Irish politicians welcome British Labour Party favouring ‘soft Brexit’

Micheál Martin describes change in Brexit stance as a ‘positive development’

A number of Irish political parties have welcomed a change in stance by the British Labour Party in favour of a “soft Brexit”.

There was unanimous welcome for the commitment by the main British opposition party to retain membership of the EU Single Market and Customs Union for up to four years after it departs the union in 2019.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described it as a “positive development”.

"There is now an onus on all governments across Europe to prevent a hard Brexit from occurring, and to look at all options that would ensure Britain's continued membership of the Customs Union during an extended transitional period."


The policy announcement by Labour MP Sir Keir Starmer essentially commits the party to a soft Brexit stance, a significant departure from the position it adopted in the wake of this year’s general election.

Mr Martin said a hard Brexit – which would see Britain swiftly leave the Single Market and Customs Union – would be disastrous for Ireland, and would cause serious damage to our strong relationship with Britain.

“The decision taken by the Labour Party to shift its policy position shows us that a hard Brexit is far from inevitable. Now is the time for the Irish Government to step up its effort to convince the British government of the enormous benefits of continued membership of the Single Market and Customs Union.”

Minimise the damage

Fine Gael spokesman on EU affairs Senator Neale Richmond said the impact of the Labour move would be to lessen the impact of Brexit. He described it as an “imaginative approach”.

“Ultimately the ideal solution would be the UK abandoning Brexit and remaining in the EU, but in the absence of that we must take every opportunity to minimise the damage that Brexit will cause,” he said.

“If the UK where to remain in both the Single Market and Customs Union much of the problems highlighted relating to the return of a border in Ireland or impact on the export industry would be removed.”

Irish Labour leader Brendan Howlin welcomed the change, but said “even those softer arrangements would be disruptive to our island”.

He also pointed out that Britain’s Conservative government remained committed to a hard Brexit.

“The UK will need to go much further than this if we are to avoid a hard Border on our island, and huge disruption to trade and economic relationships between our islands.”

Separately, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he remains very confident there will be no need for passport controls on the Border.

Irish citizens

Mr Varadkar was responding to concerns raised by former president Mary McAleese, who questioned how the EU and UK could differentiate between Irish citizens who are set to be allowed to travel freely across the Border and other European nationals.

Mrs McAleese said she did not know how some form of ID checking could be avoided.

If the almost-century-old Common Travel Area (CTA) agreement remains in place post-Brexit, UK and Irish citizens will continue to be able to work and travel freely across the two jurisdictions.

The former Irish president queried how the UK authorities would be able to establish whether a person crossing the Border was a beneficiary of the CTA or not. “My view is that sooner or later pressure will come on to make it an ID card phenomenon.”

The Taoiseach told RTÉ he was sure passport controls would not be needed. He highlighted that the UK government would seek to control immigration not by physical checks on borders but by imposing limits on rights to work and claim benefits.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times