Monday 21 October 2019

Varadkar to meet Macron and Merkel amid massive Brexit uncertainty

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Cormac McQuinn and Laura Larkin

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar will meet French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel next week as the massive uncertainty over Brexit continues.

The main focus of the talks will be the latest Brexit developments and no-deal planning will also be on the agenda given the continuing chaos in Westminster.

British Prime Minister will make a renewed bid to get her Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons today but this is widely expected to fail.

Mr Varadkar will travel to Paris on Tuesday to meet Mr Macron.

Mrs Merkel will visit Dublin on Thursday.

A government statement said: "These two meetings reflect the deep and warm relations Ireland enjoys with both France and Germany, including the support shown to Ireland during the Brexit negotiations."

Mr Varadkar said: "Both leaders have been strong and consistent allies of Ireland in responding to the unique challenges we face from Brexit.

"I will again express the Government’s gratitude for their continuing solidarity. 

"We will take stock of the latest developments on Brexit when we meet, efforts to secure ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement and No Deal planning."

He added:

"We will also take the opportunity to consider the Future of Europe agenda. Important discussions lie ahead, with an informal Summit on the Union’s strategic agenda due in early May in Sibiu, Romania, and negotiations on the EU budget for the period after 2020 due to be finalised by the end of this year."

Mr Varadkar said that while he regularly meets both leaders in Brussels, the these bilateral engagements "are an important opportunity for an in-depth and one-to-one exchange on how to further strengthen our relations away from the bustle of the European Council."

He said: "Our bilateral relations with both Germany and France are better than ever - and will become even more important as we move to a European Union of 27 members.”

Meanwhile, former President Mary McAleese has said Brexit provides an opportunity for a re-calibration of the Irish unity debate.

Dr McAleese paid tribute to former Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s securing of an agreement among European leaders post-Brexit that dictates should partition end Northern Ireland will be able to be seamlessly re-enveloped into the European Union.

That was a “gift” and a resource to be built on she told a DCU Brexit event.

“Now what you are offering people is not - as some people fear - absorption into the Republic where people will be preening themselves because now past injustices have been righted - but rather what you will be offering people is the prospect of this wonderful new democracy within the European Union fresh and different and reconciling of all identities - something really qualitatively different,” she said.

“It’s where we have always wanted to get to. It’s what many of us have always wanted to construct but actually Brexit has given us a tool that we never really expected to have - and I think we should use that very, very wisely,” she continued.

“I’m not going to say it’s a gift but it is certainly an opportunity and i think it’s a very important opportunity to be used with great wisdom now that we have it.”

A referendum on Irish unity was “on a horizon” but the “when of it” is not known, she told attendees amid warnings that the groundwork must be laid so that any vote on ending partition does not have the same divisive consequences as the Brexit referendum did for the UK.

There would be a need for issues to be tackled by scholars and by civic society in order to lay the bedrock for a referendum she said.

In Northern Ireland there is a feeling that the debate has been nudged onto a new trajectory and away from the “wrap the green flag around me trajectory” and “into a much, much healthier space with a focus on what a shared future might look like,” Dr McAleese said.

Amid the ongoing turmoil in London stalemate the former president gave a pithy assessment of the current state of play when she said the title of her speech was “haven’t a clue”, which she commented was “roughly where we’re at”.

Brexit was the political equivalent of necrotising fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) she said.

But while politics has been in the way of securing a Brexit deal Dr McAleese said the process is not yet at the moment of closure when “reality breaks through the bluster”.

She also described the efforts of the Irish government and the EU as showing a “laudable farsightedness and a clear-sightedness”.

Reflecting on both the genesis of Europe, of Ireland’s membership and the decision of the UK to leave Dr McAleese pointed out that Ireland knows of the centuries long shelf life of “immensely disruptive decisions”, citing plantation and partition.

“Westminster has watched in surprise as those two overlooked hens have come home to roost very lively on the perches at Westminster,” she said.

Both decisions now “deeply implicated” in the Withdrawal Agreement, she said, adding that it was worth remembering this as “Brexit itself is a deeply destructive decision that’s going to cast a long shadow.”

She was also very critical of the “ignorance” displayed by some in the UK about Ireland and the issues relating to Northern Ireland, which she said has been worsened by the absence of nationalist voices in Westminster.

Online Editors

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