Monday 9 December 2019

A crucial three days for UK and 27 jilted spouses

Jean-Claude Juncker is not in a very forgiving mood with the UK after the shock Brexit vote. Photo: Reuters
Jean-Claude Juncker is not in a very forgiving mood with the UK after the shock Brexit vote. Photo: Reuters
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

'It is not an amicable divorce," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has warned after the United Kingdom unceremoniously decided to walk away from a 43-year relationship.

It could get very nasty, and the events of the next 72 hours may determine just how turbulent the coming years will be.

The jilted spouses - all 27 of them - are meeting in Brussels tomorrow, where they'll come face to face with British Prime Minister David Cameron for the first time since last Thursday's seismic vote.

Mr Cameron wants to delay initiating the formal procedures to leave the EU until his successor is elected - by October, he says.

Many in Europe - not least Mr Juncker - have indicated that they want to rip the sticking plaster off straight away.

"I do not understand why the British government needs until October to decide whether to send the divorce letter to Brussels," Mr Juncker said over the weekend.

"I'd like it immediately. It is not an amicable divorce, but it was also not an intimate love affair."

He said the EU will take a reasonable approach, that Brexit was not good for Britain and the European Union, but the remaining member states must move on.

Taosiseach Enda Kenny will also be attending the EU Council meeting, with the Irish government already indicating it supports Mr Cameron being given breathing space before his successor begins talks on Brexit.

While the Government has oultined some of its contingency plans, Mr Kenny will want to ensure there is time to implement them - and that crucial issues such as the future of the Border with Northern Ireland are given consideration by the EU.

Mr Kenny has said what he intends to do this week in Brussels. "I will clearly set out our national position at that meeting, and I will ensure that our particular national interests are fully respected as we prepare to enter the next phase of negotiations," he has vowed.

EU leaders had been set to discuss the migrant crisis and European security, but expect those issues to be sidelined in favour of the political consequences of the UK referendum.

Meanwhile, the European People's Party (EPP) - of which Mr Kenny's Fine Gael is a member - is holding its own meeting in Brussels this week. The largest party in the European Parliament, it has also said it wants a swift Brexit. The parliament is holding an Extraordinary Plenary Session tomorrow to assess the outcome of the referendum.

EPP chairman Manfred Weber is to speak, saying it is his party's position that the exit must happen within the two-year deadline and that there should be no special treatment for the UK.

"The British people have expressed their wish to leave the EU - leave means leave," he said.

Mr Kenny is in an unenviable position. The Government wants time to be allowed for Mr Cameron's successor to be chosen. However, with both Mr Kenny's European allies, the EPP, and Mr Juncker, one of the EU's most powerful figures, wanting Brexit to take place as soon as possible, that may not happen.

It's unfortunate to say it, but to some extent Ireland is like the child of warring parents, begging them to stay together just a little while longer so that everything will be okay.

Ireland's future and that of Britain and the rest of the EU are deeply intertwined. Much will depend on what happens over the next three days.

Irish Independent

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