Bertie Ahern: Government must back May to ‘avoid chaos’

Varadkar and Irish negotiators doing well so far – but we must hold our line, says Ahern

Bertie Ahern said he would like to see another Brexit referendum but said it would be a “trapdoor situation” which he hoped would not be needed. File photograph: The Irish Times

Bertie Ahern said he would like to see another Brexit referendum but said it would be a “trapdoor situation” which he hoped would not be needed. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said it is in no one’s interest to see British prime minister Theresa May and her government destabilised.

Mr Ahern called on the Irish Government to support Mrs May as keeping her in office is key will ensure Brexit negotiations can continue.

The EU and UK have reached a draft deal on a Brexit withdrawal agreement, including a mechanism to guarantee that there will be no hard border in Ireland.

The Irish Times understands that the agreement, which runs to hundreds of pages, includes a UK-wide customs backstop with provisions for extra alignment with EU rules in Northern Ireland.

It is unclear whether Mrs May can get the deal approved by parliament, where hardline Brexit supporters accused her of surrendering to the EU. Her cabinet will meet on Wednesday on the Brexit draft proposal.

“Leo Varadkar and the Irish negotiators going over have done well so far and we have to stick very firmly to our line. My advice is let’s try keep Theresa May standing. It’s not in our interest to see her in chaos,” said Mr Ahern.

He said criticism of Mrs May and of an agreed text on a deal for the Border is unfair and that she has a difficult task ahead.

“There is enormous hostility against her proposals. It’s a bit daunting for all of us following Brexit closely that her proposals are not even finalised and she has members of the DUP and Brexiteers coming out against them,” said Mr Ahern.

“Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg and Sammy Wilson, all of them without seeing it have condemned it out of court. I heard Boris say with absolute indignation, saying this regulatory regime would be the worst thing ever. He hasn’t read the document, he hasn’t an idea and even if he had read it,he wouldn’t get it,” he added.

“The forces lined up against this plan are fairly horrendous. Jacob Rees Mogg, like him or not, has many supporters. The intellectual argument is carried by him. He is a formidable man and a good debater even though I don’t agree with him,” he said.

Mr Ahern said Brexit has introduced “great uncertainty” into Anglo-Irish relations.

“As we meet tonight we still don’t know how it will end . . . but the stakes and the risks are very high,” he added.

Mr Ahern said the current political turmoil is unprecedented and that he hopes the peace process is not endangered.

“I find it hard to fathom or conceptualise that Northern Ireland will not have any Members of the European Parliament in a few months time but I accept that we have to deal with the reality of the situation that we are facing,” he said.

Mr Ahern said he could see no reason why the European Union cannot continue to support the peace process in Ireland “within the changing new political architecture of the European Union”.

Mr Ahern said he would like to see another Brexit referendum but said it would be a “trapdoor situation” which he hoped would not be needed.

“There is talk tonight that this agreement is going to bring down the government. Jacob Rees Mogg wants to defeat the agreement but if it comes to a confidence vote, he will back Theresa May. He is blocking off any prospect of a second referendum,” he said.

Mr Ahern was speaking at the launch of From Partition to Brexit: The Irish Government and Northern Ireland by Donnacha O’Beacháin in Dublin on Tuesday night.

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