Irish deputy PM quits, averting government collapse before crunch Brexit talks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 1:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 9:02pm

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald resigned on Tuesday in a bid to ease a political crisis that was threatening to bring down the government, according to a statement from Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

The crisis erupted last week and could have led to snap elections before Christmas, at a critical time for Ireland before an EU summit where the future of the Irish border after Brexit will dominate.

“Frances Fitzgerald came to me to offer her resignation,” said Varadkar. “She is doing so to avoid an unnecessary and early general election that could have left the country without a functioning government … for several months at a crucial time for Ireland.”

The resignation means that a no-confidence motion put forward in parliament by the main opposition Fianna Fail party “has been dropped and so too has the threat of a pre-Christmas election”, RTE reported.

Fianna Fail has propped up Varadkar’s minority government since an inconclusive general election in 2016.

The crisis erupted last week, just as Ireland is trying to extract guarantees from Britain that its border with Northern Ireland will remain open even after Brexit.

Britain has said it wants to leave the EU’s single market and customs union when it quits the EU, which could mean customs checks along the Irish border.

Dublin has asked for Northern Ireland to be granted a special customs status to keep the border open.

But London said this would create a new border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.

The issue will top the agenda for the December 14-15 summit in Brussels which is due to decide whether to begin negotiations with Britain on a possible post-Brexit transition period and future trade ties.

The domestic political crisis in Ireland has been brewing since a police whistle-blower scandal dating back to 2015 and centred on Fitzgerald’s role at the time when she was justice minister.

Varadkar refused to sack Fitzgerald, who had ruled out stepping down as late as Monday, saying she would instead give evidence to a judicial inquiry.

According to the latest poll by Red C for the Sunday Business Post, Fine Gael would get 27 per cent of the vote, followed by Fianna Fail on 26 per cent and Sinn Fein on 16 per cent, raising the prospect of another minority government if there were elections.

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