Saturday 1 October 2016

Kenny wants Merkel's support for Ireland's unique Brexit position

Published 29/06/2016 | 02:30

Ireland's Prime minister Enda Kenny arrives before an EU summit meeting in Brussels last night. Getty Images
Ireland's Prime minister Enda Kenny arrives before an EU summit meeting in Brussels last night. Getty Images

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is banking on the support of Europe's most powerful politician, Angela Merkel, as Ireland battles to survive the collateral damage from Brexit.

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The Government believes that it has an ally in the German chancellor as it seeks special consideration in Europe.

Mr Kenny met with key allies in the EU, including leaders from the European People's Party (EPP), ahead of last night's crunch European Council meeting with British prime minister David Cameron.

Ms Merkel is the most influential politician in a grouping that also includes 14 of EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's team.

Arriving at the EU Council meeting, Mr Kenny said his EPP colleagues were "well aware of Ireland's position".

He will be relying on their support as Ireland fights to be protected amid a clamour to punish Britain among certain sections of Europe.

Key Irish concerns include the future of the Common Travel Area, especially in terms of the peace process and the border with Northern Ireland.

Read more: Taoiseach vows to 'make the case for Ireland's national interest' as he arrives at crunch European Council meeting on Brexit

"I will articulate, and our people will articulate very strongly, what our vital national interests here are," Mr Kenny said as he headed into the meeting, which was expected to last late into the night.

He pledged that Ireland would be "central" to the talks on the relationship between Britain and the EU.

During last night's meeting, Mr Cameron gave a presentation on the background to the referendum. He indicated that a new prime minister would be in place by September 9.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach said Mr Kenny spoke at the meeting and "emphasised the Irish relationship with UK is at its strongest".

Co-operation

Europe Minister Dara Murphy said Mr Kenny and Ms Merkel were both "strongly of the view" that the British should be given time to replace Mr Cameron before Brexit is initiated under Article 50.

Asked if he believed that the German leader was an ally for ensuring that Ireland gets special consideration in any deal, he replied: "I think she is but I don't think she's unique.

"I think there has been a very strong sense that the political and economic (aspects of a deal) are issues for everybody but the (issues of the) Common Travel Area and Northern Ireland are unique to the people of these islands and specifically to the people of Ireland."

Mr Murphy said Ms Merkel "has been a vociferous supporter" of some of the principles that Ireland holds dear amid the chaos sparked by Brexit.

Read more: Angela Merkel vows to use 'all her strength' to keep EU united

He cited agreement on the principle that all 27 member states will negotiate a Brexit deal collectively and that it will be heads of government, rather than the European Commission, that engages in the talks.

German MEP David McAllister, a member of Ms Merkel's party, said the EPP "very much know of the special situation in Ireland".

He added: "Ireland is the only country which has a land border with the United Kingdom and so all the consequences that means will have to be judged and be analysed very carefully."

Mr McAllister said that while all remaining EU states must sign off on any deal with the UK, "of course the Irish Government plays a special role because no other country is so connected to the United Kingdom like Ireland".

Mr Murphy predicted a "very significant role" for Mr Kenny in the talks, pointing out that he is "one of the more experienced prime ministers".

But he conceded that there was no formal promise of support from Fine Gael's EPP allies, adding: "All we can do at the moment is to continue to make the case."

Yesterday began with bitter European Parliament exchanges as Ukip leader Nigel Farage was booed and accused of lying during the referendum campaign.

When Mr Farage began clapping after Mr Juncker said the will of British voters would be respected, the Commission president addressed him, saying: "You were fighting for the exit - why are you here?"

The EU Council adopted conclusions on migration, jobs, growth and investment and on external relations, but it was Brexit that dominated discussions late last night.

Mr Cameron attended a crucial dinner with the 27 other EU member states. However, he will not take part in the continuing EU Council meeting today.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, he said that Britain would seek a "constructive" deal with Europe to build "the closest possible relationship in terms of trade and co-operation and security".

Mr Kenny last night welcomed an indication that the Conservative Party's leadership issue could be resolved as early as the start of September.

He said: "I note that they're bringing that forward by a month. I think that's good."

Irish Independent

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