Speech by Brendan Howlin TD on post- European Council Statements 19-12-2018
Many important discussions took place at the EU Council meeting last week.
There are a host of policies that need to be advanced.
On economic policy, we need the next seven-year financial framework and reform of the Single Market to strengthen the EU’s Social Pillar and to support people and communities that are being left behind.
We also need the financial framework and Single Market reform to be centred on action to mitigate climate change.
We need Europe-wide social insurance policies as part of reforming monetary policy and the Euro currency.
On migration policy, Labour endorses the UN Migration Pact, and this should be at the centre of the EU discussion of migration policy.
Previously, I have discussed the need for a Marshall Plan for Europe’s neighbourhood, in particular significant European investment in the Arab countries in Europe’s neighbourhood in order to boost political stability there and to help their economies develop.
On migration, can the Taoiseach assure this house that all member states have been fully briefed about our Common Travel Area with the UK, and how we need that to function in parallel to EU migration policy?
On security, we need to see concrete actions being implemented to safeguard the European elections next May from any outside interference, including online through social media.
In addition to these issues, which I elaborated on last week, I want to focus on the looming spectre of Brexit.
There are now four realistic outcomes from the UK Parliament’s deliberation of the Withdrawal Agreement.
But, as things stand, there is not a majority for any of them.
There is no majority for the current text of the Withdrawal Agreement, and it was made abundantly clear that the legal text will not be re-opened.
The solidarity from EU member states for Ireland about the border is very welcome.
But if the Agreement does not pass Parliament what next?
A second possibility is a General Election, which requires a two-third majority that seem unlikely to occur.
Even if an election was held and a new British Government formed, it seems unlikely that the deadlock in Parliament about Brexit will be overcome as no significant change to the Withdrawal Agreement would be on offer from Europe.
A third possibility is a new referendum, to allow the public a new choice, between the Withdrawal Agreement or continued full membership of the EU.
The case for a new referendum has been greatly strengthened in recent weeks, and there is now a focus on how it might be achieved, as a delay to Article 50 would be required.
We should certainly, as the Taoiseach has already said, be open to extending the Article 50 process to allow a new referendum.
Finally, the very real prospect of ‘no deal’ is also growing in likelihood.
There is a risk of ‘no deal’ by accident rather than design, as the time runs out.
And as this prospect looms, there will be enormous pressure on the Government, including from business here, to dilute the border backstop.
This must be resisted.
The Taoiseach has announced that a volume of emergency legislation will be required to prepare the country for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
There are only 29 sitting days scheduled in the Dáil before March 29th.
The Government has dropped the ball on these preparations.
How are we to have proper scrutiny and debate of what appears to be a significant volume of legislation in under three months, alongside all ordinary business?
We are also likely to see new directives coming from the European Commission, as they too are stepping up preparations for no deal.
There is a real risk that this simply won’t work.
If the Government rams through a raft of new laws, without due debate and scrutiny, that will spell the end of the ‘new politics’.
Fianna Fáil have signed up to a renewed ‘confidence and supply’ deal.
But have they agreed that laws vital to the national will be rushed through the Dáil without full debate?
The Government is risking instability in the Dáil at the most crucial juncture, when we need to have certainty about the Government’s ability to deliver legislation that will protect jobs from the harm that Brexit is certain to cause.
If we assume that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be agreed at Westminster, there is only one scenario that we should then contemplate.
And that is a change of heart among the British people about the whole Brexit misadventure.
According to several surveys, public desire in the UK for a second vote has grown, while public appetite for Brexit has declined.
Since June 2016, much has been revealed.
Illegality in the referendum campaign, by the Leave side.
Deception and false promises made, by the Leave side.
Decades of false reporting about the EU by the British media, for their own interests.
That aside, the general public’s understanding of the European Union has changed over the last 30 months.
The EU is not a monolith, but it is a collection of legal agreements.
And the UK is a net beneficiary of these agreements.
On atomic energy.
On university and research co-operation.
On access to satellites.
On police and security co-operation.
On mobile phone roaming.
On countless small benefits enjoyed by individuals and businesses that have only become apparent because these benefits may now be lost.
Truth be told, the UK was distinctly influential as the co-author of many of these agreements, especially the Single Market.
And although some of these benefits can be preserved outside of the EU in a new UK-EU agreement, they will not be provided free-of-charge.
Being out of the Union can never be as good, in isolation, as the benefits of being in the Union.
The supporters of hard Brexit are also those who are quite happy to jettison all co-operation with European states, in favour of their fantasy of British isolationism.
Yet they claim that the EU will still offer them frictionless trade.
It is not just a fantasy.
It is a lie.
One of the telling statements from Theresa May’s premiership was been her argument some months ago that Russia is threatening the ‘international legal order’.
As a matter of fact, it is the hard Brexiteers who are a clear and present danger to the international legal order of the EU and World Trade Organisation.
They cling on to simplistic nineteenth century notions of ‘sovereignty’ that are incompatible with realistic inter-dependence and co-operation among countries and governments.
They ignore the enhanced capacity that is gained when countries co-operate through an international legal order such as the EU has created.
The solution to Brexit, if there is one, now lies with the British Labour Party.
I have engaged with my Labour colleagues on Brexit since before the vote.
I campaigned in Liverpool for Remain.
And I remain in close contact with the Labour shadow cabinet on Ireland’s concerns with Brexit.
In my view, the British Labour Party is more likely to back a new referendum than they are to back the current Withdrawal Agreement.
I don’t believe that any plausible change to the Withdrawal Agreement would satisfy the British Labour Party, and at any rate we shouldn’t go down the road of offering any dilution of the deal that is on the table.
That puts the focus squarely on what can the EU do to make continued membership of the EU more attractive to the British people.
We received real concessions when the Irish people voted against European Treaties.
There is every reason for the EU to show understanding, flexibility and responsiveness to the UK.
Without any compromise on the fundamental principle of free movement of people and workers within the single market, there is still room for clarification and better regulation of internal migration.
The deal that was offered to David Cameron should be offered again in full, and better explained, as I outlined last week.
And more, the EU needs to demonstrate that a strong social dimension is and will be politically possible within EU rules.
All over Europe, railways remain in public ownership, water systems remains in public ownership, and postal systems are in public ownership.
These are three flagship British Labour commitments, and they can all be achieved within the EU.
The EU should make that potential crystal clear.
Likewise, if they remain, the UK would retain its opt-outs, including its option to remain outside of the Euro currency.
At this crucial juncture, time is running out.
The Government should undertake to convince our EU partners to make a declaration to the British people that the EU would welcome their decision to remain.
We do not need to pretend neutrality or indifference to UK internal affairs on this particular point.
Whether or not the UK remains in the European Union is very much in our national interest, and we are well within our entitlement to make the British people a good offer to remain fully engaged in the still young project of European partnership and co-operation.