Trump tears into Theresa May and Brexit plan during UK visit

Business Week: also in the news was the economy, the budget, Ryanair, and tourism

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May  with US president Donald Trump at Chequers. Trump said May’s plans for a soft Brexit would “kill” any hopes of a trade deal with the US. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters.

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May with US president Donald Trump at Chequers. Trump said May’s plans for a soft Brexit would “kill” any hopes of a trade deal with the US. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters.

 

He’s not exactly known as a master of diplomacy but, even by his own very low standards, US president Donald Trump’s blistering attack this week on UK premier Theresa May and her plan to steer Britain out of the EU was extraordinary.

Trump was hosted by May at a black-tie dinner on Thursday night at Blenheim Palace where she welcomed him and suggested that Brexit offered an opportunity to deepen links between Britain and the US.

Within hours, an interview Trump had given to Rupert Murdoch’s eurosceptic Sun newspaper appeared on its website. In it, Trump eviscerated May’s plans for a soft Brexit by saying it would “kill” any hopes of a trade deal with the US.

Then, he got personal, suggesting Boris Johnson, who quit May’s cabinet earlier in the week, would be a better leader than her. Trump said Johnson had “what it takes” including “the right attitude to be a great prime minister”. Who needs enemies when you’ve got friends like that?

It had all started out so promisingly for May too. This time last week she was basking in the glory of securing collective cabinet approval for a soft Brexit at Chequers. But then, having apparently mulled things over for a day, her Brexit secretary David Davis jumped ship and walked.

His resignation was swiftly followed by that of fellow ministers Steve Baker and Suella Braverman. Never one to be upstaged, Boris Johnson quickly followed suit. May later chose housing secretary Dominic Raab to replace Davis, but she was now in crisis.

There were words of encouragement from Dublin as both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Government would reward May’s compromises with “flexibility” on some of the British thinking.

Later in the week, May published the 98-page white paper outlining the proposal agreed at Chequers. It called for an association agreement between Britain and the EU, with full regulatory alignment of goods and agri-food, and a tariff-free customs arrangement.

The Government welcomed the publication, expressing the hope that it would inject momentum into the negotiations, while the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc would assess the “workability” of the document.

Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe warned that a hard Brexit would push unemployment up by 2 per cent with an estimated 40,000 jobs lost. What’s more, GDP would be almost 4 per cent lower over 10 years.

Donohoe resists pre-election budget giveaway

There has been talk in political circles recently of tension between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe over the size of promised tax cuts in October’s budget.

Varadkar knows this is likely to be the Government’s last chance to shower the electorate with goodies before they go the polls again, and, traditionally, pre-election budgets have been shown to be more lavish.

But, for now at least, it seems Donohoe is resisting that temptation. He has promised some cuts but said they will not be significant and must be affordable as well as gradual. He is expected to have just €266 million for tax cuts after public spending.

Those clamouring for a more open-handed approach to the budget might point to this week’s European Commission forecast that the Irish economy is expected to continue to record strong growth this year and into 2019.

It predicted GDP growth of 5.6 per cent this year, as against 2.1 per cent for both the euro zone and the EU as a whole. It also expects GDP growth of 4 per cent next year, double the rate predicted for the EU28.

It wasn’t all positive though, as National Treasury Management Agency chief executive Conor O’Kelly gave his clearest warning yet for the Government to get on with the sale of bank stakes or risk a “material fall” as dark clouds appear on the horizon.

Separately, research by the ESRI showed household incomes in the Republic have grown rapidly by international standards over the past 30 years, more than doubling since 1987, bucking the international trend.

That being said, a report this week from Irish Life said 90 per cent of people in the Republic are not on track with their pensions savings due to a mixture of inertia and concern about affordability and control of their savings.

There are concerns also for firms as the Cost of Doing Business report, compiled by the Oireachtas Business Committee, pointed to spiralling insurance costs, burdensome commercial rates, and difficulty accessing finance as key problems facing businesses.

Disruption in travel sector but tourism booms

Representatives of trade union Fórsa and officials from Ryanair sat down together for more than seven hours on Wednesday in a bid to avert last Thursday’s strike action, but in truth, as both sides acknowledged later, it was always going to be in vain.

The strike went ahead with a group of the pilots in full uniform gathered near the entrance to Dublin Airport from 1am. They stood behind a large banner erected on the roadside and were met with a steady stream of beeping horns from passers-by.

Ryanair though had cleverly organised its roster to minimise and localise the disruption, focusing also on business routes rather than sun destinations so as to limit the effect on holidaying families.

Then, as if to bait the union, the airline said the strike was “pointless” and “achieved nothing”. The union in turn announced two more strike days to take place on July 20th and 24th. The row is over seniority and length of service with the company.

All of this when Dublin Airport enjoyed the busiest June in its 78-year history as figures from the airport’s operator, the DAA, showed passenger numbers reached a record high of more than 3.1 million.

It’s not just Ryanair having problems either. Irish Ferries-owner ICG warned of passenger disruption as its Ulysses craft, which operates on the Dublin to Holyhead route, remains out of action for up to two more weeks on the back of technical difficulties. The issue is likely to hit revenue at the company by about €2 million a week.

Nonetheless, tourism is booming at the moment, with an increasing number of visitors from North America and continental Europe boosting business in the hotel sector, the Irish Hotels Federation said.

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