Talk of a Brexit “along the Irish Sea has gone horribly wrong with trade unionists” and has fueled problems with Northern Ireland’s special trade status, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has warned.
In a lengthy assessment of Brexit, six years after the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, Mr Ahern said EU-UK and Ireland-UK relations are now “poor” and of ” a toxic atmosphere”.
The man, who was Taoiseach for 11 years and attended EU meetings for over 20 years, also said that the UK striking a deal with the European Union “at 5.30pm on Christmas Eve” in 2020 was already a bad omen .
“In 40 years of negotiations I’ve never tried that,” he told an online audience attending a seminar hosted by the Institute of International European Affairs.
Mr Ahern said Boris Johnson was “smart and smart” and had demonstrated the ability to succeed in his career. “But as a negotiator, I don’t think he has any interest in negotiations,” the former Taoiseach told seminar leader and former EU Commission Secretary-General David O’Sullivan.
He said that if the will to talk is really there, the gaps can be bridged. But efforts to dismantle most of the clauses in the Northern Ireland Protocol governing the North’s special trading status made this very difficult.
Mr Ahern said if Britain sticks with the plans, a move towards an EU-UK trade war is inevitable. This would also pose a serious problem for the Republic of Ireland as it would raise the real prospect of controls on exports to the EU internal market.
“But I’m an optimist by nature and a negotiator by trade. And I don’t think we need to see that doomsday situation,” the former Taoiseach added.
Mr Ahern said that if a way could be found to deal with the concerns of northern unionists about ending controls on goods coming in from the UK – and definitely not being transported beyond the north – then a total solution would be possible. “Your concerns are not insurmountable and in some cases not unreasonable,” he commented. However, he added that “as long as Boris Johnson remained in political trouble” it was unclear whether this would be enough.
The former Taoiseach said the talk of an “Irish Sea frontier” tumbled into talk of a change in the North’s constitutional position and what should be separate talk of a frontier survey.
https://www.independent.ie/business/brexit/talk-of-brexit-border-down-irish-sea-played-all-wrong-with-unionists-ahern-41774974.html Brexit talk ‘Down the Irish Sea border played dead wrong with unionists’ – Bertie Ahern