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Recent Developments on Brexit: Statements (Continued)

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 8

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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Lisa Chambers: Information on Lisa Chambers Zoom on Lisa Chambers] Much of this is subjective. What exactly are "best endeavours"? What might represent "delay"? What might constitute acting "not in good faith"? Regardless of the subjective nature of the interpretive document, it is legally binding and would strengthen the UK's hand at the arbitration table, if ever the arbitration process were to be employed. This was the change, the compromise and the concession. Ultimately, however, the last paragraph of that legal advice remains the issue. I refer to the intractable differences that might present. Is there anything that can be done by the EU at this stage to address this concern and find a way to move forward?

Politics is about the possible and finding solutions to difficult problems. We are facing a serious threat to our country, our economy and our valued peace. We are already at the cliff edge and staring over at a deep drop below. Ahead of the vote yesterday, the DUP was looking to the advice of the UK Attorney General for divine inspiration. Similar to a domino effect, the European Research Group looked to the DUP. Not desiring to be more unionist than the DUP, it may have actually followed that party’s lead.

It was manifestly disappointing to watch the DUP vote against a deal that it was in Northern Ireland’s interests to support. Perhaps that party welcomed comments today from Michael Gove regarding a possible return to direct rule in Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit. That is despite such a move not being what the majority of people in Northern Ireland want. Sinn Féin has again abdicated its responsibilities and spent most of its time this evening talking about Fianna Fáil rather than Brexit and the situation in Northern Ireland.

What happens next is unclear. We know MPs in Westminster tonight voted to reject leaving the EU without a deal. A no-deal Brexit has been taken off of the table but only by a majority of four. The House of Commons then went on to reject an amendment that would have extended the period in which Brexit could take place until 22 May and give no backstop commitment. That is also welcome. We expect that the next step will be for the House of Commons to vote to extend Article 50. The question though is for how long. Our Government must do what is needed to secure that extension, if requested, regardless of whether there is a plan on how to move forward. If the alternative is a crash-out Brexit, then we must support anything to avoid that happening. A short extension poses difficulties in that it prolongs the uncertainty for businesses and farmers. That is not without consequences.

It is, however, far better than the Armageddon of a no-deal Brexit. A longer extension could yield many different developments and not all may be positive for Ireland. We could see a change of Prime Minister in the UK and then an even more hardline approach in respect of a harder Brexit. A no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for Ireland. There is no point in saying otherwise. The EU's proposals today on trade and tariffs were a shot across the bows. However unrealistic and unworkable they were, it gave our businesses, and in particular our farmers, an insight into what may lie ahead in the event of a no-deal Brexit. There was, naturally, widespread concern across the business and farming communities. They are looking to our Government for leadership and reassurances. The time for generalities is over. We need details on the level of preparedness in the country and exact details of the financial aid package that will be available to businesses and farmers should the worst happen at the end of March or beyond.

We cannot wait until after Brexit to see what available financial support might be there. We will then find ourselves scrambling from day to day to address the catastrophic impact that would have on our country. The deputy director general of finance with the European Commission, Mr. Martinez-Mongay, appeared before the Committee on Budgetary Oversight today to answer questions. I asked him what financial aid package would the Commission provide to Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The response I got was that it was premature to have those conversations. It is not premature and it is, indeed, well beyond time to be having those conversations. It is incumbent on the Government to be honest with the Oireachtas and our citizens as to what level of conversations have happened and what have been the results of those conversations. I took some positive aspects from the comments of Mr. Martinez-Mongay. He referred to the possibility of some flexibility on state aid rules, if needed. We would again welcome details being provided in this House and to our citizens on what that might look like.

If the EU and the UK fail to deliver a deal for citizens, then politics will have failed. This is the defining political issue of our age. It will affect many things, such as how we interact with our closest neighbour and our nearest market. It could have a severe negative impact on peace and stability on this island. It is incumbent upon all of us to find a way forward so that we can get to a post-Brexit world where trust is restored between the UK and the EU. I refer to a situation where any negative sentiment that may have built up between our two nations can dissipate and be put to bed. I look forward to a time when we are not debating Brexit daily and we move back to discussing the issues of health, housing and education and all the other issues that really matter to our citizens. Until Brexit is resolved, however, it will be the key issue of the day. As always, the support of the Fianna Fáil Party will be there to ensure that whatever needs to be done to protect our country will be done.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin The Brexit journey has at times been nightmarish. It has always been a bumpy ride and, occasionally, it has puzzled us all greatly. While almost everybody in Ireland yesterday looked on in amazement at yet another massive rejection vote in the British House of Commons, the British Government was readying itself to announce a new tariff regime. This will apply to goods entering Britain from the Republic of Ireland. In the same breath, the British Government stated that no tariffs would apply to goods crossing the Border into the North. They would, however, apply to goods going from the North to Britain.

This incredible proposition represents not just a puzzling moment. For Ireland, North and South, it is a nightmarish prospect. The British Government document, covering 25 subheadings, including, at the start, aluminium foil and continuing through beef, butter, cheese, poultry, pork and ending with tyres and wheels, would if implemented have a devastating impact on Irish trade. That would be the case particularly in the agriculture and agrifood sector in this jurisdiction and across Ireland. What madness is this? Can it be so easily dismissed, as some in this House would have us believe? Let there be no mistake about this. The Brexit caravan could very easily become a runaway train, with all of the damage that could cause and that could follow in its wake. I again urge our Government and its representative voices in Europe to impress upon the European Commission and the EU Brexit negotiators the importance of presenting a real show of solidarity with Ireland through significant capital investment commitments for our transport links with the rest of the member states of the European Union. I refer to solid and sustainable compensatory measures for businesses, farming families, agrifood processors and for exporters generally. The EU has to accept it has a responsibility to help ensure jobs are protected and maintained in this country in a worst case scenario.

Brexit has always been a threat. It could, however, yet represent an economic disaster for Ireland and its people. With only 16 days remaining until the 29 March deadline, we need certainties from Europe. It is certainly welcome that the backstop is locked in place. The EU, however, has more to do and, I suggest, much more. The vote in Westminster tonight on the proposal to take a no-deal Brexit off of the table, which passed but only just, will be followed tomorrow by another motion to defer Brexit pending further negotiations. There is every chance that motion will be adopted. The EU, however, has made it very clear that it will need to be convinced of its merits.

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