Monday 26 September 2016

European giants push Britain for 'a quick divorce' - which could cause serious problems for Ireland

Published 25/06/2016 | 18:22

Five ways Ireland will be poorer
Five ways Ireland will be poorer

EUROPEAN nations have piled pressure on the UK to begin immediate talks on withdrawal from the EU after the vote for Brexit, with France's foreign minister suggesting a new British prime minister could be put in place within days.

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Any move to begin withdrawal talks immediately would also heap pressure on Ireland - the country remaining in the EU set to be most-drastically impacted by Brexit.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD speaking to media at Government Buildings, Dublin following the outcome of the UK EU referendum, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD speaking to media at Government Buildings, Dublin following the outcome of the UK EU referendum, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Announcing his resignation yesterday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would leave it to the successor chosen in October to trigger the two-year process of negotiations envisaged by EU treaties.

Also yesterday, in his first statement since the referendum result, the Taoiseach Mr Kenny also pushed for calm, and for a few months to consider how best to begin the withdrawal.

Read more: Charlie Weston: What Brexit means for your pocket, pension and getting work in Britain

Speaking after an emergency Cabinet meeting, the Taoiseach said it was Britain’s “prerogative” to decide when to activate the so-called Article 50.

Prime Minister David Cameron walks into 10 Downing Street with wife Samantha after he announced his resignation. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron walks into 10 Downing Street with wife Samantha after he announced his resignation. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

He backed David Cameron’s approach, saying: “These negotiations may not commence for some months yet, and will take a considerable amount of time to complete. In that regard, it is important to stress that Britain remains a member of the European Union until negotiations have been concluded. 

“We must take this breathing space... and use it wisely.”

The Irish government arguably needs any 'breathing space' just as much as Britain as it attempts to negotiate a myriad of issues - from border control to trade deals - in light of the impending new status of our nearest neighbours. 

But European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the proposed delay "doesn't make sense", and he was backed by foreign ministers of the EU's six founding members, meeting in Berlin for emergency talks on Britain's seismic vote.

Leader of UKIP and Vote Leave campaign Nigel Farage at Westminster. (Photo by Mary Turner/Getty Images)
Leader of UKIP and Vote Leave campaign Nigel Farage at Westminster. (Photo by Mary Turner/Getty Images)

Germany's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said negotiations should begin "as soon as possible" and Britain had a responsibility to work with the EU on exit terms, while his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault agreed there was "a certain urgency ... so that we don't have a period of uncertainty, with financial consequences, political consequences".

Read more: Britain's commissioner resigns after Brexit - a move seen as a major loss to Ireland

Mr Ayrault said that in order for the UK to proceed with its exit, "they must designate a new prime minister, which would certainly require several days".

German chancellor Angela Merkel said it "shouldn't take forever" for Britain to deliver formal notification of its intention to leave under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

But she said she "would not fight over a short period of time", and played down suggestions that remaining EU states would want to punish the UK for its decision, saying there was "no need to be particularly nasty in any way in the negotiations".

Mr Juncker said that Britain's departure was "not an amicable divorce" and talks should begin "immediately" on wrapping up what was never "a tight love affair anyway". But the director of the Vote Leave campaign, Dominic Cummings, said it was "unthinkable" to invoke Article 50 before a new PM is in place.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn set his face against a second referendum to try to overturn the result of Thursday's vote. A petition on the parliamentary website calling for another vote passed 1.3 million signatures, but the Labour leader said: "A decision has been made, I think we have got to accept that decision and work out our relationship with Europe in the future."

Read more: David McWilliams: Official Ireland got this horribly wrong, there is no Plan B

Mr Corbyn made clear he would fight any attempt to unseat him by MPs blaming him for a "lacklustre" referendum campaign. Asked whether he would stand in any leadership contest resulting from the no confidence motion tabled by Labour backbenchers, he replied: "Yes, I am here."

An emergency cabinet meeting of the Scottish Government in Edinburgh formally agreed to press ahead with legislation to pave the way for a potential second independence referendum, which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said was "very much on the table".

Ms Sturgeon said her administration was also entering "immediate discussions" with EU institutions and other member states to "explore possible options to protect Scotland's place in the EU".

With the financial consequences of Brexit causing increasing concern, influential credit rating agency Moody's downgraded the UK's outlook to "negative", warning it was facing "a prolonged period of uncertainty" with implications for the country's medium-term growth.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon denied Mr Cameron's decision to defer his exit until the autumn left the Government a rudderless ship.

Speaking during a scheduled visit to Cleethorpes with the PM, Mr Fallon said: "The Prime Minister goes on, the Government goes on until the autumn, until there's a new leader and a new government.

Read more: Dan O'Brien: Don't stay calm and relax, this result is a massive threat to Ireland

"We'll remain at our posts and we have a big agenda. We were elected only a year ago and we've set out fresh legislation which we're taking through Parliament at the moment."

Mr Fallon said he had spoken to Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and other key allies to assure them that Britain will not play a "lesser" role on the international scene after Brexit.

But French president Francois Hollande said the UK's decision had implications for international relations that reach far beyond the shores of the UK.

Meeting United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon in Paris, Mr Hollande said: "It is true that for the whole world there is a question mark as to what will happen.

"I very much regret the vote of the UK but I respect it. It is a matter of democracy."

Mr Hollande indicated that he and Mr Ban did not feel withdrawal from the EU would throw Britain's permanent seat on the Security Council into question, saying the outcome of the vote "has no impact regarding where the UK stands within the United Nations system".

The comments came as a prominent Leave advocate, Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, came under fire for saying a post-Brexit Britain could still join the single market with its free movement of labour rules.

Mr Hannan claimed this was not a backtrack on campaign promises as the Leave side had promised to "control" immigration, not end it.

Read more: 8 biggest changes Brexit will cause for Ireland and the Irish

As the shockwaves from the 52%-48% Brexit win continued to reverberate, Tory Remain backers were getting behind Home Secretary Theresa May as the best-placed candidate for a leadership battle with Brexit standard-bearer Boris Johnson.

Former minister Sir Alan Duncan cast doubt on assumptions that the former London mayor was the inevitable choice as Mr Cameron's successor, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Do not necessarily assume that he is the darling of the Conservative Party activists.

"A lot of them have loved the notoriety and the excitement. But actually, once you scratch the surface a little bit and ask the second question, a lot of them don't want a permanent ride on the big dipper."

The UK's representative on the European Commission, Lord Hill, announced he will stand down on July 15. The Conservative peer said he was "very disappointed" by the Brexit vote and believed UK membership was "good for our place in the world and good for our economy".

Accepting his resignation with "great regret", Mr Juncker said Britain remained entitled to a seat on the Commission and he was ready for early talks with Mr Cameron to appoint a replacement. Lord Hill's financial services brief is being passed to Latvian commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.

Mr Cameron fulfilled a commitment to visit the Armed Forces Day event in Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire, where he watched the main parade from the saluting platform.

The British Prime Minister spent just under an hour in the seaside town, not giving any interviews or making any speeches.

He stood and watched the parade alongside the Duke of Kent, who took the salute.

Mr Cameron chatted to dignitaries on the platform and applauded at the section of the parade devoted to veterans in wheelchairs.

As he got into his car to leave the town, he managed a brief wave to the crowds.

Chancellor George Osborne has focused on ensuring financial stability since the result was announced and has been in regular talks with Bank of England governor Mark Carney, according to Treasury sources.

"He has been talking to all the G7 finance minsters to reassure them that there remains a strong economy. That's where all his energies have been," they added.

Read more: Founding EU members tell Britain: let's get this divorce done

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