Wednesday 21 November 2018

Ireland should be UK's friend, not foe

Theresa May speaking during a cabinet meeting at Chequers yesterday. A new UK-European Union free trade area for goods will be created under Brexit plans thrashed out by ministers at the meeting. Photo: Joel Rouse/PA
Theresa May speaking during a cabinet meeting at Chequers yesterday. A new UK-European Union free trade area for goods will be created under Brexit plans thrashed out by ministers at the meeting. Photo: Joel Rouse/PA
Editorial

Editorial

We will know more detail when the British government finally publishes its White Paper on Brexit later this week, but what has emerged from last Friday's meeting of Theresa May's cabinet is encouraging.

Not least is the fact that she appears to have at last faced down the several members of her government who have long been in open defiance on the issue, criticising every attempt to work out a deal with Brussels but offering no solutions themselves. Now it appears they have agreed to back a soft Brexit that would include a free trade area with a common set of rules in which the UK would remain aligned to existing EU regulations on industrial goods and agriculture. (Acceptance of any new EU rules would be a decision for the UK parliament).

Of course, the British prime minister still has to sell this to the rest of her parliamentary party and the DUP. Some provisions to restrict migrants ("ending free movement") will help persuade the hard Brexiteers but allowances for labour movement will not. And though services - the most important part of the British economy - are excluded, her opponents will fear restrictions on new trade deals with other countries, specifically the US. A suggestion not included in the published 12-point summary, but widely speculated on, that the UK would collect tariffs on behalf of the EU under a new "facilitated custom arrangement", will not find favour either, especially as hardliners suspect monitoring such activity may provide a continuing role in the UK for the European Court.

If parliament accepts her plan, however, the next step is to bring it to Europe. The chief EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, has given little away from that quarter other than to say that what is required is a workable solution. From the Irish point of view, this would appear to be what the British government is proposing, with a frictionless border on the island of Ireland, making a backstop unnecessary, but providing one anyway. So it is clear, as it has been from the beginning of the process, that this country should try to continue to play the part of a friend in court to Britain and do everything possible to see that positive aspects of any proposal are not scuppered by residual anger at Britain or any misguided desire for revenge.

It is in our interests that there is a soft Brexit so that not just north-south trade continues unimpeded, but more importantly, that the same applies to the significant trade between this country and Britain as a whole. To that end, perhaps the visit here this week of the two young royals, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, otherwise affectionately known as Harry and Meghan, will help. Of late, as we have become a bit more grown up and confident in our own national identity, visits to Ireland by members of the British royal family have engendered nothing but good feeling.

In that spirit, the Taoiseach should approach the next stage of the Brexit process with positivity and try to avoid the kind of stupidity and unthinking crassness that saw him align himself with Donald Trump's characterisation the media as, what Stalin and many other dictators called, the enemies of the people, so that should the Mueller report make adverse findings against him, he will have prepared the ground to declare the findings as fake news. That utterance by the Taoiseach was unworthy of him, and we can only hope it was nothing more than an unfortunate gaffe which he genuinely regrets. And now he can move forward in a new and more constructive and optimistic manner.

Sunday Independent

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