Saturday 18 November 2017

Colm McCarthy: Ireland could be biggest Brexit loser after the UK

A study by the London School of Economics warns of the harm that May's no-deal outcome will cause

Risky: British Prime Minister Theresa May responds to questions after she announced in the House of Commons last Wednesday that she has triggered Article 50, firing the starting gun on a two-year countdown to the UK leaving the EU. She seems prepared to risk no deal being arranged before Britain walks away Photo: PA Wire
Risky: British Prime Minister Theresa May responds to questions after she announced in the House of Commons last Wednesday that she has triggered Article 50, firing the starting gun on a two-year countdown to the UK leaving the EU. She seems prepared to risk no deal being arranged before Britain walks away Photo: PA Wire
Colm McCarthy

Colm McCarthy

Theresa May's resignation letter to Donald Tusk last Wednesday and his response on behalf of the European Council last Friday made explicit and prominent reference to exclusively Irish concerns in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, as did Guy Verhofstadt, who will represent the European Parliament when it comes to approval of the deal. Michel Barnier, the European Commission's chief negotiator, is on the record to the same effect. That all negotiating parties, British and European, have endorsed the principal concerns of the Irish Government, and in similar language, is a considerable diplomatic coup for the Irish politicians and officials involved. They have achieved something which no other country has managed and should contain any disappointment that the print and broadcast media have not noticed their achievement. The current journalistic obsession is the imminent retirement of the Taoiseach and the modern Irish media can process just one obsession at a time.

May told the House of Commons last Wednesday that "Britain is going to take control of the things that matter most..." as she despatched her notice-to-quit letter, echoing the 'take back control' slogan of the Leave campaign. The European Council's response last Friday made it clear that Britain will not be taking back control of the negotiation process: the Lisbon Treaty's Article 50 places the agenda firmly in the hands of the EU-27.

The exit terms must be agreed in principle before discussions on a new UK-EU trade deal can commence and the EU-27 can run down the clock as the 24-month deadline approaches. This faces Britain with a cliff-edge exit from access to markets which will dominate its external trade for the foreseeable future. The avalanche of waffle about the SS Global Britain, the swashbuckling new vessel designed to carry the Brexiteers to a commercial re-conquest of the seven seas, has mercifully abated this last week. In its place has come a more nuanced statement of Britain's negotiating ambitions. But it has elicited a firm recital, even if couched in conciliatory language, from the European Council of the practical realities soon to be faced.

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