Ireland’s government could fall by the end of Tuesday amid an acrimonious row over a former justice minister that threatens to destabilize crunch EU Brexit talks scheduled for next month.
In a national dispute that has reached the ears of the EU’s top leaders, lawmakers from Ireland’s biggest opposition party, Fianna Fail, are set to table a no-confidence motion in parliament over Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Frances Fitzgerald at 8 p.m. Dublin time (2000GMT).
Fitzgerald has been accused of knowing about plans by lawyers for the police, known as the Gardai, to discredit a Garda whistleblower who exposed wrongdoing in the force.
Revelations about her handling of the affair have undermined Fianna Fail support for the minority government of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar.
Ministers from Varadkar’s Fine Gael party are meeting this morning in Dublin. Local media has reported that Fitzgerald has faced calls from a number of senior Fine Gael figures to step down so as to avoid a pre-Christmas general election.
Despite a series of one-on-one meetings between Varadkar and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin in recent days, if Fitzgerald does not go, Varadkar will have to meet Ireland’s president to ask that the current parliament be wound up.
UK's May remains hopeful for next Brexit phase
Prime Minister Theresa May said her talks in Brussels with EU leaders on Friday took place in a “very positive atmosphere”.Speaking to SkyNews after her meetings, May reiterated that the U.K. would honour its financial commitments to the EU and there is a common desire with Ireland to keep the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as it is.However, EU Council President Donald Tusk said there is still a “huge challenge” to move the Brexit talks to the second phase, where the future trade relations between the U.K. and the bloc will be discussed.“Sufficient progress in Brexit talks at December [European council meeting] is possible,” Tusk tweeted.“But still a huge challenge. We need to see progress from UK within 10 days on all issues, including on Ireland”.Earlier this week, British premier said: “We are ready to move on to phase two to see those talks about a deep and special partnership with the EU for the future,”Theresa May said she had set out the U.K. government’s position in her Florence speech in September, a day after she reportedly agreed with her Cabinet ministers to make a higher offer to the EU for the so-called divorce bill.Local reports suggest the British government’s new offer will be around £40 billion ($53 billion) as the EU gave the U.K. a deadline to put on the table some concrete progress in three key issues: the financial settlement, the Irish border and citizens’ post-Brexit rights.The EU will decide whether sufficient progress has been reached to move on to phase two in Brexit talks after debating the latest steps by the U.K. government at a December summit.May also met German Chancellor Angela Merkel over a lunch in Brussels.
Irish foreign minister says opposition vote would bring down government
Ireland's government will collapse if the opposition Fianna Fail party proceeds with its plan to vote for the resignation of the Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said."If they move ahead with the motion of no confidence, then the confidence and supply (agreement) is over," Coveney, a member of the ruling Fine Gael party, told state broadcaster RTE on Friday, referring to a three-year agreement Fianna Fail signed to support the government."If there is no confidence and supply agreement in place ... then I don't see how we can have a government that can function," he said.
An election campaign and possible change of government could seriously complicate preparations for a major EU Brexit summit scheduled for Dec. 14-15.
The meeting is to decide if talks with the U.K. can proceed to substantive issues such as trade. The remaining EU states must unanimously agree that sufficient progress has already been made on preliminary issues -- including arrangements at the Irish-U.K. border.
However, London and Dublin have moved apart on the issue of what will happen to the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Dublin is adamantly opposed to a ‘hard’ border such as the one seen during decades of violence known as the Troubles, in which around 3,600 people died, when the Irish landscape was marked by troops, police and extensive military installations.
The Irish government says it remains unconvinced by British promises to maintain an open border after Brexit and fear it could leader to political and economic instability on the island again.
These fears mean it is possible Dublin could use its power of veto in December’s EU summit to bring Brexit talks to a halt.
Waiting for May, Brussels eyes December Brexit deal
When Theresa May visits Brussels on Friday, EU negotiators will be listening intently for signs the British prime minister is preparing to risk a domestic backlash and raise her offer to secure a Brexit deal in December.European Union officials and diplomats from the other 27 member states involved in the process hope that within a week to 10 days of meeting European Council President Donald Tusk, during a summit with ex-Soviet neighbours, May will deliver movement on three key conditions so that her EU peers can launch a new phase of Brexit negotiations when they meet on Dec. 14-15."I don't know what room for manoeuvre May has, but what we can see is a willingness to act," one senior EU official told Reuters. Another spoke of efforts to arrange the "choreography" of a deal over the next three weeks, including an EU-UK "joint report" pinning down interim accords to unlock talks on trade."I feel the tectonic plates moving now," a diplomat handling Brexit for an EU government said. "Time is running out and a failure in the December Council would serve nobody's purpose."There has been only a day of top-level talks between the two lead negotiators since a mid-October summit that dismissed May's call for immediate talks on a future trade agreement.But talks are continuing apace behind the scenes, ahead of a deadline of early December to strike a deal which can then be formalised by the 27 government leaders at the summit."Everyone is talking to everyone already, at all levels," the European Commission's chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Thursday when he confirmed that May would meet Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Monday, Dec. 4.That is two days before envoys from the 27 meet on Dec. 6 to discuss a first draft of the Dec. 14-15 summit conclusions, including, crucially, whether the leaders should accept Britain has made "sufficient progress" to merit opening trade talks.HOPESHopes in Brussels have been raised by reports in British media that May has secured backing from pro-Brexit hardliners in her cabinet to increase the amount of a financial settlement of what Britain owes to the Union when it leaves in March 2019."If there is a political willingness in Britain, we should be ready," a senior EU official said, while warning that nothing was being taken for granted.May's room for manoeuvre to cut a deal that would please business while irritating Britons who want a sharper break with Brussels is limited. And Germany and France, the Union's lead powers, have taken a tough line so far.With German Chancellor Angela Merkel distracted at home by a search for a new coalition, May can expect little focus from her to help smooth a deal, several diplomats said.Some in Britain have suggested May could take advantage of Merkel's weakness at home to drive a harder bargain. But EU diplomats argue that Merkel's troubles make it harder for her, and so for the 27, to water down their existing demands. So any brinkmanship around the summit could mean no deal in December."That would create some kind of crisis in negotiations," the second EU official said, noting that time was already short to complete a treaty by late next year to ensure an orderly Brexit."But maybe that is necessary."MONEY, CITIZENS, IRELANDThe sides already believe they are quite close on agreeing the scope of rights for expatriate citizens in Britain and on the continent, though the EU will be particularly looking to pin Britain down to accepting its demands that any agreement be subject to enforcement through the Union's legal system.The third key criterion for moving to Phase Two, an outline agreement on how to avoid the new EU-UK land border disrupting the peace in Northern Ireland, remains a potential stumbling block. Differences of opinion between London and Dublin have been marked this month, worrying EU officials.However, it is the financial settlement that has been the most concerning for the past few months. Officials believe that could be resolved by a combination of May stating clearly that Britain will pay a share after leaving of two major EU budget lines, staff pensions and agreed but undisbursed spending.British press reports, seen in Brussels as planted leaks from May, suggesting she might offer to pay something like 40 billion pounds ($53 billion) have encouraged EU negotiators.While that is well short of the 60 billion euros ($71 billion) the European Commission has mentioned, that was always seen by EU officials as a maximum demand. And they are willing, they say, to help May massage the public messaging of the amount in order to limit the political flak she takes at home."On presentational issues, Barnier is ready to help, not to call things by their real name," an EU official said.
UK 'ready to move on' in Brexit talks, May claims
“We are ready to move on to phase two to see those talks about a deep and special partnership with the EU for the future,” Britain’s prime minister said Tuesday.Theresa May said she had set out the U.K. government’s position in her Florence speech in September, in which she said: “We will honor our financial commitments.”May’s comments came a day after she reportedly agreed with her Cabinet ministers to make a higher offer to the EU for the so-called divorce bill.Local reports suggest the British government’s new offer will be around £40 billion ($53 billion) as the EU gave the U.K. a deadline to put on the table some concrete progress in three key issues: the financial settlement, the Irish border and citizens’ post-Brexit rights.The EU will decide whether sufficient progress has been reached to move on to phase two in Brexit talks after debating the latest steps by the U.K. government at a December summit.Brexit Secretary David Davis also spoke Tuesday to say they “need to be ambitious in terms of thinking about what deal we strike with the EU”.It needs to be “completely new”, he said.Claiming the U.K. and the EU have made tangible progress in Brexit talks, Davis said: “It is becoming clearer with each negotiation round that we now must start talking about our future relationship.”The remarks from the prime minister and Davis came a day after EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Europe was ready to offer Britain the “most ambitious” trade partnership possible but it will not compromise its standards.-Northern Ireland borderDavis said a final deal would not be reached until the EU agreed to move on to trade talks. “The Northern Ireland border cannot be fully addressed if it’d not taken into account the shape of our future partnership with the European Union,” Davis added.Meanwhile, Prime Minister May met representatives of the two largest Northern Irish political parties, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein in London.A government statement claimed May told the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein, Arlene Foster and Gerry Adams, respectively, to start intensive talks next week “to re-establish the fully functioning, inclusive devolved administration that works for everyone in Northern Ireland”.Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government collapsed when Sinn Fein’s deputy then First Minister, the late Martin McGuinness, resigned from the region’s Executive over a botched energy scheme. Talks so far have failed to reach an agreement to form a new local government.