In this episode of the Global Conversation, I speak with Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin.
For four years, Brexit has dominated Europe, but in the next few weeks, it is hoped that a deal on future EU-UK relations can finally be negotiated.
Talks have entered additional time but how long will it take for the EU to be ready to negotiate? I asked that question to Taoiseach.
POST BREXIT AGREEMENT
“Well, sometimes you can get good results in extra time,” said Micheál Martin.
“And I think this is important, given the size of the problem here, the big implications.
“May I say, in the context of the UK, Ireland and European economies, we have to use all available time to reach an agreement.
“Because – and I say straight away – I believe that not having a deal will seriously damage our economy, the British economy, and also Europe.
“So politicians have an obligation to the people they represent,” he added.
RATIFYING A DEAL
We are almost at the point where it is impossible for every member state to ratify an agreement, for parliament to have a say in it. So what would happen if it took another week or so? Will there be a bridging situation? Can the agreement that was agreed upon before ratification in January be implemented? The Prime Minister explained what could happen.
“Well, our immediate focus, obviously, is to try to ensure that the EU and UK can reach an agreement, which will be satisfactory in terms of future relations.
“Europe has the capacity to develop appropriate ratification procedures.
“It’s tight, I admit it – and time is running out.
“But I believe that with a certain level of creativity, we can facilitate the ratification of the agreement, maybe in stages.
“But I think that’s one of the things we can work on satisfactorily once we actually get a deal,” he said.
The remaining problems – fisheries, where there has been little progress since March, state subsidies and governance.
Micheál Martin told us about what stage they were with them.
“At the level of the playing field, I think we are all aware of the fear on both sides, in terms of benefiting from the other in terms of implementing state aid and so on.
“But I believe there is a landing zone on the level playing field, which then leads to a dispute resolution mechanism that will allow both parties to react if anything breaks the deal, and breaks the deal.
“I think underlying all of this is the need for trust and to rebuild trust between the EU and the UK.
“It is on the basis of a strong belief that future relations between Britain and Europe can work out well,” he said.
INTERNAL MARKET BILLS
The UK Internal Market Bill is disputed because it proposes to waive part of the official EU divorce agreement, known as the Withdrawal Agreement, which comes into effect on 31 January 2020.
The bill was drafted to ensure trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remains barrier-free after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020.
One of the main issues is how it applies to Northern Ireland when it borders the Republic of Ireland, which will remain in the EU.
I asked Prime Minister Micheál Martin what he thought of the bill and whether it had damaged relations with Ireland.
“Well, I believe the UK internal market bill really erodes confidence.
“Even so, I think a measured response from the EU has been important here in terms of settlement, and to keep the focus on the actual substance of the negotiations themselves – around future trade relations.
“Because if future trade relations can be arranged it will neutralize the offending clause in the UK’s internal market bill and will not require reintroduction.
So I believe this has been handled in a measured and appropriate way, given the magnitude of what is at stake in Brexit terms for many people, “he said.
The Irish Prime Minister also expressed the need to take things “step by step”.
“I think the House of Lords has given a very strong ruling on the violating clauses and the Internal Market Bill.
“And the bill itself has had a very choppy journey so far, in the context of Scotland, for example, and Wales – and at a recent British Irish Council meeting it became very clear.
“But putting that aside, I think if the substance of the agreement is such that we have a very viable future trade relationship with Britain, then I think a lot can follow from that, and a lot can flow from that.
“And the fears and statements made by the British side will obviously not materialize if they have a trade deal with Europe,” he added.
EU SAVING FUND
Moving on to other issues in Europe, and the subject of a European Union rescue fund – which will provide money to member states that need financial support as a result of the health pandemic.
Hungary and Poland strongly reject the idea and are currently halting its progress.
Mr Martin said he was “deeply disappointed by the move,” calling it “unwarranted”.
“This is a very significant financial package.
“It is a historic breakthrough in terms of debt collectivization and all EU countries are working together to raise money on the market.
“And to slow it down or hold it back because the two member countries are having difficulties with the agreement made between the parliament and the council (on rule of law) is very regrettable.
“My position is that they should withdraw their objections to this package and facilitate the transfer of money to member countries,” he said.
“I believe the agreement exists to deal with the destruction of the core values of the EU.
“I have a great deal of concern with the attitude of member countries, especially in Poland, for example, recently regarding the issue of LGBT plus.
“And that’s unacceptable to a lot of people in Ireland, for example, on that issue.
“And more broadly, I would say, however, that there are mechanisms in the agreement where any weakening of EU values must be addressed.
“And in my opinion, given the severity of the crisis caused by Covid-19, it is very, very important that these remaining obstacles are removed.
“And I think also the member states (Hungary and Poland) should be aware of the genuine views held by other member states on this issue,” Taoiseach concluded.