Friday 27 April 2018

Guesses on May's speech pepper EU man's day

Guy Verhofstadt. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Guy Verhofstadt. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
John Downing

John Downing

So the other EU Brexit kingpin is equally sympathetic to Ireland's plight, also believing the UK has managed to shoot this country in the foot.

The European parliament's Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, followed in the footsteps of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier at Leinster House yesterday. The former Belgian premier's speech to TDs and senators, and his responses to a raft of questions, could not have been better if he had been scripted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar himself.

Mr Verhofstadt said the interests of Ireland were part and parcel of the interests of the EU 27 and the Irish position was the European position. Like Mr Barnier, who visited in May, he is entitled to be taken at face value - and words of both men are of real comfort at this stage.

Let us, however, remain earthed here: the goodwill and sincerity of the key EU players are no guarantee that Ireland will get what it needs after Brexit happens on March 29, 2019, the Brexit witching hour.

Here's another key point. Both EU heavy-hitters insist that Brexit is all the United Kingdom's own work.

So, their argument is that it is up to London to find workable remedies for Ireland's three-sided post-Brexit conundrum. These three elements are: averting UK-Ireland trade disruption; preserving the two islands' common travel area; and avoiding a hard Irish Border.

But Guy Verhofstadt's potential remedies here, which were alluded to yesterday, involve giving the North some kind of special status, very likely still inside the EU customs union and single market. Those remedies remain anathema to both radical 'Leave' advocates in London, and to the Democratic Unionists in the North.

It will be hard to break that vicious circle and give Ireland EU post-Brexit remedies. But again and again in these Leinster House exchanges yesterday there was the shadow of a much-trailed speech due to be delivered in Florence today. Would the embattled British prime minister overcome the skulduggery within her own Conservative Party at home?

The echoes from London were that Mrs May was prepared to do something which might help break the ongoing deadlock after three ill-starred phases of EU-UK Brexit talks. After Mr Verhofstadt's speech, the BBC reported that Mrs May would say Britain is willing to pay €20bn euros to the EU during a post-Brexit transition period, provided it keeps access to the bloc's single market.

Such an offer and its conditions are excessive - but might be a start to real talks.

Irish Independent

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