May wants a deal to suit whole of UK . . . not just the North
Published 26/07/2016 | 02:30
Charlie Haughey famously gave Maggie Thatcher a silver Georgian teapot on his first official meeting with her in London back in May 1980. As relations between the two leaders hardened over the years, diplomats liked to joke that the rest of the tea set would take time to materialise.
The anecdote comes to mind today as Taoiseach Enda Kenny travels to London for his first meeting with Britain's second ever female prime minister, Theresa May.
First and last, their talks will focus on how to handle the fallout from the Brexit vote on June 23.
Haughey, and his nemesis Garret FitzGerald, had tough times dealing with Mrs Thatcher in talks on the ongoing crisis in the North. On the eve of Haughey's arrival in London, she had told the Westminster parliament that Northern Ireland issues were "a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, this government, this parliament and no one else".
Surprisingly, things did change on that one, even in Thatcher's time as prime minister, when the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement conceded the creation of an Intergovernmental Conference through which Dublin and London could consult on the North. That principle was enhanced considerably in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which recognised a role for Dublin as co-guarantor of the agreement.
But the Brexit fallout shows just how difficult it is for the Dublin government to get some standing and real negotiating leverage in the talks about how Britain exits the EU, and the terms of the new UK-EU relationship. The Republic's three key concerns are trade; the long-standing common UK-Ireland travel area; and the border with the North, which becomes a de facto EU-UK land border.
Everyone in these islands believes the common travel area (CTA) must be retained and they say there can be no return of a "hard border" between North and South. After talks in Belfast yesterday with the joint heads of the North's government, Ms May insisted the CTA must persist as it long pre-dated the EU.
"Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past," she added.
"What we do want to do is to find a way through this ... a deal which is in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom," said Ms May.
Now that is the rub. Ms May is looking a deal which on balance will suit the entirety of the UK. That is the worrying part.