Saturday 24 February 2018

Hollande steps in as our ally in European Brexit battle

Hollande: Tax reform will not be part of Brexit talks

French President Francois Hollande Picture: PA
French President Francois Hollande Picture: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

French President Francois Hollande has broken ranks to publicly back Ireland's 'special case' for a place at the centre of Brexit negotiations.

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown a clear reluctance to admit that Ireland will need concessions, Mr Hollande said France "understands" our position is unique.

"I do recognise that there is a special situation for Ireland. It's a special situation that has to be found a place in the negotiations," he said after an hour-long meeting with ­Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

His remarks are a major boost for the Taoiseach after his plea for recognition of the relationship between Ireland and the UK was effectively shunned by Ms Merkel in Berlin just 10 days ago.

She insisted that Ireland's "voice" would be treated equally with those of other member states and twice declined to acknowledge a 'special case' status.

In contrast, Mr Hollande came to Dublin to declare that he wanted to be an ally during the forthcoming talks. He even went so far as to point out that while the two countries are the UK's closest neighbours, Ireland is "even more of a neighbour than France".

Mr Kenny said the President was "fully acquainted with Europe's involvement in the Good Friday Agreement over the years".

"That is a unique perspective that we bring to these negotiations... Europe has contributed greatly to the support of the Good Friday Agreement and keeping that peace together."

He added: "I'm very glad that President Hollande has referred to that."

After his brief visit to Dublin, Mr Hollande flew back to Paris where he met new British Prime Minister Theresa May.

The pair disagreed over the timeframe in which the UK should formally request to leave the EU, with Mr Hollande saying "the sooner the better".

He said any delay would "cause damaging doubt". However, the prime minister indicated she will not trigger Article 50 for at least six months.

In another positive development for Ireland yesterday, Mr Hollande also offered reassurance that tax harmonisation will not be brought into the Brexit negotiations under any circumstances as had been speculated by some politicians.

French governments have frequently objected to Ireland's controversial 12.5pc corporation tax rate.

But speaking at a press conference in Government Buildings, Mr Hollande said: "In terms of taxation or tax harmonisation, that has nothing to do with Brexit."

The French President is taking a particularly hard line on the UK, saying: "It's the British that will have to bear the consequences."

However, in relation to Ireland, Mr Hollande said: "I'm also very aware that Brexit can have consequences for Ireland... You, of course, have land and a shared border.

"And that's why you are so attached to the idea that the Good Friday Agreement can be preserved. France understands this position because it's very important for peace.

"We believe the free movement of workers should be preserved. But the access to the single market cannot be guaranteed unless they [the UK] say the free movement of workers will be respected."

The president added that he hoped his visit would help "intensify" the relationship between France and Ireland.

"I will come back again because I had to cut short my visit given the drama we experienced on the Promenade des Anglais".

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was quick to condemn the terror attack in Nice, saying that Ireland "stands by France".

Kenny said Ireland will co-operate "where we can" in terms of EU defence - while maintaining our neutrality.

"France is a great nation. The birthplace of republicanism and human rights. These values are more valuable than ever in a turbulent and dangerous world. We must protect them," he said.

Foreign media have touted plans by French President François Hollande to visit a number of EU capitals in the coming weeks as an attempt to get support for an EU army.

However, he said that Ireland was playing its part without engaging in military activity.

"Defence, protection and security and protection of our borders, that's what people expect of the EU.

"Not to close in on themselves but to... open up with conditions of security," Mr Hollande said.

Irish Independent

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