RESPONSE BY BRENDAN HOWLIN TO REMARKS BY MICHEL BARNIER
Thank you, Ceann Comhairle.
You will appreciate that the Brexit negotiating mandate is about our vital national interests, and the vital interests of this island as a whole.
We have many concerns.
We are an island off an island off the European mainland.
Inevitably, our geography must dictate our policies and priorities.
The negotiating guidelines, with their insistence on an orderly, ‘first thing first’ approach, postpone consideration of what for us will be in fact the most vital issues.
To be specific, while the guidelines do recognise the special position of Northern Ireland, they don’t sufficiently recognise the unique challenges we will face south of the border.
Because Brexit means that, for us, the idea of achieving the European single market has been set back a generation or more.
Bluntly, once the UK leaves, it will no longer make any real, practical, day-to-day sense to talk about our membership of a single market in relation to the goods and services that we import and export.
Talk of the single market will, from our perspective, revert from being something approaching reality, towards something more closely resembling a pious aspiration.
The basic reason, as I said earlier, is geography.
There will in future be a large chunk of ‘non-Europe’ between us and the rest of the Union.
Brexit will impact on every aspect of our economic, social and cultural lives.
It will impact on every network we are connected to.
This includes, in physical and infrastructural terms, our transport, energy and telecommunications networks.
And it will therefore impact on our ability to adhere to EU law.
It will affect, for example, our ability to comply with an EU directive requiring a single EU market in electricity – when our only power connections are with Northern Ireland and with Britain.
Or another directive that requires an EU-wide ‘Television without Frontiers’ – when most of our TV comes from Britain.
EU directives are based on internal markets, common markets and interconnectedness.
They are designed to cover enormous territories and immense distances and bring them together as one.
But they aren’t designed to leap-frog over other countries, operating other rules, to which we will nonetheless remain tied in terms of geography, infrastructure, networks and trade.
So, the challenge post-Brexit for Ireland to adhere to policies and laws that were designed for an internal EU market – when we will find ourselves so far removed from that market, having few direct infrastructural connections to it and remaining connected instead to a country outside the Union – makes Ireland’s case unique in the negotiation which you are about to lead for us.