Irish officials see possible upside in snap UK election

Bigger majority for Theresa May ‘could bring advantages’ in Brexit talks

Enda Kenny and  Theresa May: discussed Northern Ireland, with the Taoiseach saying  “a return to direct rule should not be contemplated” . File photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Enda Kenny and Theresa May: discussed Northern Ireland, with the Taoiseach saying “a return to direct rule should not be contemplated” . File photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

Theresa May’s shock announcement of a general election was being digested by Irish Ministers and officials on Tuesday night but several sources suggested Dublin could see significant advantages in the event that the British prime minister, as polls overwhelmingly predict, returns with a much larger majority.

The Government said the outcome of the British election was a matter for the electorate there, and it did not change its approach to Brexit or to the British government. However, according to one source in Government Buildings, there is a feeling in Dublin that Ms May has been “held to ransom” by some of the hard Brexiteers in her party.

Should she return to the next parliament with a large majority, it will strengthen her hand to make the sort of compromises that the Irish Government is hoping for in the Brexit negotiations.

“This might free her up a bit,” said the source. This might be evident in British willingness to pay, even over a long time, a substantial “divorce settlement” and to acknowledge the jurisdiction of EU institutions such as the Court of Justice during an adjustment period after the Brexit deadline of March 2019 has passed, Dublin hopes.

‘Sensible compromises’

According to another source close to the Government’s preparations for the negotiations, “anything that gives greater room for manoeuvre and allows for pragmatism has to be good for us”.

“I think a stronger May will be better placed to make the sensible compromises and graceful withdrawals necessary, not least because there’ll be new MPs who owe her their seats,” the source said.

On RTÉ, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said Ms May had made it clear that she wanted a fresh and strong mandate to allow her to negotiate. This, he said, provided grounds for optimism, adding that “we could be looking towards a less hard Brexit than that was anticipated after the referendum”.

Government sources conceded, however, that this somewhat benign interpretation depended on Ms May actually wanting to soften the hard line taken in the early stages of the Brexit process. It also depends on the opening phases of the talks between the UK and the EU on Brexit progressing smoothly.

According to a British source, a “personal mandate and a big Commons majority” will mean that Ms May will be able to “boss the process” more than has previously been the case.

The Irish Government will now be closely watching the content of the Conservative manifesto on Brexit.

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