The extraordinary intervention by Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed, comes amid concern about Brexit’s impact on Ireland, but the candid remarks may threaten a rift between Dublin and London.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Creed said there was a lot of “kerfuffle” coming from British ministers. “There is no political coherence there. There is no leadership on Brexit. Various ministers talk about hard Brexit, soft Brexit, no deal being better than a bad deal. The worst possible deal is no deal, both for them and for us.
“The lack of any coherence is a huge problem for us and until they get their act together, what we are trying to do... It appears to me that the instability is spilling over, impacting on the kind of Brexit. There is no coherence.”
Instead, the minister said British businesses were “growing a backbone and are now filling a vacuum, which is there in terms of leadership.”
This lack of leadership, and a potential heave looming against May, as Tory leader, had also put any progress on Brexit negotiations on ice, he suggested. “I would suspect that you’re in a situation where there’s going to be a leadership challenge to Theresa May and, until that issue is firmly resolved, there’ll be no coherence around their strategy.”
The remarks, while an honest assessment of Ms May’s handling of Brexit talks, will likely incense London and potentially undermine British-Irish relations.
Members of both parliaments gather today in Kilkenny for the British-Irish parliamentary assembly, where problems with Brexit will be centre-stage when MPs and TDs meet.
Nonetheless, Mr Creed is not alone in his concerns over Britain’s weakening response to Brexit.
Last week, German politicians told Irish counterparts visiting Berlin, including Fine Gael senators, that the British response to Brexit was a “disgrace” and “farcical”.
Fisheries has become the first casualty in an emerging split between Ireland and Britain over Brexit.
Britain is threatening to close off access to its waters, an area where Ireland fishes 60% of our mackerel and 43% of our prawns, as part of a total €1bn industry that employs 11,000.
Equally, a hard Brexit will hurt Ireland’s 253,000 tons of beef exports to Britain, if international tariffs are slapped on Irish goods.
Mr Creed insists Ireland is prepared for the challenges of Brexit. But pressure must continue to be applied on EU counterparts about the implications of a hard Brexit. “Am I happy now? Absolutely not. This is an existential challenge for the agri-food sector.”
The minister will also seek more funds in the upcoming budget to Brexit-proof exporters. He said a tough game was being played with London, whose ministers in Whitehall have been told that if they close the door on open trade, that their own exports will suffer.
“What we are saying is ‘listen, if you want to sell your Nissans from Sunderland into the EU market, or if you want to passport your financial products out of the City of London into the EU, we want, as part of that overall trade agreement, we want the issue of the fisheries sector to be part of the overall trade agreement, not dealt with in isolation.’ That is a shared analysis that we have with key member states, including France and Germany.”
Mr Creed also spoke about huge pressure he faced in Cork to vote for Simon Coveney during the Fine Gael leadership race.
While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “embodied a new Ireland”, the gloss would rub off in six months’ time, predicted the agriculture minister, when the leader would then be judged on his track record.
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