UK just doesn’t know what it wants from Brexit, says Taoiseach ahead of EU summit
By Bernard Purcell
The EU simply will not allow Britain free access to its single market without allowing reciprocal free movement of its citizens, Taoiseach Enda Kenny declared this week.
Mr. Kenny, who was in the UK to give a speech in Oxford recently, made his remarks ahead of a Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire’s first visit to Dublin on Tuesday – to discuss the post-Brexit Border – and ahead of this week’s EU leaders’ summit in Bratislava.
The Taoiseach’s remarks were echoed by his Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan who said he was “taken aback” by the UK’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s call to withdraw from Europe’s customs union. Mr Flanagan said Fox’s comments were incompatible with Brexit Secretary David Davis’s comments in Dublin that there would be “no return to a hard Border”.
Mr Brokenshire and Prime Minister Theresa May have also both said they do not want it to happen.
The European Union customs border is the biggest in the world and allows countries within it to trade more freely with each other, without tariffs, or taxes on imports.
Mr Flanagan pointed out the EU will begin on the Republic’s side of the Border. “I was pleased to hear the comments of David Davis last week when he said that there would not be a hard border.
“I would, however, caution on two grounds: firstly I was somewhat concerned and taken aback by comments by the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox during the summer, when he suggested a withdrawal from the customs union.
“I would also stress that ultimately the matter of the border is a decision that won’t be determined by the UK and Irish governments, irrespective of how we feel about the issue, but this will be a matter for the remaining 27 EU countries, one of which of course will be Ireland.”
Mr. Flanagan said he has told his 26 ministerial opposite numbers “we don’t want a hard or heavily fortified border right across the island of Ireland”.
Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK Dan Mulhall last week told a House of Lords committee that it is in Ireland’s best interests that the UK – with whom Ireland has such deep connections – get the best possible arrangement with the EU after Brexit.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the British Irish Association in Oxford that consideration must be given to whether or not Northern Irish voters are given the chance to stay in the EU as part of an all-island entity. But he said that there is not sufficient support in the North for a Border poll as demanded by nationalist parties.
Ambassador Mulhall told peers in Westminster that every British citizen born in Northern Ireland is already automatically entitled to retain their EU citizenship as dual nationality Irish citizens.
Mr Kenny this week told an Irish radio station that – given UK ministers are now talking about requiring visas and work permits for EU nationals – he expected a huge spike in applications for Irish passports. “The Irish Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall confirmed to me a doubling of numbers (of passport applications) over the last couple of months. That kind of (position paper) by the British government will mean a further spike.”
Above all, said Mr. Kenny, despite claims by Brexit Secretary David Davis that his government is looking to negotiate a “unique deal” it is clear at the moment the UK does not appear to know “where it wants to be” after Brexit.
Speaking ahead of this week’s EU summit in Bratislava – at which the UK will not for the first time since it joined be present or represented despite still being a full EU member – Mr Kenny said: “Let me tell you that around the European Council table, that is an issue that will not be given in on.”
The issue had been “very directly addressed” by European leaders to the British government. He said the British government just do not appear to have a clear position on what form of Brexit it is trying to achieve.
“They don’t have a definite horizon as to where they want to be,” he said, and the result is “a mess of complete confusion for hundreds of thousands of people”.
He predicted Article 50 would be triggered next year but negotiations would certainly not be finished within two years. But while Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and the Channel Islands might seek to thwart it, it certainly was not for Ireland to try and delay it.
“I don’t think Ireland as a Republic could actually put an end to Brexit, because it’s their decision,” he said.
“The best place that Britain would be to have access to the Single Market, as is now – but that means they must accept one of the fundamental principles, which is migration and free movement of people,” he said.
Referring to the return of Border controls he said: “You might have some controls, but not in the way of a full-scale stopping of every vehicle.”