We are facing the real prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit

27 March 2019

Dáil Statement by Brendan Howlin on post-EU Council Statement, 27 March 2019

When it comes to our statements on EU Council business, we might be better served in having separate Brexit statements and then statements on the actual business of the EU Council.

Naturally, we have an enormous interest in the latest Brexit developments.

But it is equally important that we keep up to date with a number of important policy developments that are taking shape at EU level.

With that in mind, and having regard to the other opportunities we have to speak on Brexit, I will make just a few remarks on Brexit developments before focusing on other EU policy.

We are now facing the very real prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

As I’ve said before, we have to keep our focus on the long-term goal of ensuring no hard border on this island.

With the fear of the UK leaving the EU without a deal, there will be pressure from business to compromise, and to allow some level of border infrastructure in order to minimise the disruption to trade.

We should not do that.

If we allow any border infrastructure after a no deal Brexit, it could be there forever.

We need to hold the British Government to their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.

They have said they want to retain an open border, and that commitment still applies even if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Certainly, the Government cannot allow any future EU-UK trade deal to be agreed if it does not ensure an open border.

In the meantime, the UK can and must choose trade policies that eliminate the need for a hard border.

In this context, we support the Government’s continued insistence that there can be no return to the hard border of the past.

As a matter of fact – and I think it is important to talk about these technicalities – we do already have a form of non-physical border controls in some specific areas.

People from outside of the European Union need permission to enter Ireland.

Quite obviously, someone from outside the EU could be legally visiting or resident in the UK and he or she could walk across the border to Ireland.

But that would be unlawful, and just like many other breaches of the law, we enforce the matter through the Gardaí and other public agencies.

Similarly, as just one example, we continue to control the movement of diesel fuel across the border. Fuel transports must be registered and we have a system of administrative controls and checks to ensure that this system works.

So! I can imagine the voice of some Brexiteer immediately seizing on these points to claim that this means we could use similar administrative controls to maintain an open border even in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

The answer to that is, emphatically, no!

We do not have technological solutions to cover the movement of livestock, the quality standards of food and consumer goods, and so on. Let alone services.

The rules of the single market and customs union exist precisely to allow the free-as-possible trade and we should not accept anything less when it comes to continued open trade on the island of Ireland, in line with the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

Meanwhile, when it comes to East-West trade between Ireland and Britain, we know that any kind of Brexit will be deeply harmful.

To be clear on the threat to jobs.

The ESRI report claims 80,000 fewer jobs would be created in the coming years due to a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario.

That is one problem.

But there is no doubt that there is a serious threat to current jobs should our access to the British market for beef or dairy or other products be affected by tariffs or other barriers to trade.

Euro-Pound exchange rates risk becoming less stable, which is bad for businesses’ ability to plan and to make long-term investments.

And imports from the UK may become more expensive – due to time delays or tariffs or more paperwork – which in turn affects our manufacturing industries that export to the rest of the EU and beyond.

All of this poses a real risk to tens of thousands of jobs today.

Notwithstanding that reality, we made a conscious decision in the Brexit negotiations to only make Ireland’s deep concerns about the border into our ‘red line’ issue.

But alongside that, as we come to the finale of the Brexit process, we also want open trade on an East-West basis. And we should not be shy about promoting the closest possible relationship to the UK.

And – like Donald Tusk’s remarks to the European Parliament – we should not forget that very many people in Britain wish to remain in the European Union.

Ireland should nurture that hope, and be an ally to British people who wish to return to the EU someday if they must leave at this juncture.

I have long advocated a new vote in the UK to decide the matter, and if one occurred I would go to Britain again to campaign for a Remain vote.

In the time that remains, I would like to make some comments on the direction the EU is now taking, based on the other matters discussed at the EU Council.

I warmly welcome the fact that the European Council has reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris Agreement and all the targets.

This is particularly timely, given that the all-party Committee on Climate Action will be reporting tomorrow on how we can make real changes to reduce Ireland’s emissions from 60 million tonnes of greenhouse gases today, to 33 million tonnes by 2030 and to effectively zero by 2050.

This is the 60 million tonne challenge, and it is incumbent on all of us to study the detail of tomorrow’s report and all of the recommendations of the Committee to see how we can assure this and future generations that we will meet those targets.

I note that the EU will have its ambitious long-term strategy for climate neutrality, and we have to be serious about ensuring the Irish component will achieve our part of those targets, because failure to do so is, frankly, not an option.

I would also like to mention the tripartite social summit that took place in advance of the EU Council meeting.

That summit discussed new ways to strengthen social dialogue throughout the EU.

Could the Government comment on the extent to which its deliberations informed the Council’s own discussions?

I would like to hear the Government’s view on how we can improve collective bargaining rights for workers here, and strengthen social dialogue on the future of the Irish economy.

Labour is also pleased to see the creation of a new European Labour Authority at EU level.

But I note that member states may not be required to work with the authority, as it will be introduced on a voluntary basis.

Can the Government make a clear commitment that Ireland will work within the guidelines and recommendations of the European Labour Authority?

Can the Government confirm also, whether we sought to have the new agency based in Ireland?

And if not, why not?

We came close to agreement to have one of the agencies moving from the UK to come here.

I note that the Authority will have a role in mediating on cross-border employment disputes.

That should be of particular interest to Ireland, as the continued existence of the Common Travel Area and the shared labour market between Ireland and Britain could lead to all sorts of new legal loopholes and disputes in the post-Brexit era.

All roads seem to lead back to Brexit at the moment.

When we discuss shared EU laws and regulations we are reminded of the body of shared rules that have been taken for granted between Ireland and Britain for many years.

I very much hope that the current political chaos in Westminster may yet deliver a sensible outcome, but a disastrous no deal exit from the EU by the UK seems more possible with every day that passes.

I asked the Taoiseach yesterday to give us more detail on preparations to support businesses and jobs.

There is no doubt that many people’s livelihoods are at risk.

Can the Government tell us more about its Brexit preparations, and whether any EU Council decisions or discussions has allowed the Government to progress these?

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