British Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to resolve the Irish border issue in the first stage of Brexit talks could leave her facing further demands from other parts of the United Kingdom, according to the London correspondents of major European papers.
Florentin Collomp of France’s centre-right Le Figaro says the border was a “forgotten subject” until the Irish government “seized on it as a pretext to threaten to veto the whole plan”.
“In the final stretch of these complex negotiations, the prime minister is on a razor edge,” he writes, and wonders whether Mrs May’s latest concession to Brussels might now “unpin the Brexit hand grenade in the UK” and “ignite Belfast, and then Edinburgh and Cardiff” in revolt against her planned deal.
Philippe Bernard, who reports for the centre-left Le Monde, says the “intransigence of the little Democratic Unionist Party” seems to have “derailed the well-rehearsed scenario that would have allowed Mrs May to announce she has a Brexit deal”.
“The radical Northern Irish unionists now hold Theresa May hostage,” he concludes, agreeing with his Figaro opposite number that Scotland has also “woken up” to the possibility of special treatment.
In Germany, Stefanie Bolzen and Hannelore Crolly of the centre-right Die Welt say events have “taken a dangerous turn” for Mrs May, despite EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s insistence that the talks were “not a failure”.
They agree with other correspondents that the Northern Irish dispute could “escalate into a major crisis” for the British prime minister.
To add to Mrs May’s worries, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung recalls that London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s has also made demands for special status for the capital city in terms of access to the EU customs union.
The paper says Mrs May could “open a Pandora’s box” of demands from Scotland, Wales and London that could “lead to the disintegration of the United Kingdom”.
There is little sympathy for the British prime minister in the Irish press.
Denis Staunton, the London editor of the Irish Times, accuses Theresa May of “dithering” on the border issue, and warns that she could come under pressure from the DUP and Brexit supporters in her own party to “walk away from talks”.
The same paper’s Fintan O’Toole tells supporters of leaving the EU without an agreement that the latest crisis shows the “unflinching support of EU member states, the European Parliament, and the EU negotiating team” has put Ireland in a “much stronger political position than Britain”.
Colm Kelpie, who writes on Brexit for the Irish Independent, says Mrs May has “little wriggle room” in her talks with the Democratic Unionists, and expresses amazement that the “DUP was not already on board if the wording of a text was agreed that was acceptable to the Irish Government”.
‘Running out of time’
Pablo Guimon of Spain’s centre-left El Pais sees Mrs May “fighting to save the Brexit deal at home”, and predicts she could face a “revolt by Brexiteers in the Conservative Party and the government itself”.
He notes that in the other camp the “powerful Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson” has already publicly stated her support for the whole of the United Kingdom remaining in alignment with the EU customs union.
Maciej Czarnecki of Poland’s centre-left Gazeta Wyborcza also points to the Irish border as the obstacle to a deal that was “just within reach”, and warns London and Brussels that they are “running out of time if they want to announce the transition to the next stage of Brexit talks this year”.