FG leadership race ‘won’t impact’ Ireland’s Brexit negotiating position

Noonan insists Government has spent 12 months preparing for Brexit talks

 Minister for Finance Michael Noonan (left) and Estonian finance minister Sven Sester  take part in a euro zone finance ministers meeting in Brussels. Photograph:  Yves Herman/Reuters

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan (left) and Estonian finance minister Sven Sester take part in a euro zone finance ministers meeting in Brussels. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

 

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has rejected claims that a change of leadership within Fine Gael could undermine Ireland’s negotiating position in the upcoming Brexit talks.

Speaking on his way into a Euro group meeting in Brussels, Mr Noonan said the Irish Government had been preparing for 12 months for the talks, which will commence next month after the UK triggers article 50, the formal exit mechanism.

“We’re ready to go, and anxious to go,” he said, noting the Government had a number of issues to put on the table relating to the peace process, the Border and the Republic’s future trading relationship with the UK.

“It’s in our interest that we would come as close to the UK having a free trade agreement with the EU as possible,” Mr Noonan said.

On the prospect of a hardening of the Border in the wake of Britain’s exit, he said the introduction of an “invisible border” was an implicit aspiration of all parties in the negotiations.

“At a level of principle we haven’t so far envisaged a difficulty with either the UK or the Europeans in giving us the kind of all-island arrangement that we want,” Mr Noonan said.

On the likely sequence of the Brexit negotiations, he said the opening positions of both sides still differed in terms of process.

Britain insists a negotiation for leaving and its future trading relationship with the EU can take place in parallel whereas Europe negotiators believe they should be sequenced.

A second big difference, highlighted by Mr Noonan, centred on monies owed by the UK authorities to various EU funds and institutions and whether these payments should be settled upfront or after a deal is forged.

Mr Noonan said he believed the negotiations would take longer than the two years being touted by the British government and that this view was echoed by many involved in the negotiations.

“I would envisage a transitional period to get Europe and the UK across the line to a new relationship by treaty agreement,” he said.

On whether he would stay on as finance minister in the wake of Mr Kenny’s departure, he said that was a decision for the future taoiseach.

Mr Noonan said Mr Kenny’s “successful” visit to the US was a further illustration of the Taoiseach’s “competence in international affairs.”

“I think the Taoiseach will be around for a little while yet,” he said without elaborating.