Michael Noonan: ‘Ready’ for EU talks to begin

Ireland is “ready and anxious” to start Brexit talks, Finance Minister Michael Noonan has said, adding the focus must be on securing a transitional deal for the UK.

Following the UK government’s announcement that it would trigger Brexit on March 29, Mr Noonan said the talks would likely take longer than the legal limit of two years. He said a transitional deal would be needed to stop the UK crashing out of the EU without a trade accord. “The Irish Government has been preparing for 12 months,” Mr Noonan told reporters in Brussels yesterday. “We’re ready to go and anxious to go,” he added.

“My view is that it will take longer than that [two years],” Mr Noonan said ahead of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers.

“I would envision a transitional period to get Europe and the UK across the line to a new relationship by treaty agreement.”

He said there were “some differences of opinion” between the EU and UK on how much the UK owes the EU and over the sequencing of a divorce deal and a trade agreement. But he said the EU side was “well prepared” for talks. “It’s in our interests that we would come as close to the UK having a free trade agreement with the European Union as is possible,” Mr Noonan said.

The Taoiseach is to remain in place for a Brexit summit due to take place in April, but it is not clear how far into the talks he will step down as leader. “The sequence of negotiation that is now outlined, and the Taoiseach’s very successful trip to Washington and a further illustration of his competence in international affairs, I think the Taoiseach will be around for a little while yet,” Mr Noonan told reporters, saying Mr Kenny’s intentions would “become clear before too long”.

EU leaders plan an initial response within two days of UK prime minister Theresa May triggering Article 50, before convening a summit in late April or early May to ratify guidelines for their chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. Officials have said they may wait until June to engage fully, and then German elections in September could serve as another distraction. For the EU, the focus will be on ensuring there is no easy ride for the British as it tries to safeguard the stability of the union. There is speculation that Ms May could also try to trigger an election in the UK, in the hope of winning a bigger majority in parliament and her own mandate to strengthen her hand at home and in the Brexit talks.

Her spokesman rejected the idea of an early election yesterday, telling reporters: “There isn’t going to be one.”

Additional reporting Bloomberg

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