Tuesday 23 October 2018

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny launches uncharacteristic attack, admits he is 'appalled' by UK muddle

May's Brexit negotiations could lead to 'no deal', warns former Taoiseach

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet is “riven by dissent and lacks credibility”, said former Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Picture: PA
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet is “riven by dissent and lacks credibility”, said former Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Picture: PA
Leo Varadkar presents Enda Kenny with his ‘European of the Year’ award in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Shona Murray

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny launched an uncharacteristically blunt attack on the British political system as he was named 'European of the Year'.

In his first major speech since stepping down as Taoiseach exactly one year ago, Mr Kenny said he is "appalled" by the way Theresa May's government has handled the Brexit negotiations.

He said her cabinet is "riven by internal dissent, lacks credibility and clarity on its most serious challenge in decades".

The Mayo TD was central to the early stages of the negotiations before handing over the reigns to Leo Varadkar.

In his own contribution at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, Mr Kenny spoke more freely than he had ever done while in office.

Mr Kenny said that six months on from what was seen as a major Brexit breakthrough last December, "very little progress has been made".

"The EU continue to negotiate from a unified position," he said.

"British business is afraid to speak out because of the spectre of a Labour government.

"But if this matter is not dealt with, and if negotiations have not been concluded and signed off before the EU Council in October, then we might have a very different outcome," he said.

Mr Kenny also warned about the rise of populism across the world. "Across Europe and the world there is the rise of Us and Them - the impeccable, calm logic of America or Hungary or Italy First," he said.

"But there are still enough who know and celebrate the difference between patriotism and nationalism.

"How aggressive nationalism sets fire to decency, responsibility, memory, even humanity itself."

Meanwhile, a great deal more work needs to be done by the UK if substantial progress is to be made at a crucial EU summit in June, Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney will tell the Cabinet today.

Proposals

Mr Coveney is briefing ministers on the latest state of play on Brexit following last week's proposals from the British government aimed at meeting the demands of the Irish protocol politically agreed last December.

The Irish Government and EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier gave a cautious welcome to the British offering, but also regard it as wholly incomplete.

Specifically, the British plan speaks only to remaining within the EU's customs structure, and for a limited time.

Moreover, it is silent on the important matter of regulatory alignment and the need for Northern Ireland to retain the same rules and regulations on goods crossing the Border in the Irish State which will remain in the EU.

Technical negotiations are ongoing in Brussels but there is little hope Britain will raise its game enough in just a couple of weeks.

"It's been two years and this is only as far as they've come; we're not too optimistic for June, but let's definitely try," said an Irish Brexit source.

Meanwhile, Ireland won't plan for a Border on the island in the event of a hard Brexit, Leo Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach said even if the UK crashes out of the European Union in March 2019, a Border will not be erected.

However, a "no deal" scenario would automatically see World Trade Organisation rules apply.

The Irish State would be obliged to apply and collect tariffs on goods and services in and out of Northern Ireland.

However, Mr Varadkar still insisted that a physical Border is not an option.

"That will just never happen, ever," he said.

"That would be an abrogation of the Good Friday Agreement, a solemn agreement we made 20 years ago, and a legal agreement that is registered with the United Nations, signed by the United Kingdom Government," he added.

In spite of the fact that the 'Irish question' may not be satisfactorily dealt with by June, there is an assumption that the talks will be allowed to progress with the caveat that Ireland remains a key priority for the EU negotiating team.

Mr Varadkar denied that this represented a softening of the Irish position.

"Certainly our position hasn't softened. I'm happy to correct that if that's the impression I gave in any way," said Mr Varadkar.

He reiterated that the deadline for the full completion of the withdrawal agreement is October but Ireland will insist on "real and meaningful progress by the June summit at the end of this month".

However, he raised the possibility of delaying Brexit to allow more time to negotiate the UK's exit deal. Mr Varadkar said extending the March 29 departure date is one of a number of "different scenarios" that could be pursed if a withdrawal agreement fails to materialise in the coming months.

Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan also weighed in on the debate, saying: "British public opinion is turning against radical Brexiteers who are blocking a good EU-UK divorce deal."

He struck a very upbeat note on the potential for a change of mood among British business and the general public, who were gradually realising the real threat of chaos after Brexit.

"The tide is finally starting to go out on the high priests of Brexit and not before time," Mr Hogan said.

Irish Independent

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