A UK Labour Government is best for Ireland

11 December 2019

Speaking on pre-European Council statements in the Dáil, Labour Leader Brendan Howlin said that a UK government led by the British Labour Party would be far better for Ireland because only Labour is committed to retaining close alignment with the European Union.

In his contribution he went on to say:

“The EU Council are meeting tomorrow and Friday, to discuss climate change, the multiannual financial framework, external relations, economic and monetary union, and Brexit.

They wisely left discussion of Brexit until Friday, as the result of tomorrow’s British election represents a decisive moment of choice in relation to what happens next.

If Boris Johnson wins a majority, the latest Withdrawal Agreement will be ratified before the end of January next year, and the UK will officially leave the EU.

If Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, he will seek to renegotiate the deal and put it to a new people’s vote before the end of June next year.

Johnson has made it clear that it is his intention to take the UK far from European norms, and to trade on a similar basis to Canada.

The Conservative Party has become the de facto Brexit Party under Johnson, and they are pursuing the same fantasy of global trade despite all the evidence to the contrary.

The British Labour Party will seek to preserve jobs, workers’ rights and environmental protections to a much greater extent, and they will seek to remain in a customs union with the EU to facilitate trade in goods.

In fact, many in the British Labour Party will campaign for Remain in any referendum to confirm their new deal.

I am not going to speculate on the opinion polls and the result of tomorrow’s UK election, but I will say that a UK government led by the British Labour Party would be far better for Ireland because only Labour is committed to retaining close alignment with the European Union.

My colleagues have met with representatives of British manufacturing who have predicted that the UK could lose its entire motor industry due to Brexit.

This applies even if the UK secures a trade deal.

The reason is that modern manufacturing in Europe is international. Materials and components are sourced from across Europe, and it is only possible to be part of seamless supply lines if you remain inside the EU.

I might add that the manufacturing industry has regular meetings with the British Labour Party, but not with the Conservatives, as only Labour is willing to seriously discuss industrial policy.

If Johnson secures a majority, and passes the withdrawal agreement, we face the risk of a “no deal” exit by the UK at the end of 2020.

It is highly unlikely that the UK will conclude a trade deal by then, and it remains to be seen whether Johnson is prepared to back down on his insistence that he will not seek a further extension.

If the political situation in Britain is still volatile, he may prefer to take the plunge rather than prolong the inevitable tension with Brexiteer supporters.

The end of 2020 is thus a cliff edge for Ireland, as the economic and political effects of Brexit will be much worse in any no deal scenario.

Even if the balance of power in Parliament is not much changed after this election, it is important to remember that the Conservative Party has purged many of the pro-EU moderates from the ranks of its candidates, and its MPs are more likely to take a hardline pro-Brexit line, regardless of the consequences.

I would urge the government to continue to plan for a no deal exit, as it is now a real possibility that the next UK Parliament will not have the numbers or the will to prevent it from happening.

In relation to other EU Council business, the heads of government are to discuss the EU’s climate strategy and a target of climate neutrality by 2050. I hope that the Taoiseach will push for greater ambition at European level than what his government has demonstrated in our domestic plan, but given the votes of Fine Gael and its EPP allies in the European Parliament, it is very much up to the government to prove their credentials on the issue of climate.

On the multiannual financial framework, I hope that there will be a significant allocation of funding for climate action.

There was also talk before the last European election that EU funding could be made available to support member states to build more housing. I hope the government will pursue this.

On the topic of international relations, there are a range of external issues that require greater attention and focus by Europe.

I hope the Taoiseach will join with others in pushing for the beginning of accession talks by Albania and North Macedonia. With the UK leaving the EU, it is vitally important that we continue to show the vitality and attractiveness of the European Project.

We also have to fill a void where both Russia and China have been heavily investing in the Balkans to undermine European influence in the region.

Likewise, I hope the government will push hard for greater resources to assist migrants and asylum seekers making hazardous journeys across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Finally, in relation to the EU’s economic and monetary policies.

There is evidence that some governments and central banks around the world are prepared to allow further deregulation of the banking and finance sector, partially in response to the current tension in US trading relations, including with Europe.

An enormous quantity of money passes through banks and financial institutions in Ireland. One question for the government is whether our own Central Bank has sufficient capacity to ensure all of this money is legitimate.

We have seen enormous investments in Cyprus and Malta, which have raised many questions about the sources of that money.

While the level of foreign money in Ireland is smaller as a proportion of the overall financial sector, the quantity of money is of a similar scale to what has been seen in Cyprus or Malta, and we have to ensure that it is all legitimate.

Any deregulation of banking and finance at European level is to be avoided at all costs, and I hope that the Taoiseach will resist that.

However, Christine Lagarde has signalled that she wants the European Central Bank to play a greater role on climate change, and I hope that the Taoiseach will support her proposals.

There is a lot that could be said about European economic policy, and perhaps the government could facilitate statements on that in the near future. Major decisions are being taken about the direction of travel of the next five-year European Commission and we do need to debate in more detail how these will affect the Irish economy in years to come.

Meanwhile, the greatest threat to our economy remains Boris Johnson and the cavalier way in which he is clearly prepared to treat Ireland’s concerns about Brexit.

We cannot trust anything he says, and we cannot even trust that he will honour any agreement that he makes.

Given that British Labour is committed to a much closer relationship with the EU and has a more realistic view on how Brexit will damage jobs and prosperity in the UK, Ireland’s best hope is that Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister after tomorrow’s British election.

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