Friday 20 July 2018

Fears region's instability may thwart Brexit deal for North

The DUP has reacted to draft Brexit proposal. Stock photo: PA
The DUP has reacted to draft Brexit proposal. Stock photo: PA

Shona Murray

Irish officials are concerned that the Spanish government will turn against any special Brexit deal for Northern Ireland given the instability in Catalonia.

MEPs condemned the "conspicuous silence" of the European Council during a debate on civil rights in Spain in light of the unofficial referendum in Catalonia last Sunday.

But German MEP Marcus Weber said while nobody could remain "indifferent" to the worrisome violence of last weekend, the "legitimacy of a member state" was at stake. He warned the Catalan authorities not to take "irreversible" steps.

He pointed out that any separatist movement which leaves Spain automatically then leaves the European Union and "this means leaving the internal market including the eurozone and single market".

Such a remark will be heard loud and clear by the Government in Ireland - which fears the Spanish government will now become more hostile to any special arrangement for the status of Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Madrid may feel a special deal would initiate a "precedent for Catalonia", a senior Government source told the Irish Independent.

Dublin will argue that the situation is not the same because Northern Ireland does not want to leave the EU - it is being forcibly taken out by the vote in England and Wales.

Backfire

The Government needs to tread carefully, as any hint of sympathy with Catalan leaders may backfire when Ireland seeks support for any Northern Ireland settlement.

During a specially timetabled debate yesterday, the European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator, Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, said the violence in Catalonia last Sunday was "deplorable". He added that divisions could not be mended with the law alone, but with dialogue, understanding and a "renewed political vision".

Mr Verhofstadt also addressed the Catalan authorities, saying that the poll, which was thwarted using heavy force by 17,000 Spanish police, "wasn't in the interests of your citizens", nor was it in their interests to pursue independence "at all costs".

Polish MEP Antoni Legutko Ryszard criticised the EU as a "union of selective values".

He accused the European Commission of having a "double standard", whereby "all are equal but some are more equal than others", in its refusal to condemn the Spanish government for its undemocratic behaviour towards the Catalan people.

The EU Commissioner for the Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights, Frans Timmerman, said "respect for the rule of law is not optional, it is fundamental".

He told the European Parliament that in Europe after the Second World War and then after the end of dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece, "we have shaped" our democratic societies based on the "principles of democracy, respect for the rule of law and human rights".

Ignore

He said that the Catalan regional government "has chosen to ignore the law when organising the referendum last Sunday".

He acknowledged that the scenes were "saddening" and said that "violence is never a solution".

Irish Independent

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