Brexit: Irish minister says UK trying to “divorce and keep all the assets”

Posted By: November 15, 2016

Leaked memo also reveals view that Liam Fox is trying to threaten other EU states over Britain’s access to single market

Patrick Wintour.The Guardian.Monday 14 November 2016 13.35 EST Last modified on Monday 14 November 2016 

One of Britain’s closest EU allies has likened the UK’s Brexit stance to someone causing a divorce and then seeking to keep the marital home and all the assets. The unflattering comparison was drawn by Ireland’s jobs minister, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, at a cabinet subcommittee meeting last week.

The meeting also heard that the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, had told Irish ministers that if the UK was debarred from access to the EU single market, countries with free trade agreements with the bloc such as South Korea could sue Brussels for depriving them of full access to the European market. It is likely to be seen as significant that Fox is making what appears to be a threat to other EU states over the UK’s access to the single market.

Legal experts said they doubted South Korea would be in a position to sue the EU in reality, because unfettered access to the EU is only an option for full members of the union, and the UK is choosing to leave rather than being forced out.

Steve Peers, a law professor at Essex University, tweeted:

 Since it’s UK’s choice to leave EU, Britain would more logically be liable for any compensation

Daft for Fox to raise the point

— Steve Peers (@StevePeers) November 14, 2016

He suggested damage could be limited by the UK signing free trade agreement with non-EU states.

The Irish government’s thoughts on the UK’s Brexit stance and some of its leading proponents were contained in a memo leaked to the Irish Times. The memo, containing some fragmentary clues about the UK’s still undisclosed negotiating position, also highlights the Irish government’s concern about the wider course of the Brexit talks, including the possibility that countries such as France will force through a hard Brexit.

Given its shared border with the UK, Ireland is anxious to ensure minimal changes to the trading relationship between the UK and the EU, partly to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border controlling trade and population flows.

The memo then goes into wider aspects of the negotiations, and assumes the UK will want a future economic relationship with the EU similar to its present one. It says: “It will be important to identify those member states that, like Ireland, are likely to favour a future status for the UK as close as possible to the current arrangements, and those member states which might not be unduly concerned if a hard Brexit were to happen.

“In the former camp are probably the Nordic and Baltic countries, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Malta, Cyprus and probably Germany. In the latter camp are France, most of the remaining Mediterranean countries, Austria and probably Slovakia.

The memo also says that, in the short term, Ireland is “very much in the mainstream in arguing that the crisis of faith in the union needs to be addressed through pragmatic and concrete responses to practical problems, instead of great treaty-based leaps forward”. It adds that, even if Britain stayed in the EU, Dublin would have to assess its position in the union.

“Optimizing Ireland’s overall positioning is a major and continuing challenge for us, as the EU centre of gravity has shifted eastwards following the 2004 and 2007 enlargements and as the outward-looking, competitive trade and investment-friendly policies which we have espoused have become more contentious within the EU, not least because of a global backlash in some member states about globalization.

“In the medium to longer term, especially if the union overcomes its present crises, it is likely that further integration – in some cases maybe among smaller groups – will be on the agenda, including in the areas of migration, counter-terrorism, security and defence and EMU [European monetary union].

“It will be necessary for us to reflect not just on our approaches on individual policy areas but on how to address the totality of issues in a way acceptable to the Irish public and credible to partners.”