The Taoiseach has put his Cabinet and junior ministers on “24 hours’ notice” to return to Ireland from their St Patrick’s Day trips in the event of Brexit being triggered during their absence.
Considerable anger has been expressed within the Government over the likely triggering of Article 50 this week, possibly as early as tomorrow, at a time when Irish ministers are scattered all over the globe.
The refusal of British prime minister Theresa May to tell Enda Kenny in a face to face meeting last week her intentions as to when the formal EU exit will begin has also sparked fury.
The Irish Examiner has learned that ministers who are travelling abroad have been told to be ready to abandon their agendas should Mr Kenny deem it necessary for them to return.
Speaking in Philadelphia, Mr Kenny again signalled his annoyance at the lack of a signal from Ms May.
“When I spoke to the British prime minister last Thursday she didn’t actually commit to a date,” he said.
“The European Union will respond to that [Article 50] and will issue guidelines within 48 hours if it is triggered this week.
“The meeting of the European Council to approve the negotiating stance of the European Union and the guidelines to be adopted will be on April 6.”
He said triggering Article 50 involves the writing of a letter from the British government to the president of the European Council.
“That’s always within the remit of the country that intends to leave, in this case Britain,” he said.
Mr Kenny sought to play down concerns about the lack of contingency planning should the negotiations between Britain and the EU fail to reach agreement.
“Article 50 is very clear and the law is very clear,” he said. “When you trigger Article 50, if you have not concluded your divorce proceedings within two years, you are automatically gone unless an extension of time is given by unanimous approval of the European Council which I assume would be forthcoming.”
Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly said Mr Kenny and his officials should be in Dublin to deal with the biggest challenge in the history of the State.
“Ideally, if she triggers Article 50 on Tuesday we should be having a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday,” he said. “It is material for the Cabinet to not being around but we shouldn’t also be hanging around for Theresa May to make up her mind.”
Mr Donnelly said the greatest impediment to Ireland being ready for Brexit was the internal Fine Gael race to succeed Mr Kenny.
“Internal Fine Gael politics is the big distraction,” he said. “Our Cabinet is not going to be focused on Brexit for the next eight to 12 weeks.”
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