Brexit negotiations likely to be vicious, Kenny tells forum

UK unaware of hurt and anger towards it across EU, All-Island Civic Dialogue hears

Taoiseach Enda Kenny during a break at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dublin on Wednesday: “There are those around the European table that take a very poor view of the fact that Britain has decided to leave.” Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Taoiseach Enda Kenny during a break at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dublin on Wednesday: “There are those around the European table that take a very poor view of the fact that Britain has decided to leave.” Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has forecast “vicious” negotiations over Brexit, reflecting a belief in Government circles that the British have underestimated the level of antagonism towards them across the European Union.

Top-level sources in Government believe there is little appreciation on the part of the UK government of the level of hostility they are likely to face once prime minister Theresa May triggers article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

New trading arrangements between the UK and the EU will have to be agreed by the remaining 27 member states and there are signs that at least some of those countries are determined to drive a hard bargain.

Eastern Europe

“What the British don’t seem to understand is that many of the countries in eastern Europe are deeply hurt and angry at the outcome of the Brexit referendum, particularly at the way their nationals were targeted as undesirable immigrants,” said one Government source.

This assessment was reflected in the comments of the Taoiseach at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit yesterday when he warned that negotiations could prove to be “quite vicious” when they finally got under way.

He went on to say “there are those around the European table that take a very poor view of the fact that Britain has decided to leave”.

While the two main unionist parties were not represented at the dialogue, which took place at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, all of the other major parties on the island were present along with a wide range of civil society bodies, local authorities and cross-Border institutions.

Open border

In his opening address, Mr Kenny described Brexit as the biggest challenge Ireland had faced in 50 years. He said the retention of an open border between North and South was critical for the people of Ireland.

Mr Kenny said he had agreed with Ms May that there would be no return to the borders of the past and that the benefits of the Common Travel Area would be preserved. He pointed out, however, that access to the EU single market required acceptance of the freedom of movement of people.

The Taoiseach also emphasised that the Irish Government remained fully committed to the Belfast Agreement, as a co-guarantor.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that in the four months since the result of the Brexit referendum was announced there had been little or no progress is defining what Brexit actually meant.

“Let’s explore radical ways of softening Brexit, but we also have to talk about the crude and chaotic Brexit which some in the London cabinet appear to be advocating,” he said. “Unlike the foreign secretary [Boris Johnson], we don’t have the luxury of being pro-having the cake and eating it.”

Special status

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the forum should “not be about a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit. It needs to be about moving beyond the consequences of Brexit and looking at alternatives.”

He said his party wanted a referendum on Irish unity, but also suggested a “designated special status” for Northern Ireland, citing other unique EU arrangements such as Denmark and Greenland.

Colum Eastwood, SDLP leader, said it was “a huge mistake” for the two main unionist parties not to attend.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said further discussions should be planned to devise an agreed strategy for negotiations at EU level. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he would like the referendum to be run again in the hope that it would produce a different result.

Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said she welcomed the opportunity to participate in the event.

Winding up the dialogue, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said everybody needed to prepare for “the softest of soft exits to the hardest of hard exits”.