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Snippet Contents:

I note the Taoiseach is a bit more informed today about the eurozone budget proposals than he was yesterday. That is to be welcomed.
This week's summit was due to mark a moment of significant progress on Brexit. Unfortunately, this will not now happen. For Ireland, many warning signals are now going off, which suggests that, at best, meeting our negotiating objectives will be extremely difficult. Given the scale of how important this is, I will use this brief statement to focus solely on Brexit. My colleagues will address the other important issues on the Council's agenda during their contributions.
It is now over two years since the Brexit referendum and over six months since the political text was agreed. Then the Taoiseach said, in an obviously euphoric mood, "We have achieved all we set out to achieve". The reality of the situation today, however, is that the only agreed text regarding Ireland concerns matters which were never actually in doubt. What has been agreed are points which were found in negotiating positions produced by both sides in the first half of last year. A deadline, which we were repeatedly told was central to the achievement of Ireland's objectives, will now be missed this week. The draft conclusions for the summit state clearly "No substantial progress has yet been achieved".
The Government’s tactic, however, is to throw a few digs at London and hope that nobody notices that its negotiating strategy is, at best, in deep trouble. There are major questions which must be asked. What exactly is the current status of the negotiations on Ireland? What will the Government do to change a dangerous dynamic which may lead to a poor outcome later this year?
One of the problems in talking about Brexit has been the shift over the past year to a situation where the bulk of coverage in our media is dominated by official briefings. There has been very little tough questioning of the Government and no real attempt to ask our leaders to reconcile obvious contradictions in their positions. At the political level, what had been an open approach to discussions with other pro-EU parties on this issue changed completely in the middle of last year. In place of dialogue, we have seen a remarkable level of arrogance and a demand that other parties shut up and toe the line. In fact, there has been growing evidence of a Government which is willing to play cynical political games with Brexit, even going as far as to try to talk up the supposed instability of its negotiating mandate.
Fine Gael’s leaked research and its always industrious briefers confirm the Taoiseach wants to engineer a way of recreating the wave of uncritical support he received after last December's agreement. My party will not let this messing by the Government distract from the hard substance of the challenge which Brexit poses to Ireland, as well as the need for clarity about what Ireland is seeking and believes is a credible outcome.
The position today is less clear than at any stage since early last year. The simple and hard fact is that the Government spent six months saying June was a critical moment when we had to see substantial agreement on Ireland’s specific proposals. The Government’s strategy had two main tactical objectives from the beginning. First, that Ireland would not still be on the table when the final status element of the withdrawal treaty was being discussed. Second, that we would support the United Kingdom if it tried to find a back door to continued access to the customs union and Single Market. Both of these tactical manoeuvres have failed, however, leaving us in a deeply uncertain position.
The Taoiseach has taken to claiming that he always insisted that June was not a deadline. The record shows this is, however, simply not the case. The record of the House is full of his statements saying progress was required by June in order for there to be a deal. Separately, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on 16 March said Ireland was putting down a marker for June. On 29 April, he said that Ireland would not allow negotiations to move forward without clear signals of a solution and "we need to see substantial progress in June". On 14 May, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade said Ireland certainly needed to see a solution on the backstop taking shape by the end of June.
It is possible to go on with similar quotes, demonstrating that June was indicated as a decisive date for Ireland by our own Government. In fact, the Government went further than this at one stage. On 12 December, as well as in various media appearances afterwards, both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade said the phase 2 talks would be suspended if there was any attempt by the United Kingdom at backsliding on the backstop agreement. It has attempted to backslide. The June deadline has been missed and no significant progress has been made. In these circumstances, the very least the Government owes the Dáil and the people is an honest explanation for what this means and why it has decided not to follow through on its loud and repeated threats. No party on this side of the House has called for a suspension of the talks at any time. The Government, however, has threatened to do so. It needs to explain why it is backing off. It is not good enough for the Government to effectively try to cough into its hand, have another go at the Brits and hope people have not noticed it has just missed its own key deadline.
Yesterday, the Government issued yet another official update on Brexit developments. It included a range of reports and six photographs of the Taoiseach. It contained no mention, whatsoever, of this week's summit and the missed deadline. Fundamentally, the Brexit mess is purely the creation of a particular class of English politician for whom self-regard and a disinterest in facts has elevated prejudice to the level of ideology. They have turned their country from the fastest-growing economy in Europe to the slowest and have already reduced the national income by an estimated £400 million a week. They have been as incompetent and incoherent as it is possible to be.
This does not absolve our Government from its responsibility to be open about the status of the negotiations, the increasing risk of new barriers to trade and what appears a complete breakdown in political level contacts with London on this issue. We also need the Government to have the honesty to admit that it may have wasted months in the hope that London could use the backstop as a way to reverse the United Kingdom as a whole into the customs union and Single Market.
This was the proposal made earlier this month by the UK Prime Minister, Mrs. May. When the Taoiseach was briefed by her about it he welcomed it as progress. However, he has been distancing himself from it since Michel Barnier rejected it as unacceptable cherry-picking that endangers the European Union's legal order. I know the Taoiseach denies this but the record shows he has supported this option for some time. In a written statement he released on 8 December, when praising himself for achieving "all we set out to achieve", he explicitly stated, "So there is a backstop arrangement in which Northern Ireland and perhaps all the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with rules of the Internal Market and Customs Union".
The Taoiseach himself supported the use of the backstop for the whole of the United Kingdom. It was proposed by the United Kingdom but has now been rejected, involving a waste of scarce time in the process.