Irish Government plays down UK reports of Brexit deal

‘Too early to speculate’ on idea of allowing UK access to single market, says Flanagan

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said it was “too early to speculate on what may take years to iron out”. Photograph:  Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said it was “too early to speculate on what may take years to iron out”. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Senior Irish policymakers have played down reports in Britain that EU members were considering a Brexit deal that would allow full access to the single market for the UK with a seven-year exemption from the free movement of workers.

The Observer newspaper reported yesterday that there was support for the idea in European capitals, while British officials believe the “emergency brake” on the free movement of workers for seven years would calm British concerns about immigration, while retaining access to the single market.

Such an arrangement would almost certainly be welcomed in Dublin, as continued membership of the single market for the UK would mean there would be no need for a customs border in Ireland, although some tighter control of immigration could be needed.

However, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan told The Irish Times it was “too early to speculate on what may take years to iron out”.

‘Everything is possible’

Fine GaelBrian Hayes

“The official view is that access to the single market must be based on observing the four freedoms,” Mr Hayes said. “But Brussels is a very malleable place.”

“Everything is possible,” he said.

“But a seven-year exemption – that’s about right in terms of how long this thing is going to go on. It’s an interesting idea.”

However, senior Irish officials were sceptical of the idea, and stressed that the process was at the beginning of what was likely to be a long and drawn-out negotiation.

“It’s much too early to say,” said one senior official. “There would be huge opposition among eastern member states.”

Much of the EU immigration into Britain has been from Poland and other central and eastern European states. There could also be opposition from those who argued for Brexit because the suggested deal does not guarantee Britain permanent control over its borders, the official suggested.

Border control

Another senior official who spoke to The Irish Times said the process was “very much at the speculation/ideas phase now”.

The political and diplomatic team to manage Britain’s exit from the EU is only being brought together now, he added.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is to travel to London to meet the new British prime minister Theresa May tomorrow for discussions on a range of matters, including the future of the Border in the post-Brexit landscape.

Mrs May had said during the referendum campaign that it would be “inconceivable” that there would be no change in border arrangements in the event of a vote to leave.

However, the new northern secretary James Brokenshire has stressed the British government’s determination not to return to the Border of the past.

Speaking in Cardiff on Friday after an emergency meeting of the British-Irish Council to discuss Brexit, Mr Kenny repeated that a return to Border checkpoints would be unacceptable.