UK eyes up soft Brexit as Dublin division emerges
A Brexit awakening by the UK could see Theresa May's attitude towards leaving the customs union soften, the Government believes.
Reports that Downing Street could be persuaded to maintain a free trade arrangement with the EU have been met with a hopeful welcome by officials in Dublin.
But it comes as the key political leaders here engaged in the most divisive debate on Brexit yet.
Since the referendum result in June 2016, Fianna Fáil has been largely supportive of the Government's approach to the negotiations.
However, in a speech yesterday Micheál Martin said his party has "a rising concern" that Ireland is now being "pushed later and later in the negotiations".
He said this leaves "a real risk that we will face enormous pressure to accept whatever is proposed so that the financial settlement with the UK will not be lost".
In a blistering attack on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who are leading the Brexit talks from an Irish perspective, he said they have "over-spun and under-delivered in nearly every policy area".
"The issue of Brexit is simply too important for our future and we need more debate not less," he said.
"Most of all we need to start seeing concrete and credible proposals about future arrangements."
A spokesperson for the Tánaiste last night accused Fianna Fáil of trying to create "a few headlines".
He said the Government's position "has been clear and consistent since the UK voted to leave the EU".
"Negotiations are sensitive and ongoing, so it is curious to say the least that - at a time when European backing of Ireland from Donald Tusk, Michel Barnier and governments across the EU has been rock solid - Fianna Fáil is trying to create division and fear on Brexit at home for party political gain and a few headlines," the spokesman said.
Mr Martin said it would be of "positive significance" if it was to emerge that the UK was moving back towards the customs union.
"Clearly it's far removed from their public stated position and the stated position of the UK government.
"We're of the view that the closest possible trading relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom is the optimal result for the island," he said.
Such a U-turn would be hugely controversial with senior members of Mrs May's (inset) Cabinet, with Downing Street sources now believing International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson could both resign.
UK Justice Secretary David Gauke insisted the UK Government will make a case to MPs for leaving the customs union.