Thursday 29 September 2016

May's victory will force the UK to get on with Brexit

Brian Hayes

Published 12/07/2016 | 02:30

David Cameron and Theresa May pictured together in 2007. Photo: Andrew Parsons/PA Wire
David Cameron and Theresa May pictured together in 2007. Photo: Andrew Parsons/PA Wire

On both sides of the Irish Sea right now there seems to be an incredible amount of raw politics going on for this time of the year. While Enda Kenny has to deal with his own problems in Dublin, in London yet another act from the unfolding post-Brexit drama has played out in both a dramatic and bizarre fashion. It would seem that this script is fresh from a Jeffrey Archer novel.

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The Tory leadership contest has come to a shuddering halt. How a relatively new and completely untested MP could effectively end up going head to head for the most senior position in British politics, seemingly unprepared for the battle ahead, is beyond comprehension.

The entire events surrounding David Cameron's departure and the leadership contest is really quite amazing, even by Tory standards of backstabbing and conspiracy. I'm sure that both Michael Gove, he of backstabbing fame himself, and his latest victim, the hapless former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, can only stare into the sky, wondering what's happened and could it all be true.

Two weeks ago, when the EU leaders of the 27 member states met in Brussels, they made it clear to the British that after electing a new prime minister they expected to see movement on Article 50. That's the article that triggers the formal opening of the EU/British negotiations on Brexit.

Theresa May's unexpected coronation yesterday has suddenly moved Brexit to the foreground of EU politics much earlier than expected and will put pressure on all sides to get on with the divorce settlement. The only question now is when will Article 50 be invoked? Ms May has said 2017. But the EU might not be happy for that long. And that's where the problem is - she can't move on the issue until she has some idea of what the final settlement might look like.

And that's where Mr Kenny comes into the picture. What Ireland needs now in the middle of all this uncertainty is the Taoiseach on the pitch dealing with the implications of this settlement.

The next year is a crucial one for our interests as a country to be highlighted and understood at every level in the EU. Mr Kenny is well positioned for that work.

Until yesterday, two things were continuously mentioned in the EU institutions here in Brussels.

One was that the British needed time to elect a new leader and set out a plan to leave the EU. Most EU leaders were keen to let the British mull over the implications of Brexit. Secondly, people here were still talking about a second vote, hoping beyond hope that if the British had experienced the cold winds of recession, they might think again and re-run the referendum.

Such European hopes are well and truly dashed now. Although Ms May was careful not to rule anything out when questioned yesterday, she was very clear to say at the same time that Brexit was Brexit.

There will be no early general election in the UK. Ms May as the new prime minister will now have to unite her party quickly, divided after three decades of internal fighting over Europe, behind her leadership. But principally she will have to deal with the coming economic clouds that will face Britain from jobs to investment - the tailwinds of which will undoubtedly affect us.

It won't be plain sailing as Britain's isolationist position in a globalised and complicated world plays out.

The task of Enda Kenny, the Irish Government, the opposition - in fact all of us here who work in the EU institutions - must be to protect Ireland's interests in the most uncertain of times.

Irish Independent

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