Thursday 22 February 2018

Ahern warns May must realise she has no mandate and no majority for hard Brexit

Bertie Ahern spoke on Brexit and the future of Europe at the Pemac conference
Bertie Ahern spoke on Brexit and the future of Europe at the Pemac conference
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has no mandate and no majority for a hard Brexit, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has told a conference.

Mr Ahern said that since the general election in the United Kingdom, the situation is changing and the British government will have to move from their hardline position.

"The reality is, in politics, it's numbers. She has no mandate now, nor a majority, for a hard Brexit," Mr Ahern told a conference organised by software company Pemac. "That's the facts that are facing them. Unless she has a difficulty adding, which I don't think she will, then she'll clearly see."

Ms May continued talks with the DUP on a deal to prop up her minority government yesterday as she faced a battle over her Brexit strategy just days before EU divorce talks are due to begin. The expectation is that they could now be delayed.

Her botched election gamble has left her so weakened that her Brexit strategy is the subject of public debate inside her party, with two former prime ministers calling on her to soften her EU exit approach.

Mr Ahern said Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, does not want a hard Brexit, nor does the DUP.

He said the fact that the UK is likely to pull out of the Customs Union only emerged in her Lancaster House speech in January. "There is a real opportunity now in getting a change in the customs union," Mr Ahern said.

And he argued the fact that the DUP is to be propping up the Tories could be a positive.

"Having the DUP inside gives a whole new ally to making sure there is no Customs Union," Mr Ahern said. "I think the whole pendulum has swung."

IDA CEO Martin Shanahan told the conference that some of the Brexit-related wins for Ireland may not be announced.

"One shouldn't confuse announcements with investments. Announcements come at the end, if the company wants to do it.

"There are lots of reasons why companies may not wish to announce," he said.

He said unprecedented interest had been shown in Ireland by international companies since the referendum.

"I can tell you categorically there will be investment on foot of Brexit into this country. Companies will announce in their own time."

He said there had been 11 financial services-related investments since the start of the year.

Minister Paschal Donohoe told the conference that Ireland would be standing with the remaining EU member states in the talks process, even though it regards the UK as not only a neighbour but a friend.

And he said plans for operating a soft border are well underway and can be rolled out as fast as needed.

But he also said the future of Europe needed to be addressed.

"We now have a very strong interest in making sure that the European Union is not defined by the exit of any one country. Europe must have a bright and stable future," he said.

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