Ireland set to secure unique measures to soften Brexit blow

Taoiseach to press for retention of EU benefits for Irish citizens in North at summit

Senior EU official said respect in which Taoiseach Enda Kenny is held by the other European Council members has been decisive in influencing  Brexit goals.  Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Senior EU official said respect in which Taoiseach Enda Kenny is held by the other European Council members has been decisive in influencing Brexit goals. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Unprecedented measures to cushion Ireland from the most damaging effects of the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union will be agreed at this weekend’s Brussels summit, the Government believes.

The draft conclusions of the summit contain a unique set of assurances for an individual country, sources say, following the most sustained diplomatic campaign since Ireland joined the EU over 40 years ago

The leaders of the 27 remaining EU states will meet to sign off on the negotiating mandate for the union going into talks with the British, which are expected to begin in the coming weeks.

It is understood that the conclusions will reiterate the support of the EU for the Belfast Agreement and the continuation of the funding arrangements that underpin it.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will press the case on Saturday that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland will continue to retain the benefits of EU citizenship despite the departure of the UK from the union.

A key conclusion already agreed involves a recognition of Ireland’s unique geographical position, with an acceptance that this has implications for the transit of goods on the island.

Its draft conclusions contain a reference to the requirement for flexible and imaginative solutions to deal with Ireland’s special position.

As expected, no obstacles will be put in the way to retaining the common travel area between Ireland and the UK, but trade issues will also feature.

Trading relationship

There is a specific reference in the draft conclusions to the importance of the trading relationship between Ireland and the UK, which takes into account not only cross -Border trade but the fact that so much of Irish trade with the EU transits through the UK.

“The level of commitment to Ireland reflected in the draft conclusions is above and beyond what we could have expected at this stage,” said one of the Irish officials involved.

A senior official in Brussels described the provisions for Ireland as “a diplomatic triumph” and a clear recognition that the country deserves payback from the rest of the EU for the manner in which it endured the pain of financial crisis.

Meanwhile, despite doubts in Ireland about the handling of the Brexit issue by the Government, the official added that the respect in which Taoiseach Enda Kenny is held by the other members of the European Council has played a decisive part in ensuring that Ireland was given almost everything it sought in the diplomatic campaign, which began immediately after the Brexit vote last June.

The draft conclusions will be discussed by the EU leaders on Saturday, but they have already been agreed in principle and barring some last-minute hitch will form the basis of the final EU position on Brexit ahead of the detailed negotiations.

The impending recognition of Ireland’s unique position was referred to earlier this week by EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan in an important speech to farmers in Dublin.

Understanding

He assured his audience that there was considerable understanding of and support for Ireland’s predicament arising from Brexit.

“The Irish government and the diplomatic service have done an excellent job in explaining the political consequences of Brexit, particularly in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and the negative impact of restoring a so-called hard Border,” said Mr Hogan.

He said that from talking to his commissioner colleagues, including President Juncker, the issues for Ireland were well understood in Brussels and in the European Parliament.

“It is laudable and remarkable that Ireland is listed as one of the three main EU negotiating priorities by Mr Barnier [the lead EU negotiator], the others being the status of EU citizens and the divorce bill,” said Mr Hogan.

He added that this was an important first step and an excellent example of how good political connectivity with large political groups was essential in Brussels.