When Theresa May yesterday became the UK’s prime minster, she also became the second female to gain the highest office in British politics.
The 59-year-old former home secretary could hardly take on the job in more turbulent times. After quietly supporting the losing ‘remain’ camp in the campaign, her challenge will be to strike a delicate balancing act between it and the winning ‘leave’ side.
How she performs will have a profound effect on Ireland’s future, especially if the border is reinstated, leaving this country as the only EU state with a land border between it and Britain. It is now vital for Taoiseach Enda Kenny to develop the closest possible links with a prime minister who is well known to members of the Irish administration.
As for the Taoiseach, after a very bad week he will derive solace from last night’s parliamentary party meeting, feeling the loyal troops of Fine Gael are still behind him, though some may be holding a carefully concealed knife. Backbench TD Brendan Griffin called for him to step down as leader by September but failed to receive public support from any member of the parliamentary party.
Following a weekend of uncertainty, Mr Kenny was doubtless buoyed up by the show of loyalty reflected in the groundswell of support he received from the floor. But whether the demonstration of backing will allay the festering unease caused by his puzzling elevation of former health minister James Reilly to deputy leader of the party is still open to question. Political precedent tells us that Mr Kenny has every reason to fear that spelling out a precise timetable for stepping down would instantly make him a lame duck Taoiseach.
Meanwhile, the travails of recent times continue to haunt him judging by the outcome of his visit to German chancellor Angel Merkel . The main objective was to brief the chancellor on the implications for Ireland of the Brexit vote for Britain to leave the EU.
He also hoped to enlist Germany’s support for advancing Ireland’s case for a special deal, particularly regarding the continuation of free movement across the present invisible border between the Republic and the North. That would be far more preferable to erecting a series of ‘hard’ security posts along the border. Reminiscent of less peaceful times, their presence would create enormous difficulties in social and trading terms.
Unfortunately, however, the Merkel visit does not appear to have ended as positively as the Taoiseach might have wished. Essentially, she refused to countenance any special treatment for this country in the wake of Brexit. Obviously, forthcoming negotiations between the EU and Britain promise to be a bumpy ride in terms of Ireland securing a special border deal.
That’s why it is crucial to develop close relations with Theresa May. If she can be convinced to make the border issue an integral part of the UK package in return for Dublin lobbying actively for a better deal for Britain, it would be a great day’s work.
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