Malta or Lichtenstein.

As a result, the Irish Air Corps is a barebones force, lacking any jet aircraft and running just 8 helicopters, 6 surveillance aircraft, 2 maritime patrol aircraft, 1 Learjet 45 and 8 Pilatus PC-9M. The latter, a Swiss-produced turboprop trainer aircraft, can be fitted with a heavy machine gun or rocket pods, represents Ireland’s only combat capable aircraft.

Given the chronic lack of capability in the Irish Air Corps, the agreement between the RAF and the Irish Government serves to allay significant geographic concerns for British security; Northern Ireland remains part of the UK and, therefore, must be protected. There is also the geographic closeness of Ireland, not only Northern Ireland, but the UK too – Ireland has, of course, historically been seen as the ‘back door’ into Britain.

However, the British Government must ask itself; should this agreement be terminated if Mr Varadkar carries out his threat? If Ireland is not willing to protect itself against the very real threat of terrorism, then the UK should (under normal circumstances) shoulder the burden.

We as a nation have the capability to do so already, and the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland can be seen as a security concern. The agreement also no doubt provides a great deal of political goodwill between the UK and Irish governments.

Protecting a neighbour is one thing, but Mr. Varadkar attempting to restrict access to an airspace we are supposedly duty-bound to protect is quite another. The British government should make it clear that, if Dublin is willing to put access to airspace on the table,  then the role of the RAF in protecting Irish airspace is equally threatened.

If the Taoiseach wishes to make the UK unwelcome in his airspace, then the UK should make it clear that this applies to all aircraft. With the UK’s defence budget under greater strain than ever before, should we be flying combat aircraft – and running the very real risk of losing them – to protect an airspace it is made clear has no place for our aircraft?

45 COMMENTS

  1. Nonsense article, the EU is not seeking vengeance on the UK for voting the EU. It is seeking to proceed with the clearly defined rules and processes laid out in the Article 50 notification.

    • The UK by leaving the EU on hard brexit strategy makes hard to bargain for any thing and gives the advantage to the EU.

        • If we leave on a hard Brexit the £40Bnshould go into UK coffers and be used to partially offset any detriment a hard Brexit will undoubtedly cause.

    • (Chris H) fedaykin – I am trying hard to avoid a Brexit general discussion here but the EU is actually NOT following the clear rules laid out in Article 50 as you allege. Quite why is a matter of debate in which I will not engage thanks. But that Article calls for parallel discussions on the terms of leaving AND the future relationship from the very start. The EU has declared a rigorous (to use your word) set of sequential negotiations demanding firstly cash, then people, then the leaving agreement before even discussing the future deal. By doing this it has quite deliberately in the 18 months since we triggered Article 50, left the vastly more important matter of a future relationship / trade deal / no trade deal to last and is therefore in breach of its own Article 50.

      For the record here is the relevant sentence of Par. 2 of Article 50:

      “In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.”

      • No, Varadker is being a puppet prat to toward the UK.
        The UK is offering 40billion, it has absolutely no duty to give it.
        The EU have tried to use Ireland as political tool, an utter disgrace.
        What this twerp is saying is absolutely ridiculous.
        It is made up by the EU to ‘threaten’ the UK, but they all have forgotten where British airspace is.
        That includes Gibraltar too.
        The UK could easily go tit for tat, and then how the hell can the S.Irish afford travel to Europe or the Europeans having to fly right around the UK on every single flight. I ridiculous notion.

        So, this fella has been put up to make these absolutely stupid and illegal statements and now he and they look totally stupid.

        A stupid thing to even think of let alone say.

        “It is always better to be thought of as stupid than to speek and remove all doubt”.
        Lisa Simpson

    • Indeed. However the language being used is far away from that. For instance in this case the Irish Government are talking out of their behinds. Yes the UK would no longer be part of the Open Skies rules, however there are also international rules on air travel which we will still be part of and which the EU is part of. We will still have access to Irish airspace in order to pass through as that is a legal requirement that is not part of open skies. US aircraft also have that right as do most countries in the world that signed up to the international agreement that was in force well before the EU ever existed.

      They can hamper the ability for UK aircraft to land in Ireland but I am pretty sure that would hurt Ireland far more than the UK. Also Ireland would be almost cut off from the rest of the EU with regard to air travel as the aircraft would have to travel so far out of their way that it would not make financial sense to run the routes! Ireland really ought to be trying to protect itself by helping the UK get a good deal rather than playing dumb games on behalf of the EU.

      Also equating the fishing policy to that of aircraft routes is just plain stupid. I agree that we should not be harvesting food stock from Irish Skies but obviously that is not happening anyway. However with regard to transit, EU ships will still freely be able to navigate UK waters just as Russian ships are able to navigate through UK waters, there are international treaties for that sort of thing just a there are for aircraft transit.

  2. ‘If only I knew’ , ‘Its not unusual’ for UKDJ to do the ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ for certain stories. Oh for the green green grass of home, where ‘looking out my window’ from my ‘Tower of Song’ I can exclaim:
    “What’s new Pussy cat?”

  3. There’s a broader issue at play here. Brexit has the potential to do disproportionate damage to the Irish economy, and in the medium to long term force it to confront the pros and cons of continued Irish EU membership. The debate about the border and the peace process, while important, needs to be seen in the context of a potential attempt at Irish government leverage over the U.K. However they’re good reasons to suppose that the current Irish government has overestimated its influence over EU Brexit negotiations, and the threat over airspace access quite possibly reflects Irish perceptions of the threat to its economy not being reduced to the extent they’d like, coupled with an overly optimistic estimate of their diplomatic influence.

    • 😂

      I’m sure I got into another 20 paragraph debate with Chris H on the last one.

      I’m staying well clear it’s Friday.

    • Its called Search Engine Optimisation. The more articles you post with key words that people search the better. This includes older articles where the subject is back in the mainstream news for whatever reason.

      • Not in this case, it’s a new guest contribution not an old article.

        I’ve just googled “Leo Varadkar” and the whole first page of google is about the Irish church.

        • Hey soleski if you remember you trolled me first on the Novichoks thing claiming me and every body else who disagreed with you as sheep. I agree with lee reply, you are a tool lol!

          • I never said anyone who disagreed with me. I said people who blindly believe the government and media.

            And I commented because you said anyone in the U.K. who thinks different is “stupid”

            Ive always said mine is an opinion and everyone else is entitled to theirs.

            I have never trolled anyone, you have been trolling me during debates that have nothing to with Russia.

            Use the search function on here and have a look at the amount of articles on Russia that I haven’t even commented on.

            And just because I hold a different opinion to you on a certain subject reguarding Russia you keep trolling me and giving me a abuse.

            You’re starting to look really pathetic.

  4. The EU has consistently acted with arrogance and hostility towards the UK in the negotiations of the last 2 years. It is understood that they would not be expected to be ‘over the Moon’ about Brexit but one would have expected a more realistic tone to the negotiations considering what is at stake for both parties. Varadkar is now seen by most onlookers as the EU’s toothless poodle and his stance has been graceless and aggresive. One would have thought that gratitude for the free Air Defence ride would be more appropriate not to mention working with the UK to address the Border and other issues

    • Geoff,
      Personally I feel that the European mandarins decided to ensure that nobody else within the EU even thinks about leaving, by ensuring that Brexit is as messy and painful (to everyone) .

      • Hi Farouk-no question, you are 100% correct but I would think that a hard Brexit would need to be avoided from both sides of the fence so there would come a time when some sort of reasonable deal could be put together out of necessity. Barnier is totally unyielding and I wonder if he has considered the “what if” possibility of the UK actually prospering from a hard Brexit. Should that happen the others might be queuing up!!

  5. Yep agree, we have all commented on this before.
    A couple of observations.
    Ireland is not part of NATO, I did not believe this so checked. Therefore no article 5 defence agreement. Thus next time a Russian Backfire or Bear decides to swing over the country we should allow them to.
    If Ireland ban UK airplane s then we can do the same for Ireland and yes by default the whole of the EU.
    We are leaving the fetid, stinking mess that is the EU we are not leaving Europe. We can be friends and allies or a belligerent 3rd nation right on their borders. The British do beligerence very well.
    Ireland also can easily have all their trade currently routed through the UK road network and then into Europe via WTO tariffs, that will yield about £25- 30 billion a year to the Exchequer. Based on 2% tariff for trade passing through the UK.
    Or we can just ignore Irish airspace for the time being seeing as they have zero aircraft able to intercept a passenger plane flying at 30,000 feet and 500mph.
    The EU has 2 options trade deal on good terms and friendship or WTO and beligerence. They can sing for their promised £37 billion and should not be allowed into our EEZ, fishing or any other rights.
    If we crash out with no mutually beneficial deal the UK is likely to have a generation fissure with Europe whereby the EU will Bea sadly worse off place without our input and friendship

  6. Err, isn’t Europe’s largest Airline (Ryanair) Irish? All those Irish registered planes based out of the UK……painting a target on your own footing and cocking the pistol there.

    Sounds like someone is talking bollocks Mr Varadkar.

  7. Eire has no power to ban overflights only terminating flights within its own territory. Overflights are governed by International Treaty.

    Mr Varadkar should stop trying to play with the big boys. The EU is using him as cannon fodder to manipulate fears over the Irish Border for their own negotiating purposes. They don’t care that they are playing with fire because they never suffered 30 years of IRA murder and terrorism and the consequent Loyalist murders. They weren’t party to the GFA and should keep the hell out of Irish and British domestic arrangements and bi-lateral agreements.

    This border is an Irish / UK border that operated quite well under a mutual CTA since 1923 and the fact that the EU has got itself into some position of influence over it all shows all we need to know about how far nation states have been sucked down into the EU political mire…

    Right I am off down the pub … First round on me

  8. Agree Chris.
    Sequence of events should be
    1) leave the EU
    2) on the same day Ireland and the UK resume the CTA agreement
    Job done, no bad feelings. Nothing to see here.

    • (Chris H) – Mr Bell – That is what two sensible and friendly Nation States could and would do. It could have been done 12 months ago. But what is screwing it all up is the EU and its need to dominate, dictate and protect its ‘rules’.

      The Remain side seem too happy to ignore two simple questions: If an organisation is so beneficial and benevolent why is it THIS difficult to leave voluntarily? And when did we vote to be trapped in this political swamp in the first place? Because I voted to remain in the EEC which was a very different construct

  9. Irregardless of Brexit, does Eire want to defend it’s own airspace or not? If they raise a couple of squadrons of interceptors they could. Otherwise why be petty & spiteful to the UK handling it for mutual benefit? It’s always better for neighbours to co operate in mutual interests rather than nit-pick at each other.

  10. Hasn’t any read the ICAO 1944 civilian aviation treaty??? All states have over flight rights of all other states. This is mute point.

  11. This country is split down the middle on Brexit. I visit this website for a sensible debate on UK defence issues not for a rehash iof the referendum debate. Please can we stick to UK Defence.

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