Sunday 17 February 2019

Shona Murray: The only way forward is for strict red lines to dissolve

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivers a lecture on the Future of Europe before the Wilfried Martens Fund at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivers a lecture on the Future of Europe before the Wilfried Martens Fund at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Shona Murray

The penny is finally dropping that the UK's red lines on Brexit will have to dissolve significantly if it is to leave the EU in an orderly way, and for Irish priorities in the North to be taken seriously.

The Taoiseach took a telling position during his speech on the Future of Europe when he threatened to pull the plug on the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement unless the UK conceded to redraw its red line on the customs partnership. He made the point that in order for there to be a realistic chance of Northern Irish issues being solved, and therefore the withdrawal agreement being complete, Theresa May's government needs to get real.

"The only thing that is a barrier to that close new relationship that we want to have between the UK and the EU is some of the hard red lines that the British have set for themselves," he said in Leuven, Belgium.

Mr Varadkar referred to the scourge of British "mixed messages" as a reason to push the UK to deliver guarantees for Ireland by June as continued uncertainty is unacceptable.

But it is these mixed messages that give cause for hope that Mrs May's government will soon be open to moving on the only realistic way of settling Brexit under the terms it has already agreed to - such as the no-Border scenario - and its claim that it wishes to maintain a close and "comprehensive" partnership after the UK leaves the EU.

Let's face it, Mrs May is going to have to betray somebody, and she may as well do it in the greater national interest; as well as seeing through her legally binding obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

Outside the customs union there is no such thing as frictionless trade, physical borders, let alone a reduction in bureaucracy.

The fallacy that the UK could sustain the status quo in the North, while setting sail to take advantage of emerging markets by conducting more auspicious and lucrative trade deals than within the EU, was going to have to be realised at some point.

Yesterday's motion in the House of Commons, supporting the UK remaining in some sort of customs union after Brexit, was another clear sign that the British parliamentary system is back on track and is the only saviour for the country, and for a manageable Brexit.

Adding to this chink of light was UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd casting doubt on the customs union red line, saying that she would not be "drawn" on the issue and there were discussions to be had about it.

Irish Independent

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