Britain's tough immigration line means trade problems for Ireland
Ireland is braced for serious economic and political fallout from Britain leaving the European Union probably as early as spring 2019.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that the Article 50 EU exit process will be triggered in March 2017, starting two years of negotiations. Ms May signalled a clean break with the other 27 EU states – and she warned that her government will not make concessions on immigration in return for single market access.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan welcomed the announcement, saying Ireland had been preparing for this over the past year and now had a timetable to work with.
But privately, officials are bracing themselves for a very difficult set of negotiations involving the EU and British officials, with Ireland struggling to make its voice heard.
Mr Flanagan said trade access to Britain and a good settlement on the position of Northern Ireland remain his priorities.
Speaking in Dublin, former Scotland First Minister, Alex Salmond, said another Scottish independence referendum is two years off – and would probably succeed, leading to a “redefining of relationships with all the countries of these islands”.
Ms May’s announcement came at the opening of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, amid widespread frustration in other member states about delays.
The process means Europe’s second-largest economy faces two years of tough horse-trading with its EU partners.
The Prime Minister’s comments were her firmest commitment yet on a major break with the EU since she became party leader and Prime Minister in the upheaval which followed the June 23 shock referendum vote for Britain to leave the European Union.
“Britain is going to leave the European Union,” she told party delegates.
“There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article 50. We will invoke it when we are ready. And we will be ready soon,” she said.
Article 50 in the EU Lisbon treaty fixes a two-year negotiating process which can be extended only by unanimous agreement of the other member states.
“We will invoke Article 50 no later than the end of March next year,” Ms May added.
Ms May pledged to seek the best exit deal, but remained silent about her negotiating strategy, saying she feared it could weaken Britain’s negotiating hand.
The British Prime Minister’s announcement means that negotiations begin before federal parliament elections in Germany next September and presidential elections in France in May.
Theresa May’s government and party have been divided over whether to go for a so-called “hard” or “soft” withdrawal from the EU.
A “hard” Brexit would mean quickly severing all links with the EU and leaving the single market, relying instead on World Trade Organization rules to make a series of other trade deals overseas.
“Soft” Brexit would keep single market access in some form. But other EU government leaders insist this would require continued free movement for EU workers into Britain.
Immigration was a major issue in the British EU membership referendum. Ms May took a hard line in her speech, signalling that she wanted free trade in goods and services – but not in return for giving up immigration controls.
“We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again. We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration,” she said.
Ms May moved to reassure anti-EU figures in her party, with a ‘Great Repeal Bill’, which would scrap the supremacy of EU laws in Britain on the day of its exit.
The announcements by Ms May, who nominally campaigned for the Remain side, were welcomed by EU President Donald Tusk as bringing “welcome clarity.”