02 February 2017

Labour spokesperson on Jobs, Alan Kelly TD has today stated that he believes the Irish Government should consider holding a referendum on the final deal negotiated between the EU and Britain following Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

He said ‘no one can predict how this will pan out. This has never been done before, but once the British Prime Minister triggers Article 50, negotiations will commence and we need our partners in the other member states to realise that these negotiations are critical to the future of this country and this island. We need to put our best foot forward and have a significant presence on the EU negotiation team and we need to ensure that Ireland’s agenda across so many different areas is at the forefront.

There are numerous ways in which the final Brexit negotiations could conclude. Everything from a hard Brexit to a well-structured negotiated arrangement that works for both parties is possible. The spectrum of outcomes exists. However, we are certain of three things. Firstly the agreement on leaving will have to be ratified by the European Council (using QMV). Secondly, it will have to be passed by a majority vote in the European Parliament and thirdly any such deal will in reality have to be agreed by each existing member state.

Every country has their own way of ratifying EU changes such as new member state accessions or in this case a member state leaving. In Ireland unless there is a substantive change to the EU Treaties such changes are ratified by the Irish Government by means of an Act of the Oireachtas. Where there is a material change we have to have a referendum. In my view it is highly unlikely that Brexit will not result in a change to the EU Treaties given the fact that the UK is referred to approximately 120 times in EU Treaties and Protocols. Furthermore, there is a strong possibility that any agreement will create new bodies or organisations to oversee the relationship between both parties, thereby again possibly necessitating a referendum.

Of course there will be huge legal debate and a myriad of legal arguments about whether or not a referendum will be necessary and of course if any government were to try to refuse one then there will be a certain legal challenge in the courts.

Given all of this we need to consider not just whether or not a referendum is necessary following the final deal, but more so whether or not it is actually in our best interests now in advance of the British Prime Minister triggering Article 50 to say to our EU partners that we will have to have one anyway. This would certainly concentrate the mind of Mr Barnier and his negotiating team and furthermore elevate our unique status and issues on their priority list.

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