Serious questions remain unanswered on future of EU-UK relationship

22 November 2018

Speaking in relation to the draft political declaration of the future relationship between the EU and the UK, Leader of the Labour Party Brendan Howlin TD referred to the draft text as creating a plausible foundation for a durable long-term partnership, but serious questions remain unanswered.

Deputy Howlin said:

“Labour welcomes the core commitments in the declaration to respecting human rights, safeguarding workers’ rights, and consumer and environmental protection. The potential for co-operation on carbon pricing is a useful way to ensure there is no race to the bottom with respect to carbon emissions.

“Labour welcomes the commitment to maintaining a PEACE PLUS funding programme for projects that sustain reconciliation in Northern Ireland. We also welcome the re-affirmation of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement in the declaration.

“The determination to replace the backstop solution to the border by a subsequent agreement involving alternative arrangements in acceptable only to the extent that it genuinely delivers the stated goal of no hard border on the island of Ireland ‘on a permanent footing’

“The envisaged close economic partnership between the UK and EU is strongly in Ireland’s national interest. East-West trade with Britain is vital for tens of thousands of jobs and livelihoods, and the envisaged free trade area without tariffs, building on the single customs territory, will be good news to workers and business owners.

“The proposed political declaration is ambitious. It includes a deal on financial services and e-commerce, energy transmission and a close UK relationship with the European Investment Bank. All of this is of benefit to Ireland in terms of access to common law services, in terms of the all-island energy market and in terms of the possibility that joint North-South infrastructural projects could be co-funded by the European Investment Bank. We also welcome that the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise train line is recognised in the declaration.

“That the UK will be outside of the EU has serious consequences. For example, there will be no free movement of persons between the EU and UK, although short-term visitors will not require a travel visa. It is important and welcome that new mobility arrangements for other EU citizens will not detrimentally affect Ireland’s unique Common Travel Area arrangements with the UK, which will continue. We welcome that Irish citizens will continue to be able to work and reside in the UK, but we caution that non-Irish residents in Ireland will not enjoy this access to the UK.

“There are likely to be future disputes between the EU and UK. The whole area of fisheries appears to be too sensitive for inclusion alongside other aspects of economic co-operation, which means that it will not be resolved in a hurry. Loss of access to British waters may lead to pressure by EU nations on Ireland to grant to increased access to our waters. Any large increase in such access must be resisted by the Government on economic and environmental grounds.

“The proposals on security partnership, co-operation with Europol and Eurojust, co-operation on sanctions and exchange of intelligence are welcome. Likewise it is welcome that the UK envisages a structured, ongoing dialogue to co-operate on matters of foreign policy, security and defence.

“It is significant and important that the UK will accept binding rulings on the interpretation of European Union law from the Court of Justice of the EU. This will be an important safeguard alongside the range of other dispute resolution mechanisms that are proposed.

“Labour welcomes the encouragement for civil society dialogue in the declaration, not least as this includes dialogue between trade unions and advocacy groups, many of which operate on an all-island basis in Ireland such as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

“The political declaration proposes that the overall institutional framework for the UK relationship with the EU could be an Association Agreement. This is perhaps the most significant statement in the draft political declaration. The detail of what this might mean is not provided, but it allows for a joint committee to supervise the relationship, the possibility of reviews, as well as thematic co-operation between the EU and UK. The declaration envisages dialogue at summit, ministerial and technical level, as well as at parliamentary level in dialogue between the European Parliament and the British Parliament. A high level conference at least every six months is envisaged.

“If the UK ends up as a close Associate of the European Union this is likely to set new standards and new expectations for how the EU relates to neighbouring countries. For example, it is unlikely that Norway, Switzerland or Turkey will accept a lesser relationship or a situation where they are rules-takers while the UK has some influence over rules through its structured relationship with the EU. In the long term, this may lead other member states to consider association rather than full membership of the European Union, which could be destabilising.

“Ireland’s national interest is clearly aligned with full membership of a strong and cohesive European Union. We would prefer to see the UK hold a second referendum with the option of remaining within the EU. But if this political declaration does represent the likely future relationship we can at least be assured that Ireland concerns in relation to Northern Ireland are centrally recognised and that Ireland’s concerns about open trade with the UK are likewise covered.”

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