The Irish Times view on the Brexit talks: A lesson in solidarity

Jean-Claude Juncker’s emphatic support for the Irish position is reassuring

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings in Dublin on Thursday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings in Dublin on Thursday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker didn’t put a tooth in it when he addressed the joint Houses of the Oireachtas. As far as the Brexit negotiations are concerned Ireland comes first and British interests are a secondary consideration.

This unambiguous show of solidarity with the Irish position as the Brexit talks enter a crucial phase is reassuring for the people of this State and demonstrates what EU solidarity means in practice. It also puts the ongoing debate in the United Kingdom into context. Prime Minister Theresa May overcame a big domestic hurdle this week by persuading pro-European Conservative MPs not to vote against her but she faces a far bigger problem in trying to persuade the EU to give her an acceptable deal.

The failure of the British to come up with a coherent approach to the commitment on the Irish backstop given last December has caused deep frustration in Brussels and Dublin. It means there is a real possibility that the talks could end with no deal. The dire consequences of this for the UK do not seem to have impinged on the country’s political leaders but it will become an inescapable outcome unless the Irish backstop issue is sorted to the satisfaction of the EU negotiators.

Juncker had a clear message for Ireland and Britain yesterday. Saying he respected the British decision to leave, he added that Ireland should not have to pay the price for that choice. “This is why when it comes to Brexit, I have always said that it is a case of ‘Ireland first’.” He went on to say that the 26 other member states and the commission will continue to back Ireland and strongly resist any temptation to isolate this State. “Ireland has to be part of the deal,” he said.

Juncker was emphatic that the tailored solution for Northern Ireland designed to avoid a hard border would not be available for the whole UK.

This emphatic support for the Irish position and the determination to resist the return of a hard border was reassuring. There was also a clear message for Theresa May and her government. It is time for them to get real.

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