Cameron, Merkel sounded out Kenny for European Commission president

Former British PM does not reveal how former taoiseach responded to overtures

Former  British PM David Cameron (left) and German chancellor Angela Merkel (right)  were working together to block Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz by approaching Enda Kenny (centre). Photographs: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty,  Eric Luke/The Irish Times, Hayoung Jeon/EPA

Former British PM David Cameron (left) and German chancellor Angela Merkel (right) were working together to block Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz by approaching Enda Kenny (centre). Photographs: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty, Eric Luke/The Irish Times, Hayoung Jeon/EPA

 

David Cameron and Angela Merkel sounded out Enda Kenny for the European Commission president in 2014, the former prime minister says in a memoir to be published on Thursday.

The British and German leaders were working together to block Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, the Spitzenkandidaten selected by the two biggest groups in the European Parliament.

“I needed Merkel to stop Juncker, and she needed me to stop Schulz,” Mr Cameron writes in For the Record.

“We sounded out non-Spitzenkandidaten like Ireland’s Enda Kenny, the Italian prime minister Enrico Letta, and Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt.”

Mr Cameron does not reveal how the former taoiseach responded to the overtures and Dr Merkel later dropped her opposition to Mr Juncker. But he praises Mr Kenny’s handling of the 2008 banking crisis and his approach to British-Irish relations.

“Enda Kenny acted fast to cut spending, raise taxes and address the banking problems. It was brave, it averted any Greek-style collapse, and it showed that if you take tough decisions your economy can recover quickly,” he writes.

‘New narrative’

Mr Cameron recalls their joint visit in 2010 to the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines in Belgium, where they commemorated the Irishmen who died wearing a British uniform in the first World War.

“For decades, there had been shamefully little recognition of the contribution of 200,000 Irish men in that bloody conflict. It didn’t fit the Republican narrative to talk about us fighting side by side for the British crown. But here was an Irish PM, side by side with a British PM, forging a new narrative,” he writes.

“Enda and I got on well, and our relationship would culminate when he became my staunchest supporter during the European negotiations five years later.”

Mr Cameron writes that the goodwill created by his apology for Bloody Sunday after the publication of the Saville report in 2010 allowed him to push forward the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland. But he claims that former Brexit secretary David Davis, whom he had defeated for the Conservative leadership, sought to foment opposition to his apology.

“I heard later that David Davis had tried to whip up the ex-soldiers on our benches to complain about my statement, but he had failed because everyone realised it was not a reflection on the brave people who served in Northern Ireland,” he writes.

Advice

“Indeed, Bob Stewart, the MP for Beckenham, who had led UK troops in Bosnia having previously served in Northern Ireland, was particularly blunt about it when I bumped into him in the tea room afterwards: ‘I told Davis to f*ck off’.”

Asked by The Irish Times to confirm Mr Cameron’s account of the events, he said it was not true.

Mr Cameron says he shut down Sinn Féin’s direct channel to Downing Street in 2010 “requiring the party to work as an equal in the devolved administration”. But he recalls a late-night delegation from the IRA arriving at a meeting in Stormont in December 2011 during negotiations leading up to the Stormont House agreement.

“Enda’s chief of staff gave me frank advice on how to handle the next phase of the talks: ‘Prime minister, just tell them they’re not getting any more fecking money’,” he writes.

“Talks went on until 3am and resumed at 8am. At one point a group of men turned up in the middle of the night, and when I asked who they were I was told, ‘Ah, that’ll be the IRA to give their view on the deal’. They blew in talking loudly, wearing football scarves and leather jackets, and disappeared upstairs. Everyone else seemed to be prepared to accept this, and so was I if it meant peace and progress.”