Irish team will need to bring their 'A' game to the Brexit transitional negotiations
The UK withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit) was triggered in a letter from the UK prime minister Theresa May to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk on March 29 last. It is a momentous decision, both for the UK and for the EU.
The process is likely to cause severe headaches for the Irish economy, and particularly for the agri-food sector, given the importance of the UK market for agri-food exports and the implications of UK withdrawal for the EU budget.
The next step is for the European Council to adopt guidelines for the Commission's handling of the negotiations which is expected to happen at its meeting on April 29 next.
Already, just two days after receiving the UK letter, Tusk circulated a draft of these negotiating guidelines.
These are currently being discussed by the Member States. The Tusk draft has received wide support and only minor changes are expected to be made when the guidelines are finally agreed at the end of this month.
Building on the political priorities set out in the European Council guidelines, the Commission will then recommend a more detailed legal mandate for its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. This is expected to cover only the withdrawal issues and not the scope of the future relationship with the UK. Both the guidelines and the mandate will be updated throughout the Brexit process.
A couple of points from the Tusk draft guidelines are worth highlighting. First, they make clear that, so as not to undercut the position of the Union, there will be no separate negotiations between individual Member States and the UK on Brexit matters.
Thus, issues important to Ireland such as the Border with Northern Ireland and the future of the Common Travel Area have to be negotiated through the Commission negotiator and cannot be handled bilaterally between Ireland and the UK. Hence the importance of Irish ministers engaging with Barnier and the other Member States to make sure our desired outcome on these and other issues is well known.