Wednesday 16 October 2019

Lunch at No. 10 - and a full British Brexit is on the menu

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is greeted by British Prime Minister David Cameron on his arrival at 10 Downing Street in London, as Mr Cameron continued his diplomatic drive to win support for his promised renegotiation of Britain's membership of the EU Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is greeted by British Prime Minister David Cameron on his arrival at 10 Downing Street in London, as Mr Cameron continued his diplomatic drive to win support for his promised renegotiation of Britain's membership of the EU Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

It was the Taoiseach's first foray back into 10 Downing Street, since David Cameron did a Harry Houdini in May and escaped from the clutches of doom-laden opinion polls, shook off the shackles of the Lib Dems, and miraculously returned the Tories to single-party government.

And the two leaders had much to discuss - not least the fact that the UK has put the frighteners on the rest of the EU by forging ahead with plans to hold a referendum on either remaining on Team Brussels or voting to take their ball home.

It's a prospect which puts the heart crossways on the Irish Government - not to mention the rattled business community. Ireland and Britain trade a staggering €1bn a week in goods and services, and the departure of our nearest neighbour and biggest customer from the European Union would create hellish problems and possibly leave a large dent in our recuperating coffers.

Nonetheless, there was no sign of any coolness as the two leaders strolled into the State Dining Room after a working lunch.

In his opening remarks, Enda explained that he had congratulated his host on his electoral escapology. "I learned a few lessons from that, I must say," he mused, eyeing the prime minister with a soupcon of envy.

The Fine Gael leader can only dream of pulling off a similar shock in the next general election, given our fiendishly complex voting system which invariably (and thankfully) results in a coalition, rather than giving one or other political party the run of the place.

Yet despite being the boss of everybody, David Cameron's position isn't entirely enviable. He's encircled by ever-increasing numbers of increasingly-organised eurosceptic Conservative MPs who are demanding either sweeping reforms to how the EU does business, or else a vote to head for the Euro-door. Moreover, the power suits in the City are jittery, and the poobahs in Brussels are irritated - sure don't they have enough on their plate right now with the Homeric epic that is Greece?

And so the prime minister is on a serious charm offensive in recent weeks, zipping between member states like the results of the Eurovision. As well as lunch with the Taoiseach, David also held talks with the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz, before nipping to Ljubliana in Slovenia.

But in Downing Street, both the Taoiseach and prime minister were determined to accentuate the positive.

And that useful political digit, the long finger, has already been in action, with indications that any referendum will most likely be pushed out to 2017.

Enda was shovelling on the political plámás. "The prime minister explained his approach to the UK position on Europe, and I reiterated our view that it is important for the UK to remain an active member of the EU," he declared, adding: "I'm not focused at all on a negative consequence here."

The prime minister embarked on what is likely to be a prolonged two-step - to borrow from St Augustine, he was emanating a vibe of "Please Lord, grant me a referendum, but not yet".

"It's right to have this referendum from Britain's point of view. I want Britain to stay in a reformed European Union," he declared, before explaining: "This is going to take time, it's a complicated process, that's in the nature of a complex renegotiation."

The Taoiseach stressed the "close ties" between the two countries - and in fairness Britain dug deep when we were on our uppers after the economy fell over the cliff, so when David starts the haggling process in Brussels, "we'll be as supportive and constructive as we can be".

He hastened to add: "We won't be following blindly on every issue, because we have our own issues."

But first the EU has to sort out the Greeks. "It's a serious situation for the people of Greece, who are hurting," stated Enda correctly. But he'll still keep an eye on Cameron - he knows which side our Brexit is buttered on.

Irish Independent

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