Brexit summit ‘to recognise Irish concerns’
References will be made to the Border, peace process and Belfast Agreement, says Paschal Donohoe
A delivery van passes a Brexit billboard in Jonesborough, Co Armagh, on the Northern side of the Border. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
European Union leaders meeting in Brussels will discuss the draft conclusions, although these have already been agreed in principle and, barring some last-minute hitch, will form the basis of the final EU position on Brexit ahead of the detailed talks.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe said he was confident measures to cushion Ireland from the most damaging effects of the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union will be agreed at this weekend’s Brussels summit.
Mr Donohoe said references will be made to the movement of people, the Border, the peace process and the Belfast Agreement.
The draft conclusions are still under discussion but the Government is negotiating hard to ensure the references are maintained and delivered, the Minister said.
The leaders of the 27 remaining EU states will meet to sign off on the negotiating mandate for the union going into talks with the British, which are expected to begin in the coming weeks.
It is understood the conclusions will reiterate the support of the EU for the Belfast Agreement and the continuation of the funding arrangements that underpin it.
He said: “We are particularly determined to make sure that these issues are dealt with in the first phase of negotiations. This has now been recognised by the (European) Commission, by the Council, and we believe this will be underscored this weekend.”
The EU’s 27 leaders are also expected to discuss allowing the North to automatically become part of the EU in the event of a united Ireland.
Mr Donohoe said he did not believe a Border poll was imminent.
The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has pushed for a “united Ireland” reference in the final Brexit treaty that will confirm the UK’s exit, but an EU statement at the outset of talks would be seen as a diplomatic coup as he prepares to step down as taoiseach after six years.
Advocates of the reference to Northern Ireland and reunification say the reference simply reflects the Belfast Agreement, signed long before Brexit was anticipated.
Ireland is the most exposed of the EU’s remaining member states to Brexit, and the Government is desperate to avoid a clean break between the United Kingdom and the EU, which could severely damage Irish-British trade that runs to €1.2 billion a week.
But it also wants to be seen to play a full part in the negotiations on the EU side. “We will not be a proxy for the British in the exit negotiations,” Minister for Foreign Charlie Flanagan told the Financial Times.
Britain and Ireland are committed to upholding the Belfast Agreement as co-guarantors, but the increased talk of Irish reunification will reinforce the fears of those in Britain who believe Brexit will bolster those championing a UK break-up.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has already called for a Scottish independence referendum within two years, as Britain’s departure from the union is finalised.
However, a UK government source said on Thursday evening: “Northern Ireland’s constitutional position as part of the UK is based firmly and clearly on the freely given consent of its people.
“The UK government has consistently upheld the principle of consent regarding Northern Ireland’s future. “It is clear that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland continue strongly to support the current political settlement, including Northern Ireland’s continuing position within the UK.”
Additional reporting: Financial Times