The EU summit’s declaration on a united Ireland exposes British isolation

EU prepares for post-Brexit united Ireland membership

Summit endorsement would raise fears over fragmentation of UK

The Financial Times  is getting  excited about today’s  EU summit endorsing special treatment for Ireland  in the Brexit negotiations and raises “ fears for the fragmentation of the UK “

The Irish Times political editor Stephen Collins is equally excited that a declaration on Ireland gives Enda Kenny the dignified farewell he’s been seeking.

What does it amount to? The Irish Times gives a wordy explanation of the position  that if Northern Ireland  were to vote for  Irish unification, a united Ireland would inherit the present Republic’s membership. No doubt harmonisation of the tax base and membership of the euro would be  required.

The position will not form part of the guidelines for the exit negotiations between the EU and UK but would be outlined in a separate declaration. However, it will also reiterate the EU support for the Belfast Agreement (already outlined in the draft guidelines).

The Irish Times report is careful to add:

The reference in support for Irish unity by the EU-27 leaders based around the terms of the 1998 peace accord in Northern Ireland is not guaranteed given the potential for it to encourage talk of independence in Scotland from the UK and Catalonia from Spain.

British officials are said to be relaxed about a declaration given that it would be a factual statement involving EU leaders supporting the 1998 Northern Irish peace accord post-Brexit and would be based on the German precedent and international law.

The EU declaration makes unity a little more attractive by eliminating the possibility of a renegotiation of EU membership. In the Brexit negotiations it isn’t  relevant to refer to  an independent Scotland . The SNP position is not represented at the Brexit negotiations whereas the interests of all Ireland most certainly are. And presumably the EU does not want actively to antagonise the British by going out on a limb for the SNP. Nevertheless that won‘t stop  the SNP and their supporters regarding the Irish declaration as some sort of precedent.

It’s no more than a statement of the obvious that the British government is on its own when it comes to defending Theresa May’s “ precious, precious Union. “  Under different circumstances the EU would have been more circumspect about the prospect of Irish unity due to the EU principle of actively defending the territorial integrity of member states. But now that the UK is leaving the EU that principle no longer applies with the same force, provided consent for Irish unity is given.

While the EU is not saying they actively support Irish unity post Brexit, their declaration leaves the UK more isolated and it could make unionists more reluctant to cooperate with the south on a practical basis.

The EU’s Irish declaration for today’s summit figured prominently in other paper’s coverage after the FT broke the story last night. The Times (£) stayed with concentrating on Angela Merkel’s warning to the British not to have any illusions and Theresa May’s response. If this marks out their territories throughout , it is hard to see how a Tory landslide in the election would make any impression on the Germans .

In unusually blunt language, Angela Merkel said that British politicians were living under the “illusion” that the UK would retain most of its rights and privileges after leaving the EU.

She added that trying to even negotiate from such a position was a “waste of time” and that there was a limit to how much energy the bloc was prepared to expend on Brexit negotiations.

“Countries with a third-country status — and that’s what Great Britain will be — cannot and will not have the same or even more rights as a member of the European Union,” she said in a speech to German MPs. “This is self-evident. But I have to put this so clearly because I get the impression that some in Great Britain still have illusions about this, and that is a waste of time.” She added that “all 27 member states and the European institutions agree on this”.






Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London