Thursday 8 December 2016

Angela Merkel all but rules out making Ireland a ‘special case’ in post-Brexit negotiations with Britain

Niall O'Connor, Political Correspondent in Berlin

Published 12/07/2016 | 15:26

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) and Enda Kenny attend a news conference at the chancellery in Berlin. Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) and Enda Kenny attend a news conference at the chancellery in Berlin. Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel has all but ruled out making Ireland a ‘special case’ in the post ‘Brexit’ negotiations with Britain.

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Ms Merkel today twice declined to issue such guarantees, adding that Ireland’s concerns will treated on par with those of the remaining 27 EU member states.

But Ms Merkel did give a glimmer of hope in relation to the border with Northern Ireland. The senior German politician said she recognises the Common Travel Area between Ireland and Britain has been in place since 1922, prior to the establishment of the EU.

“It’s difficult to give guarantees at this point of time,” Ms Merkel said when asked to ensure Ireland will not be ‘sidelined’ in the negotiations.

"We don’t even have the position of the United Kingdom. We have to wait for Great Britain to take a stand and give us an idea of the type of relationship they are thinking about,” she added.

Ms Merkel made the remarks at a joint press conference with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the German Chancellery in Berlin.

During the conference, Mr Kenny batted off a question about his leadership, which has come under fire internally within Fine Gael.

He said each minister has a brief and a set of commitments to follow through and that this should be where the focus lies.

“We have an agreement with Fianna Fail in terms of confidence and supply, we have a programme for government with the independent alliance and the independents with over 600 commitment and my focus is entirely  on that future in making this happen. We have a great deal of work to do in the time ahead and I would like to think that people can concentrate on their duties in the time ahead.”

But the failure by Ms Merkel, arguably Europe’s most influential politician, to issue assurances to Ireland will come as a blow.

Ministers and Oppositions TDs in Ireland believe Ireland must press for specific conditions in the upcoming talks in order to prevent our economy being badly hit following the result of the EU referendum.

Ms Merkel told reporters that Ireland’s “voice” will be treated equally with those of other member states.

But she pointedly declined to accept Ireland should be treated as a special case, adding that such negotiations cannot begin until the Prime Minister-elect Theresa May unlocks Article 50.

“Of course I cannot anticipate the outcome of the negotiations. The 27 member states will bring their influence to bear. The Irish voice will be heard as much as every other voice. It is important that Ireland plays a part here and we will do so in a special friendship.  We will approach the post-Brexit challenges on the basis of friendship between the two countries.”

Article 50 is the clause in the EU rulebook that allows a member state to formally exit the union.

Mr Kenny also expressed opposition to the prospect of a long delay before Article 50 is triggered.

He said that he told Ms Merkel of the various different connections between Ireland and the UK.

“But I pointed out to the chancellor that Ireland offers a different perspective in many respects because of our close association over many hundreds of years,” Mr Kenny said.

“Because of the many thousands of people working in British companies and the almost million people living in Britain and because of the extent of our trading relations across the Irish sea. I pointed out to the chancellor of the fact we have a memorandum of understanding signed with Downing Street over the past number of years, which we update every year and where the senior officials meet from both governments meet on a regular basis discussing issues of Anglo Irish relations and northern Ireland.”

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