Former Taoiseach: No-deal Brexit ‘unlikely’

Former Taoiseach of Ireland Bertie Ahern was interviewed on Brexit and potential impacts on Irish agriculture during the second episode of AgriLand’s new broadcast show FarmLand.

The former Fianna Fail leader, who was Taoiseach from 1997 to 2008, expressed his view that he thinks a no-deal Brexit scenario is “unlikely”.

“Well, it’s possible, but in my view an unlikely possibility,” he said, when asked by FarmLand host Claire McCormack.

“I think the technical papers are a kind of a follow-on to what they did last year when they put up their position papers last summer – and I think it’s a good and useful and clever way of filling the summer weeks and the debate.

I think the British government do not want to be accused of not having made preparations if there was no deal; there was some of that criticism early on.

The former Taoiseach explained that the move could be viewed in two ways, saying: “I think the Prime Minister wanted to be able to say that they looked at the consequences of no deal.”

For the second point, Ahern said that Prime Minister May wanted to show a wider audience – both outside her party and within – the realisation of the considerable, mainly negative consequences.

“I only had a quick look through about 10 of the documents, because there’s a hell of a lot of reading in them, but it does show just the huge consequences that would all be, by and large, negative for the British economy.

Negative consequences

Pointing out that it’s further evidence to all onlookers of no good news for Britain in such a scenario, Ahern said that the value of the papers is the argument that consequences will be, by and large, negative.

“From an English point of view, from a British point of view, from an economic point of view, for their trading, for their future relationships, for their historic relationship with the EU, all of the things that they are trying to address in these papers that, by and large, they’re negative.”

Describing the triggering of Article 50 as a “very poor decision”, Ahern said that with time running out fast, an extension to the allocated time could be well on the cards.

“Now you’ve come to a position where three quarters of the negotiating time is gone and there doesn’t seem to be much conclusive analysis of where we’re going.

And that’s poor negotiations no matter what way you’re saying it, in its most polite terms.

“Where we are as we go into the final session is that we head towards September – two months before a deal is meant to be wrapped up to give sufficient time for it to go to the commission, the parliament – to be frank about it I don’t see that happening.

“I do not see them having completed discussions over this at the end of October. I think the can will be kicked down the road again.

“I’m fairly certain there’ll be an extension. Everyone is saying at the moment there won’t so I’m going against the tide but I think there will. It might be short but that will be better than trying to conclude it by Halloween.”

Asked if the EU would agree to this, Ahern said: “I think they’ll be silly not to.”

It’s not a question of ‘no deal’ long-term, we’re only talking about ‘no deal’ for an interim period that allows negotiations to continue maybe in a calmer way.

Regarding the backstop issue on the Northern Irish border, the former minister said that, while things might not be exactly as outlined by the UK last December, things have moved on, with free movement of people “kind of now a given”.

“So it’s really down to goods and trade, and if Theresa May sticks by her Chequers White Paper, which we have to assume she’s wedded to that to a certain extent, then that’s OK, that covers trade fairly well.”

Describing the white paper as “workable”, Ahern issued a word of warning, noting that it was not “written in stone”, but hoped that it would work out OK.