Wednesday 18 September 2019

'EU ready to make a deal' - Noonan

Veteran politicians insist impasse between Britain and EU 27 can be overcome - with Ireland avoiding economic disaster

Former finance minister Michael Noonan. Photo: Damien Eagers
Former finance minister Michael Noonan. Photo: Damien Eagers

Philip Ryan and Niamh Horan

Veteran political leaders believe a Brexit deal can be reached between the EU and the UK which will avoid economic disaster for Ireland.

In a rare interview, former finance minister Michael Noonan suggested extending the transition period for Britain leaving the EU so both sides could spend more time on negotiating a trade deal.

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"If you were looking for a basis for negotiation you would be keeping the backstop and you would be looking at document number two [the future relationship agreement], Mr Noonan told the Sunday Independent.

"It is complex and you need time so you would be looking at the transition arrangements to see if there is scope there to give you that time."

Mr Noonan also said he believed the EU will try to reach a settlement with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"I have no doubt they are prepared to deal with him because that is the nature of the institutions of Europe. You always try to reach a settlement through negotiations," he said.

Ex-EU agriculture commissioner Ray MacSharry. Photo: Tony Gavin
Ex-EU agriculture commissioner Ray MacSharry. Photo: Tony Gavin

Former EU agriculture commissioner Ray MacSharry said he believed a deal would be done at the last minute.

"I do believe in the end of the day common sense will have to prevail because I don't see any government, including the British government, taking action that literally kills their trade with a huge bloc right beside them overnight," he said.

"I don't see that happening so my view is there can be suitable formula found around the withdrawal agreement which the EU have been very steadfast in giving great support to Ireland."

Speaking to the Sunday Independent about Ireland's stance on Brexit, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said: "Ireland have it right. They have to stick with the EU 27 now. There is no alternative."

However, he said the Government missed an opportunity two years ago. "The only thing I think that was done wrong on the Irish side was what happened before Article 50 was triggered. We could have talked to the British at that stage and we didn't but that is it - que sera."

Mr Ahern described himself as "an optimist" and said there was still plenty of time to hammer out a deal. "There is two months. There is time. I think what will happen is that the British will come up in the next few weeks with suggestions and they are going to have to be looked closely by us in Ireland," he said.

He also took a pot shot at Mr Johnson, saying: "Boris said in his letter last week to Donald Tusk that the backstop was undemocratic - well that's a bit hollow from a person who wants to prorogue his own parliament." But he did concede that the British prime minister is "a clever fellow".

Mr Ahern said "crunch" time is coming but once the Good Friday Agreement is protected and no leeway is given on the backstop, Ireland can make some concessions.

"Generally in negotiations there comes a time when you have to make concessions but if you start by making the concessions, you end up having to make more, so I think the way it has been handled so far is ok," he said.

Asked what concessions Ireland can make, Mr Ahern said: "For us to make concessions we have to see what [the British government] want first. We have to see what their problems are. And they haven't laid them out yet."

Asked whether he had spoken informally to British civil servants about Brexit, Mr Ahern said: "I have. I do keep informally in touch with a lot of people in the UK - not to get something 'sorted' but they suss out how I think and I give them my views."

Sunday Independent

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