Sunday 13 October 2019

Former Taoiseach says British public might change their minds on Brexit

John Bruton was critical of Boris Johnson’s messages to UK voters during the Brexit referendum. Photo: Tom Burke/PA
John Bruton was critical of Boris Johnson’s messages to UK voters during the Brexit referendum. Photo: Tom Burke/PA
John Downing

John Downing

Former Taoiseach John Bruton has castigated Boris Johnson for his "misleading" messages to British voters during the Brexit referendum.

Mr Bruton accused the British foreign secretary of having "criminally misled" the UK over the consequences of leaving the European Union.

Mr Bruton, in a lively contribution to a Seanad hearing on the issue, quickly backtracked on allegations of criminality against the colourful former London mayor - but remained staunchly critical.

"Boris Johnson attempted to simplify the Brexit issue by saying 'we can have our cake and eat it'," Mr Bruton said.

"It was a memorable phrase and it was criminally wrong. It criminally misled - I shouldn't say criminally, it is not criminally - but it irresponsibly misled the people of Britain."

Mr Bruton, who also served as EU ambassador to the US from 2004 until 2009, also warned that British Prime Minister Theresa May's plan for leaving the EU would cause huge damage to Ireland "politically, emotionally and economically".

Mr Bruton said Ireland must continue to work to avoid Brexit becoming a reality. "We cannot simply wait for this to happen. While seeking to mitigate the effects of Mrs May's chosen 'hard Brexit', we must also do everything we can to ensure that, at the end of the day, there is no Brexit," he said.

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Mr Bruton told the special Brexit committee of senators, which is chaired by Senator Neale Richmond of Fine Gael, that the UK might yet change its mind on leaving the EU, once it realises the consequences.

"While I believe it may seem impossibly optimistic today, I believe conditions can be envisaged in which, eventually, the UK voters might decide either not to leave the EU at all, or to decide, after it has left, to rejoin," he said.

Mr Bruton stressed that Ireland should work "to keep that possibility alive".

He added that Ireland must use every device it can to minimise the prospect of tariffs in Irish-UK trade.

This included using the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and every effort must be made to persuade London to uphold EU standards for goods while a great emphasis must be placed on cost-efficiency.

"To deal with a bad Brexit outcome, Ireland must become hyper-competitive," he warned.

Mr Bruton said British politicians, in common with those in other large member states, had not bothered much to learn how the EU works, and that meant the Brexit consequences were not thought out.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Bruton said Dublin should press the other 26 EU member states to make an offer allowing the UK to remain at the end of Brexit talks in 2019.

He guessed that by then, UK voters might see Brexit as a lot worse than they expected.

Mr Bruton said EU leaders would be "reasonably" receptive to the option, despite misgivings over many Brussels concessions Britain gained over the years. "I want there to be the alternative available, of Britain changing its mind," said Mr Bruton.

Mr Bruton said he envisaged the possibility of a second UK referendum at the end of the Brexit negotiation period.

Irish Independent

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