Thursday 21 September 2017

Four questions asked about Brexit - and its impact on Ireland - following UK election result

Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

1) Will Brexit negotiations be delayed?

A hung British parliament is possibly the worst result in the eyes of the European Union. While Theresa May's decision to hold a snap election initially frustrated EU officials, the aim for a clear mandate to negotiate Brexit was appreciated.

Rather than establishing clarity, this shock election result has created a kind of chaos - and yet more uncertainty in terms of reaching a reasonable deal on Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn gives a thumbs up as he arrives at Labour Party headquarters
Jeremy Corbyn gives a thumbs up as he arrives at Labour Party headquarters

However, the Prime Minister confirmed after her meeting with the Queen that she would be sticking to the initial Brexit schedule, and talks are still due to begin on June 19.

Comments from Brussels' chief negotiator Michel Barnier suggest that he is ready to delay the opening of official negotiations.

"Brexit negotiations should start when UK is ready; timetable and EU positions are clear. Let's put our minds together on striking a deal," he tweeted.

2) What will happen to Theresa May's Brexit vision?

Mrs May left no doubt when it came to clarifying the way she expected UK to leave the single market. "The UK is not looking to be half in and half out of the EU; Brexit means Brexit," she announced in her speech in January.

But this election result throws this vision for a hard Brexit, with the UK leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, into question.

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the declaration at the election count
British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the declaration at the election count

The Brexit talks formally begin in two weeks time, the options are a weakened PM still trying to push for a hard exit - or a new (minority)government scrambling to build a coherent argument for a softer agreement.

European Commissioner Gunther Oettinger has warned that the inconclusive result of the General Election could lead to a worse result for both sides.

Mr Oettinger told German radio station Deutschlandfunk that in negotiations "a weaker partner weakens the whole thing", while if both sides were strong "you get results more quickly".

"We stand ready," said Mr Oettinger. "Michel Barnier is well prepared. We will be hard but fair in our dealings.

"But whether the other side can even begin remains to be seen in the next few hours or the next few days, because without a government, no negotiations."

3) What will this mean for our relationship with UK and Northern Ireland?

On June 23 last year, Northern Ireland voted Remain by a majority of 56pc to 44pc - and it has been warned that a hardening of border controls between the south could threaten peace and cross-border trade here.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have now become very important in a scenario where no one party has an overall majority.

Mrs May said she was confident that the Tories would be able to work together with the Democratic Unionist Party in the "interests of the whole UK".

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, is keen to avoid a hard border with Ireland and has spoken against a "hard Brexit."

"No-one wants to see a hard border, Sinn Fein talk about it a lot, but nobody wants a hard border," she has said.

“Certainly that’s not what the Dublin government want to see, not what the London government wants to see and not what Stormont want to see.”

4) How will Irish emigrants heading to the UK in the future be impacted?

More than 300,000 Irish people currently living and working in the UK looked to an uncertain future after Prime Minister Theresa May invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

"The UK is an extension of the Irish labour market in many ways. Many people don't even think of it [moving to the UK] as emigration," Ibec director of policy Fergal O'Brien has said.

Any retention of a 'soft' border and the Common Travel Area (CTA) would be welcome for economic, mobility and practical reasons.

However, it is still unclear whether the CTA will continue following Brexit - but the issue is likely to feature significantly in the negotiations on immigration matters between Ireland and the UK.

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