Charlie Flanagan fears for EU if Brexit drags on

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan is concerned the entire EU project could be threatened if Brexit negotiations drag on.

He yesterday called on Britain to invoke Article 50, which starts the exit process, “at a very early stage next year” to avoid further uncertainty within the EU.

The minister claimed if the fundamental principals of the EU — a “force for good” — had been highlighted more in Britain before referendum day, the outcome may have been different.

His comments came as British prime minister Theresa May held a meeting with her cabinet colleagues yesterday to discuss developments since June’s vote to leave.

She told her ministers that “Brexit means Brexit” and ruled out a second referendum or any attempt to remain in the EU “by the back door”.

“We will be looking at the next steps that we need to take and we will also be looking at the opportunities that are now open to us as we forge a new role for the UK in the world,” she said.

“We must be clear that we are going to make a success of it — that means no second referendum, no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door. That we are actually going to deliver on it.”

Charlie Flanagan fears for EU if Brexit drags on

Asked whether he was concerned that Brexit could cause a further breakup of the EU as a whole, Mr Flanagan agreed there “are very serious challenges ahead”.

He said the potential unravelling of the entire EU project had been discussed among Irish diplomats at a conference in Dublin this week.

“I would be concerned at the broader European debate in terms of a protracted period of uncertainty which, to my mind, could give rise to a situation where there could well be a risk to the development of what has been a very successful process over the last half century,” he said.

“It is important, therefore, that the invoking of Article 50 takes place at a very early stage next year that the British government reach a decision where [foreign ministers] are aware of what the object of the exercise is, to see what the requirements are, and then we can commence the negotiation process and have that opportunity early next.”

Stressing the importance of the “bigger picture” of the EU, Mr Flanagan said it is now important to highlight what the European project is all about.

“Oftentimes, in terms of public discourse, we tend to neglect the fundamentals of the EU which have ensured that our people have experienced what has been a real force for good since the end of the Second World War in 1945,” he said.

“I probably think that had these issues been discussed at a greater level in the United Kingdom, probably the result may have been different.”

Mr Flanagan yesterday met with Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders to talk about Brexit and its impact on the wider EU and global agenda. Mr Koenders said he understood Ireland’s “specific concerns” and would be supporting Ireland in the context of Brexit negotiations.

“Both the Netherlands and Ireland are very very closely related to the economy of the United Kingdom,” he said. “We understand the specific concerns that Ireland has, politically, economically, we think it’s important to give specific acknowledgement of those interests as well.

“We definitely will move in the direction of supporting these concerns in the negotiations as well in the coming weeks and months.”

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