Taoiseach must hold firm on Backstop

30 January 2019

Brendan Howlin TD, leader of the Labour Party, reacted to the latest developments in Westminster and called on the Taoiseach to hold firm on Ireland’s need for a legally-binding agreement to keep the border open, and that any future EU-UK trade deal must commit to that.

Deputy Howlin said:

“While the UK exiting the EU with ‘no deal’ would lead to massive problems on the border, we must now insist and ensure that any subsequent UK-EU trade deal would require an open border in Ireland. We have to hold firm to achieve that. A compromise on the border ‘backstop’ now could lead to permanent controls that would deeply affect the lives and livelihoods of people on both sides of the border.

“Taoiseach Leo Varadkar guaranteed that the UK’s commitment to an open border was ‘politically bulletproof’ and ‘cast-iron’. I asked him in the Dáil on numerous occasions to ensure that the Irish dimension of the deal was dealt with in advance of the final withdrawal agreement, so that Ireland’s specific concerns would not be a bargaining chip in the final negotiations.

“The Taoiseach refused to take this risk seriously, and turned down opportunities at European Council meetings to settle the issue, allowing talks to progress without a legal commitment.

“Yesterday, Paschal Donohoe finally admitted the scale of job losses that could follow if the UK leaves on 29th March without a deal. He said that between 30,000 and 40,000 jobs could be lost, with an increase of unemployment by two percentage points over time.

“The projected job losses would mean devastation for many communities. We know the impact would be concentrated in certain sectors, like farming and food, and would hit some localities much harder than others.

“The Government have failed to invest in good time in real contingency plans, such as boosting the capacity of Ireland’s ports, improving our road network and supporting businesses to prepare for the possibility of a sudden change to our economy.

“Labour has previously ensured that investment in our motorways to Rosslare Port was funded, but the current government has failed to complete this investment, leaving all our eggs in the one basket of Dublin port. Even if Brexit never happens, infrastructural investment would still benefit regional economic development. The Fine Gael Government has not done this.

“All of Ireland’s interests are now in the hands of British politicians who may or may not accept the Withdrawal Agreement that was painstakingly crafted over two years. The Taoiseach needs to hold firm against attempts to dilute or undermine the legal certainty of the ‘backstop’ agreement that guarantees an open border in Ireland.”

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