Bertie Ahern has warned that there will be "huge risks" if no agreement is reached on the future of the Border to allow Brexit negotiations to proceed to the UK's future relations with the EU.
The absence of a deal would create "currency turbulence", delay investment and destabilise business heading into the final year of negotiations before the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, in March 2019, the former taoiseach said. "The no-deal scenario, or a totally fudged deal that isn't clear, is to the detriment of everybody," he told The Irish Times.
A potential breakthrough in negotiations between the UK and EU collapsed on Monday when the Democratic Unionist Party, which Theresa May's Conservative Party relies on to stay in power at Westminster, objected to the wording of a proposed agreement about the Border after Brexit.
“Leo has held out that hand”
Mr Ahern acknowledged that “Monday wasn’t the greatest day in the world” and said relations between Dublin and London had become frostier in recent weeks. He called for greater compromise among all the parties in an effort to reach an agreement.
"It is in nobody's interest to say that it is your problem," said Mr Ahern, noting the political forces that the British prime minister is trying to corral with the DUP and within her own party. "Theresa May has difficulties. In fairness to the woman, she has problems within and she has problems without. Everyone needs to stretch a little bit . . .
"Leo did that last night," said the former Fianna Fáil leader, pointing to the Taoiseach's remarks that he would consider new proposals from Ms May if the meaning of the original deal did not change. "He has held out that hand."
Talks failed on Monday when the DUP refused to accept “regulatory alignment” on both sides of the Border as a way to avoid customs posts and checks that all parties want to avoid.
EU politics “about compromise”
Mr Ahern, who was involved in brokering the 1998 Belfast Agreement, said European politics was “about compromise, and people mightn’t like it . . . It is nuancing. It is trying to use good wordsmiths to get solutions.”
The best solution for Ms May, he said, would involve the UK staying close to EU rules on trade but redrafting them as its own regulations. He said the London government seemed to be moving towards this position.
Mr Ahern described it as like allowing several boxing organisations, each with its own rules, “into the same ring, and they all box 15 rounds of three minutes . . . She can say that we are going to have similar customs arrangements for the whole of the United Kingdom with particular emphasis on Border trade,” he said. The other option was for Ms May to stick to “the regulatory alignment, which will be harder for her to sell, which is a customs agreement on the Irish Border.”