Saturday 21 July 2018

'We will remain united with EU' - Government refuses to isolate itself to help UK

Government refuses to isolate itself to help UK

Prepare for hard Border: Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Prepare for hard Border: Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Shona Murray and Kevin Doyle

The EU will remain united despite turbulent negotiations with Britain, a senior Government source has said.

Ireland's priority will be to maintain the solidarity of the EU 27 at all times as it represents the best policy for achieving Irish objectives.

The UK government is publishing its official Brexit plans tomorrow, and the Irish Government will support the position adopted by the EU Council, and in particular EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier, in its response to the content of the document.

"Solidarity with the EU-27 is our best chance of [getting]the best deal, both in terms of negotiation with the UK on the Border and getting the help we need if it all goes wrong," said a senior Irish source.

The Government is not willing to jeopardise this relationship for the sake of helping the UK, despite Mrs May's position as prime minister being under threat, they told the Irish Independent last night.

Ireland can be somewhat "generous" in helping the UK reach a deal, but never "at the expense of any of our objectives", they added. If Ireland did, we would isolate ourselves among our European partners, and "we've nothing to gain from isolating ourselves", said the source.

In recent weeks, Mrs May requested European capitals not to "kill the plans on arrival".

This was said to be in order to provide her with some cover against hard-liners within her own party, who would likely capitalise on apparent EU intransigence and make further the case to walk away without a deal.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin is urging the Government to plan for a hard Border, in spite of the political commitments by Britain not to erect one.

"We should plan for every scenario. We've been saying this consistently since the moment Brexit began, that we should be preparing for all scenarios and all contingencies," he said yesterday.

Mr Martin said despite the unified position between Dublin, Brussels and London that a Border is to be avoided, the fact that no solution has so far materialised regarding a settlement on a trading relationship or the backstop, now makes a hard Border more likely.

"What has changed, of course, is that people thought that would be resolved last March. People thought it would be resolved at the June summit. The Taoiseach has had to change his stance on that and so has the Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.

"It seems to me that it will be resolved now in the context of the overall deal. Time is very tight. I would presume that various scenarios have been worked out by officials, depending on the type of Brexit that eventually emerges," he said.

In relation to the forthcoming negotiations on the UK's white paper, Mr Martin acknowledged that there "will inevitably have to be give and take" when it gets to the final talks.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that the EU could be "flexible" if the UK "relaxes" some of its red-lines.

Mr Varadkar has asked Mr Barnier and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz if Brexit can be put on the agenda of a meeting of EU leaders in Salzburg this September, a month before the key deadline for a deal on Britain leaving Europe.

The UK's opening gambit on its proposals was given a generously cautious welcome last Friday. It was seen as a move in the right direction but quite a few areas of concern remain in terms of the UK continuing to ignore EU rules and principles in relation to the single market.

Irish Independent

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