Wednesday 19 December 2018

It's almost crunch time, and May must decide to go hard - or go home

British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Reuters/Neil Hall
British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Reuters/Neil Hall
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

In the next 10 weeks Theresa May will have to decide whether to go hard or go home. European leaders have set a late June deadline for defining Brexit. They don't want chapter and verse, but they need a clear direction of travel.

Suggestions over the weekend that the UK might now be open to the idea of staying within the customs union have been cautiously welcomed.

Officially, the UK is still committed to leaving the free-trade arrangement, but sources suggest there is something of "an awakening".

If there is, then it has to materialise quickly. Staying in the union would solve the question of the Irish Border, which remains a key blockage on the road to Brexit.

But it would also be an admission that Brexit will not guarantee the UK is in a position to rapidly renegotiate trade deals with countries around the world.

Just yesterday Japan's ambassador to the UK, Koji Tsuruoka, said: "I don't think the single market could be substituted by something and be better or even be the same."

Car makers Nissan and Toyota have large factories in the UK and sell many of their cars into Europe from the UK. Mr Tsuruoka said Japanese firms will want to continue to be located in the single market after next March.

Over the weekend European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan said the "fudge" days on Ireland are over.

"The UK seems to have not come to terms with the fact that it has to agree what it has signed up to in the December report from 2017, which was that there will be a frictionless Border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and that there would also be frictionless trade arrangements between the UK and the Republic of Ireland," he said.

Mrs May needs to announce a hard Brexit or start dealing with the political consequences in London of reneging on her own red lines.

Irish Independent

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