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European Council: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 8

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald] It cannot be allowed to happen. Make no mistake: it is the considered strategy of the British Government. It is playing for time for precisely this reason. Much is at stake and in the past two years we have had nothing but chaos and division from the British Government. We have had two years of putting Ireland at risk economically, politically and socially. Now is the time to draw a line in the sand and say, "Enough is enough".

This meeting will be a serious and substantive test of the "Ireland first" position articulated by Donald Tusk, Michel Barnier, Jean-Claude Juncker and our Government. "Ireland first" cannot simply be sweet words whispered to assure the ears of the Irish public. The Irish public do not want to be soothed; they want solutions, protection, security and guarantees. In Brussels, “Ireland first" must ring emphatically in the ears of the British Prime Minister and her negotiating team. They should be left in no doubt as to the absolute certainty of that position. Those words must then be applied in both policy and action. The EU and the Government must tell the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, that she has come this far but will not go any further without delivering credible solutions and without answering the Irish question. It is as simple, straightforward and essential as this.

I raised this matter when the European Commission President, Mr. Juncker, addressed the Houses of the Oireachtas. An annex to the backstop on the issue of citizens' rights was to be published. It is within the gift of the EU through Mr. Barnier's task force to publish this annex. I ask the Taoiseach, Mr. Barnier and the EU to publish that text without delay.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin This will mark the Taoiseach's fifth EU Council meeting. It will also mark two years since the UK citizenry voted to leave the European Union. Unfortunately, little progress has been made on addressing Ireland’s core concerns to date. The bulletproof backstop that was agreed last December has clearly now not been translated into an agreed legal text. Talks on the future relationship between the UK and the EU were opened after the previous Council meeting without any such fallback being firmly and legally understood and in place.

Ireland is continually reassured of the solidarity of our fellow member states and of the EU leadership; we again heard it last week. However, as others have said, we stand at a crossroads. On 30 April addressing the civil dialogue in Dundalk, the Taoiseach said, "Over the coming weeks, I hope and expect that we will see further progress in the negotiations on developing a close overall relationship between the EU and the UK, as well as on the necessary completion of the legal text on the backstop." Sadly, two months on, that simply has not happened.

A month ago, the Taoiseach said that the Government position was that progress had to be made by the June Council meeting. The Tánaiste also said there must be significant progress in advance of the June meeting. Sadly, there has been no additional progress. Now the delayed process will become incredibly compressed. There is simply no time for further delay.

The political challenge is to come up with creative solutions that are also robust. I do not downplay or underestimate the challenges that that objective poses. It is essential that the Government insist on a deadline for the UK to produce a backstop agreement on the Border. It should be well in advance of the European Council meeting in October in order that we know exactly the position and so that Ireland is not pushed into a last-minute compromise that could fundamentally damage our interests.

The ball is firmly in the Taoiseach's court, and he must now use the commitments and solidarity repeatedly expressed by our colleagues and co-member states to ensure a deadline is agreed well in advance of October.

Last weekend the Taoiseach warned that a no-deal Brexit is now more likely. The ongoing failure of the UK Government to arrive at a settled position even among itself to address the inconsistencies of its publicly stated red lines continues to drag down this entire process. It is quite depressing to tune to some of the political commentary in Britain, as I did again this morning. A fortnight ago, I spent the day in London meeting UK Labour Party parliamentary colleagues, organisations such as Open Britain and the most senior members of the Trades Union Congress in Britain. I firmly believe the possibility is growing that the UK will crash out of the EU without a comprehensive deal. This is not because of the position adopted by the EU at Ireland's behest, but because the internal dysfunction and blatant rivalries in the Conservative Party. It makes the British Government incapable of making a deal or sticking to any stated position.

The UK Prime Minister, Mrs. May, won an important victory in the House of Commons on the exit Bill, but her Cabinet remains at war. While it continues to negotiate with itself, the consequences of a hard Brexit for jobs in Ireland, particularly in the agrifood sector, will be catastrophic.

The economic relationship between Ireland and Britain has shifted from one of historical dependence to one of mutual interdependence. Nearly £14 billion of goods are exported from Ireland to the UK, including an important percentage of the food that sustains the British people. In turn, we import almost £16 billion of UK goods into Ireland. The customs union is what makes this trade possible. No quotas, no tariffs and standardised regulations mean consignments do not need border controls or checks. Ireland also exports £16 billion of services to the UK, including from many multinationals based in Ireland. Ireland buys £10 billion of services from the UK. The Single Market facilitates this through standards for services in different sectors, the free movement of money capital and workers, and the legal certainty for business provided by the common jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Our trade represents over £1 billion in goods and services every week and supports tens of thousands of jobs here.

The uncertainty surrounding the final outcome of Brexit has led to financial companies and major industrial companies delaying investment or moving part of their activity out of the UK. Major companies, for example in the motor industry, are taking the supply lines out of Britain. We have heard of companies such as Airbus outline their concerns. Anybody who speaks the truth is vilified in the British press. It is hard to see how we can avoid having border infrastructure on the island of Ireland as well as border checks at British and Irish ports, if the UK remains outside the customs union and Single Market - or at least if a solution is not found for it to remain in close alignment with those institutions.

The problem, of course, is that free trade depends on sharing the same set of regulations and standards on each side of a trade agreement. All the UK Government's proposals to maintain the open border have been rejected by the EU, including Ireland. This is not out of spite or wanting to punish anybody, but because they will not work to achieve frictionless trade. We want free trade, North-South, and free trade, if it is possible to negotiate it, east-west. However, we cannot have that free trade if the UK does not maintain the same standards as the European Union. If the UK rolls back on regulation of the financial sector, it would undermine the level playing field for Irish financial services. If the UK dilutes workers’ rights or environmental rights, this again will lead to new barriers being put in place. Many of these regulations are the cornerstone of social Europe and the work of the Party of European Socialists over the decades.

Following this summit, where it is now plain little or no progress will be made on these issues, the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, will hold a Cabinet meeting in Chequers next week.

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