Kenny goes off script to say UK Brexit plan will be ‘British solution’

UK and Ireland agreed on no return to hard Border, Taoiseach tells Brexit conference

 

It is often when Taoiseach Enda Kenny departs from his prepared scripts that he is , deliberately and otherwise, most revealing of his inner thoughts.

At yesterday’s Irish Times Brexit conference in Dublin, Mr Kenny added a few extempore points as he concluded the script prepared by him for his officials.

He mentioned the Economic and Social Research Institute study published yesterday which sought to assess the economic impact on Ireland of the various types of Brexit that Britain may pursue. The Taoiseach pointed out that the British may not seek to emulate the Norwegian model, or the Swiss model. “Britain will want a British solution,” he said.

But what will that be? What choices will the British government make? the Taoiseach wondered. Then he answered his own question: “I don’t know. You don’t know,” he said.

Judging by the comments of Northern secretary James Brokenshire, who also spoke at the Irish Times event yesterday before going on to meet Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, the British government may not know either.

‘Measured plan’

Mr Brokenshire said the British government had “a clear, measured plan for exiting the European Union”. However, like his fellow cabinet members up to and including prime minister Theresa May, he declined to give any indication what it is.

The British government’s position has been interrogated, criticised and parodied to death at this stage. But we are still no closer to knowing what exactly the British want: how much trade access, how much immigration control, how much of a separation from EU.

To say impatience with the British is growing in the EU would be an understatement. The Taoiseach is hardly immune to it, notwithstanding the clear Irish interest in maintaining the maximum possible closeness between the EU and the UK in the post-Brexit world. Yesterday he reminded the audience that access to the single market depended on the free movement of people, very much an EU message to the British.

Mr Brokenshire avoided such contentious terrain. Instead he described the principles he said would underpin the British government’s approach to its future relations with Ireland and the position of Northern Ireland.

And high on his list of priorities was the maintenance of the open Border and the common travel area between the two countries. He described this as a “shared objective . . . a shared endeavour . . . a shared vision.”

The Taoiseach (again off script) was clearer and blunter. “We have agreed at both government levels that there will be no return to a hard Border. We have agreed at both government levels that the benefits of the common travel area should be preserved,” he said.

No matter what the British and Irish governments agree, or whatever objectives they share, the Brexit agreement , which will define the hardness or otherwise of the Border, will not be made between the British and Irish governments, but between the British and the EU.

Ireland will be part of the EU’s negotiating stance, but only one part out of 27; just as Britain will be negotiating with many objectives in mind, not just Northern Ireland and its Border arrangements.

The Government will ultimately seek some sort of special recognition for the North and the Border. Yesterday in an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Brokenshire was asked if the British government supported such an outcome. He stressed the special circumstances of the North and the need to maintain the existing arrangements. But his government won’t put any cards on the table yet. Meanwhile Europe awaits, and Ireland, north and south, worries.

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