Monday 22 January 2018

Frustrated Flanagan challenges London to reveal its Brexit plan

Foreign Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Tom Burke
Foreign Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan has bluntly told the London government it must end delays on revealing its negotiating plans to leave the EU.

With the opening of negotiations now just 12 weeks away, and over six months after the shock British referendum result, Mr Flanagan revealed the full extent of the Irish Government's frustration at delays by Prime Minister Theresa May and her colleagues.

"Six months after the referendum, I regret that we don't have a comprehensive plan from Britain," he told the Irish Independent. "I believe it's imperative that early in the new year such a plan takes shape, that we have sight of it - and that we know what it is."

Mr Flanagan said he and his colleagues had been stressing since the June 23 referendum result that the "bond between Ireland and the UK is unique in Europe".

He said there was growing acceptance across the other EU states that this was the case.

"But that is another reason why we need to see the plan from Britain for managing Brexit," he said.

The minister said that after extensive consultations with counterparts in London, and across the rest of the EU, there were huge problems with the UK keeping free trade status after Brexit, without immigration concessions.

"My objective, and the objective of this Government, is to help keep the UK as close to the European Union as possible," he said.

"But the single market versus freedom of movement is very challenging."

Mr Flanagan said "soundings" at this stage indicated that, even if Britain left the border-free single market, it could still stay in the EU's customs union.

That would be a boon to continuing trade between Ireland and the UK, worth a cumulative €1.6bn per week.

Everyone associated with the upcoming UK-EU divorce talks expects negotiations to open before the end of next March.

The main process is expected to take two years - but working out even more serious details will take a long period of years.

Mr Flanagan again stressed that the status of the North and the insistence that there can be no return of the Border were central to Dublin's concerns.

There could be "no downgrading of the Good Friday Agreement".

"It's far too early to be talking about cameras on the Border or any other such details," he said.

Mr Flanagan was equally insistent that Ireland would approach the negotiations on the firm assumption that this country remained a full EU member state.

"We are - and we will be - 'team EU'," he said.

The minister also argued that 1916 Centenary commemorations were successful and he singled out many different organisers and participants for special praise.

They included Arts Minister Heather Humphreys, the Irish diplomatic corps, who spread the Irish message across the globe, and the Defence Forces for bringing flags to every school in the country.

But Mr Flanagan warned that much bigger challenges were coming in the remaining years of the 'Decade of Commemorations 1912-1922'.

These included next year recalling the Irishmen of both traditions slaughtered in the Battle of Messines, and the demise of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the landmark 1918 general election.

He said everyone would be challenged by the need to contemplate how we would deal with the lead-up to Civil War and the foundation of the Irish State. This was a most divisive period in Irish history.

Irish Independent

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