Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Opinion: We're ahead on points but the Brexit joust has only just begun

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
John Downing

John Downing

"THE fight plan does not survive the first punch on the nose." That was flawed boxing superstar Mike Tyson's take on strategising before you enter the ring.

There are shades of that about after a good Irish outcome at Saturday's EU leaders' summit on Brexit in Brussels.

According to EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker it took just four minutes for the remaining 27 EU leaders to agree the opening game-plan for the upcoming 23 months of talks. They agreed the need to negotiate withdrawal terms before moving on to future EU-UK post-divorce relations.

This means a focus on prioritizing citizens' rights, especially the one million EU citizens living in Britain. Then there is the little matter of a €60bn farewell bill for Britain - bearing in mind that they signed on in 2013 for a seven-year EU budget regime spanning the years 2014-2020 inclusive. There will also be other outstanding commitments, not least payments to Turkey for helping manage the refugee crisis.

Talk about money will be "the first punch on the nose" as the fanatical Brexiteers insist Britain can just walk without paying any more.

Jean-Claude Juncker had the grace to note that the remaining EU 27 may never again be as united as they were last Saturday afternoon. We are facing into some tough stuff between now and the end of March 2019 completion deadline.

And last, but not least from Irish farmers' point view, on Saturday there were those border concerns in which Ireland was thankfully cited. There is great merit in the de facto guarantee that if ever - in fullness of time - there is a move for Irish unity, the North can automatically join the EU. But it was not the most immediate concern for Irish farmers on both sides of the border.

The colour of the post boxes, or the flag flying over public buildings, will not pay the bills. Ireland's biggest priority centres on the future post Brexit EU-UK relations' which will tackle crucial issues like trade and tariffs. According to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, it will take until late this year before that point can be reached.

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Ireland must yet again wait out developments in other key EU countries. In six days time the French voters will take their pick of centrist Emmanuel Macron, or the French farmers' favourite, Marine Le Pen of the Front National.

Pollsters tell us that pro-EU Macron is home and hosed with 59pc to Le Pen's 41pc. We shall see, but at all events, French voters still have to face parliamentary elections in June which could throw up something very odd since neither Macron nor Le Pen is likely to have a strong parliamentary backing.

We're still waiting on the June 8 elections in Britain when Theresa May is set to win a strong majority. The British elections have totally stalled any talk about a monetary divorce settlement and this in turn forestalls talk of any trade deal. It is widely believed in Dublin, Brussels and across the other capitals that a good majority for Mrs May in five weeks time would be good for a smoother Brexit negotiation process.

However, while Mrs May will be keener on making a Brexit deal than many of her more extremist party colleagues, it does not mean that it will be easy to cut a deal with her. That threat of walking away from a bad deal will persist.

That would trigger world trade rules which would certainly mean tariffs.

John Downing is an Irish Independent political correspondent

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