Brexit: Ireland’s ability to influence EU deal highly limited

Best hope for Ireland is that UK avoids free trade deal ‘train crash Brexit’

Political Editor, Pat Leahy and Managing Editor, Cliff Taylor, discuss how currency fluctuations and new tariffs may impact Irish businesses in the near future.

Irish reaction to the formal triggering of the article 50 process was akin to a man receiving details of his forthcoming treatment for a serious illness.

He can hardly be expected to rejoice in the news but, all in all, things could be worse.

The generally positive and conciliatory nature of Theresa May’s letter and statement was welcome; crucially for Dublin, they contained explicit and significant references not just to the North but to the UK’s relationship with the Republic. It was as good as could have been expected in the circumstances.

Like politicians all over Europe, TDs and Ministers watched the events in Brussels and London ruefully – it’s happening, they’re leaving.


From disbelief and disarray in the wake of the referendum last summer, the mood among the other EU countries has evolved into something combining regret that the British are going and a desire to get on with it.

In Ireland, that desire to get on with the process is less evident than a deep sense of concern about the effects of Brexit, not just on Border communities and commerce but on the wider economy and on the fragile politics of Northern Ireland.

Recent months have seen an unprecedented diplomatic campaign by the Irish Government in European capitals as it seeks to convince EU countries and the European Commission that Ireland’s interests need special attention during the forthcoming negotiations.

Insofar as it’s possible to say at this stage, those efforts have been successful – certainly, the EU’s chief negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier, mentions the Northern Ireland peace process and the Border with reassuring regularity. And Ms May’s comments yesterday show that the British have been listening, too.

The Irish Government believes it has gained acceptance from the commission and from the remaining EU countries on the maintenance of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK. If that holds true throughout the negotiation process to come, it will be a significant achievement of one of Dublin’s core concerns.

Achieving the second priority – the maintenance of an invisible, open, “friction-free” (choose your own term) Border –will be a more complicated and fraught undertaking.

Both the British government and the EU have paid frequent lip service to keeping the Border arrangements as close to the present situation as possible.

But it’s that final qualification – “as possible” – that holds fears for Dublin and for the North. In large part, the future of the Border depends on what trade deal (if any) is agreed between the EU and the UK. That phase of the talks is well into the future, closer to the 2019 exit date than it is to today. A lot can go wrong in the meantime. And Ireland’s voice is only one of 27 on the EU side of the table.

But it’s clear even at this stage that the UK’s determination to leave the customs union means that some Border procedures will be necessary. Even a free-trade deal with zero tariffs – the best possible outcome for Ireland – would require some controls, officials say, as the UK would be a “third country”, and the EU would to ensure that other countries’ goods are not entering the union through Britain.

Yesterday the Taoiseach said that “the best minds in Ireland and Britain are going to have to deal with this”. Well, they have their work cut out.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was also asked – repeatedly – what assurances he can give that people will not be worse off after Brexit. Kenny waffled a bit. The truth is: he can give none.

The future for Ireland is deeply uncertain, and our ability to control future events that deeply affect us is highly limited.