Ireland’s opposition will continue to support Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael minority government until 2020 in order to allow him to manage the political and social uncertainty as the official date for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union draws near.
Varadkar is fighting to defend the 1998 Good Friday Agreement peace deal that helped end four decades of bloody sectarian conflict on the island, which is now in doubt due to Brexit. Varadkar and EU-member Ireland want a so-called “backstop agreement” that will keep Northern Ireland, a constituent member of the UK, within the Single Market if negotiations with the United Kingdom do not result in a favourable outcome for both Dublin and Brussels.
Ireland and the European Union want guarantees that a hard border will never be established, thereby keeping the flow of commercial traffic and the freedom of movement between Ireland and Northern Ireland open for the residents of the island.
The UK is Ireland’s biggest trading partner. The economic and political disruption that Brexit will cause in Ireland will be second only to the effect that it will have in London.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney reiterated on December 13 that the existing agreement between the British government and the EU has been thoroughly reviewed and will continue to be the basis for any agreement between Brussels and the UK.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence shortly after Coveney’s comments. In order to secure her victory, May had to promise that she had no intention of leading her Conservative party into the next elections.
May hopes to have enough voted in the House of Commons for the Withdrawal Agreement by securing a legally binding reassurance that a backstop agreement will not become a permanent “trap” for the UK, one that locks the country into an open-ended membership in the EU’s Single Market and the Customs Union.
The EU-27 have made clear that no negotiations about the Withdrawal Agreement will take place.
“There is a recognition on both sides (the UK and EU) that the backstop is a concern,” the new Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said on December 12, making the case that Brussels must now budge to avoid a hard Brexit.
Dublin has, however, stood its ground and it is unlikely that the EU 27 would compromise Ireland to avert a hard Brexit.