Theresa May welcomed Donald Tusk on Downing Street 10 for a tet-a-tet meeting to discuss the hottest topic in the first round of the Brexit negotiations – Gibraltar.
The meeting helped in decreasing the tension which had been risen over the week after the EU council stated that the Brexit deal will not apply to Gibraltar without an “agreement between the kingdom of Spain and the UK”. The British politicians read that with that Spain will have the effective veto on whether the Brexit deal applies to Gibraltar. Particularly outraged was the former conservative leader Michael Howerd who called on Theresa May to act as Margaret Thatcher did 30-years ago with the Falkland Islands. To add fuel in the fire the Royal Navy, later on supported by the Foreign office, chase out a Spanish warship out of Gibraltar disputed territorial waters just a day before the May-Tusk meeting.
However, the two hours meeting between the both leaders was set in “good and friendly” manner, according to the official statement. Additionally, it points out that “Both leaders agreed that the tone of discussions had been positive on both sides, and agreed that they would seek to remain in close touch as the negotiations progressed.” That was the first personal consultation between Theresa May and Donald Tusk after the official triggerring of article 50 and it was expected that they will set the guidelines for the upcoming negotiations. There is no information if agreement of some sort was achieved but according to a spokesman of the Government, Theresa May stay firm on her position on Gibraltar: “the UK would seek the best possible deal for Gibraltar as the UK exits the EU, and there would be no negotiation on the sovereignty of Gibraltar without the consent of its people.”
The actual Brexit negotiations will start after 22 May, because the EU governments one by one have to approve the draft issued by the European Council last week. By far the biggest stumbling stone seems the desire of Britain to start simultaneous negotiations about the leaving bill and the future trade agreement. The EU27, in the face of Donald Tusk, are firm on the position that firstly the UK needs to leave the bloc and then the free-trade agreement to be discussed. However, he expressed his hope that “sufficient progress” will be made until autumn this year.
Merkel for Ireland
At the same time, another two European leaders have met and discuss Brexit. Angela Merkel welcomed in Berlin, the Irish Prime Minister Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who is on official visit there. “Come in, I miss you” said the German councilor to her guest indicating from the beginning that the Europe’s largest economy leader has a lot to talk with the Irish representative. Later an official statement announced that Angela Merkel promised to help Ireland to protect its interest during the Brexit negotiations. Mrs. Merkel herself said in front of the journalists that “We are all familiar with the situation of Ireland, and with the very, very important issues of war and peace.” acknowledging that Ireland has specific interests in Brexit negotiations. “Of course, we will defend the interests of the 27, but we want to remain good partners, because we rely on each other on defense and, of course, on our economic ties.” The German leader added.
The future relation between Ireland and non-EU Northern Ireland is also one of the hot topics around Brexit. After years of civil war, the two Irish sides have been enjoying the last decade in peaceful and border free relation. Brexit threatens to break this partnership leaving the people from both sides once again divided. Speaking in Berlin, mr. Kenny insisted that the “separation” bill has to include a possibility that Northern Ireland can rejoin the EU, if the two sides unite. Calling for sympathy from his German hosts, Enda Kenny referred to the Irish reunification as similar to the West and East Germany one.
“Whatever happens in the Brexit negotiations, nothing should undermine the peace and stability … in Northern Ireland, which has taken so long to achieve, and in which the European Union has played such an important part,” Mr Kenny added.
Few weeks ago, the leader of the Northern Irish republican party Sinn Fein, Michelle O’Neil called for a referendum for leaving the UK and joining the Republic of Ireland. Mrs. O’Neil reminded that the majority of the people in Northern Ireland voted pro-EU and, according to her, Brexit will be a “disaster” and a referendum is needed “as soon as possible”.