Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 11 May 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Implications of Brexit for Foreign Policy: Discussion
With us today are Professor Gary Murphy of the school of law and government at Dublin City University and Professor Gavin Barrett of the Sutherland school of law at University College Dublin. This meeting is one in a series on the potential impact of Brexit on areas identified as falling within the remit of the committee. At the end of a series of hearings over the coming weeks, the committee will prepare a report on the potential impact of Brexit. I welcome the witnesses on behalf of the committee. We look forward to hearing their thoughts and opinions on the implications, positive and negative, of the decision by the people of Britain to leave the European Union. Now that Article 50 has been invoked, we have seen movement on both sides to set out negotiating positions. In this regard, both sides have referred to the unique position of Ireland in the process. The format of the meeting is that we will hear the witnesses' opening statements before moving to a session of questions and answers with members of the committee.
Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and the people in the Visitors Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference with the recording and broadcasting equipment in this room, even in silent mode. Today's meeting is being broadcast live on Oireachtas TV and across various other media platforms.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I call on Professor Murphy to make his opening remarks. We will then hear from Professor Barrett.
Professor Gary Murphy:
I thank the committee for the invitation to address it. It is always a great honour to be in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am happy to be here in my capacity as a professor of politics at Dublin City University. I do not propose to read out the opening statement which I submitted but rather to allude to parts of it.
The decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union represents not simply a profound shock but a real and deep crisis point for the European integration project. Since its creation in 1951 with the Treaty of Paris and, six years later, the Treaty of Rome, the EU has been inspired by the idea of ever-closer union. To all intents and purposes, that has clearly been sundered. Brexit has shattered that illusory idea and the UK's departure from the EU has revealed deep flaws that cut through the European Union's constitutional fabric. It has challenged our constitutional understanding of the European project. I do not consider the European Union to be simply an entity; rather, I consider it to be a project which has brought peace and stability to the continent.
Brexit represents in many ways the greatest crisis since the Union was founded. Brexit is tied up with wider issues in the European Union and in Europe itself. We have seen the rise of nationalism which is still a potent force in British and European politics. The results of the French presidential election show that. Brexit shows it. The presidential election in the United States of America also shows it, as does the rise of nationalist parties across the Continent who wish to sunder their countries from EU. This presents a significant problem for the Union.
The decision by Britain to leave may represent a timely window for us as Europeans to rethink the foundations of the EU. I consider myself ardently pro-Europe but even the most ardent pro-Europeans cannot deny the state of the EU is not strong. It has bumped from one crisis to the next, sometimes at the very risk of its own survival. The euro crisis has challenged the stability of the EMU. The migration crisis has put the Schengen free movement zone under pressure and additional challenges in internal security, external trade and defence have put the EU under pressure on other fronts. These challenges, which my colleague might be more disposed to talk about, expose the limits of the constitutional set-up of the Union. We have seen nationalist parties and policy-makers across the Union call for a reform of the EU's powers and institutional architecture with the aim of strengthening the Union and relaunching the project.
The euro crisis has exposed the weakness of the EMU. States, notably in the south of Europe, as well as Ireland, have suffered from a constitutional regime that prioritises fiscal stability at the price of growth and employment. The migration crisis has revealed the deficiencies in the fields of justice and immigration. It has displeased states in the north of Europe which have had to shoulder a greater burden in the management of asylum claims. States, especially in central and eastern Europe, are concerned that the EU is not able to sufficiently protect them from external military threats, particularly in the light of what might be seen as the United States Administration's distancing from those issues.
The European Union needs to avoid at all costs the idea of a multi-speed Europe where different member states progress at different rates. It will be all the more apposite if efforts to reform the constitutional architecture of the EU and the Brexit negotiations do not go as well as we hope for potentially idiosyncratic national reasons. The Union has developed at different speeds. Various countries have opted out of Schengen, the common currency and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. A number of states have enhanced co-operation to set up a unified patent court and another ten eurozone countries are discussing the introduction of a financial transaction tax.
Nobody should be in any doubt that Europe and the Union will be weakened by Britain leaving the EU. Britain has been disengaged from the EU’s common foreign and security policy and external action programmes. Brexit will also deal a major blow to the European defence architecture when the EU’s biggest army leaves the EU’s structures and when the important link that Britain forms between the United States and European pillars of the transatlantic security community ends.
Ireland needs to be at the heart of ensuring changes to the EU’s architecture are appropriate because the potential consequences of Brexit for Ireland are stark. Our commitment to the European project should be reassessed. It should never be taken for granted. Those of us who count ourselves as ardently pro-European need to take that into account. Trade with Britain is an essential part of our economy and the doubts about what will happen to the Border remain questions of conjecture until the discussions get well under way and ultimately are concluded.
This brings us to the question of the Northern Ireland peace process. I am not as pessimistic as some that Brexit will mean the inevitable return to some sort of conflict. The conflict has been over for the guts of two decades. There seems to be no willingness for dissidents to engage. There will always be dissidents as long as the country is not united and I would suggest even if the country is united those dissidents would remain dissident. The peace process is premised on all-Ireland co-operation and integration, an open border, explicit EU mentions, the European Convention of Human Rights and supranational protections. It is open-ended and continues to have a dynamic of change which is at risk from Brexit because it potentially disrupts North-South integration, turns Northern Ireland more towards United Kingdom, slows dynamic change and ultimately weakens human rights protections. More than anything else it probably offers a powerful physical and symbolic target for anti-peace process dissidents to label the process as a failure, which it clearly is not, which we all know and are grateful for.
For Northern Ireland a hard land border would be the worst possible outcome because it would bring economic disruption to a weak economy, which is in many ways based on the subvention it gets from the British state. It would run the risk of fortifying security infrastructure which would almost inevitably be attacked by dissidents and then reinforced. It would be a powerful symbol of reversal and failure and ultimately bring disruption to the premise of the peace process. It would also conflict with other dynamics. In 2017 we saw the first ever Northern Ireland Assembly election where traditional unionists are in a minority and where there is a clear strong majority for remaining in the EU. In that context, it is imperative that the Irish State and people remain, as we have been for many decades, a driving force at EU level in providing a calm voice within the 27 when the terms of Brexit are being agreed.
We hosted a major conference on Brexit in Dublin City University a few weeks ago which was addressed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan. He outlined in a keynote address this is not a time for the EU to punish Britain. Rather, we in Ireland should seek to ensure Britain continues to play a role in Europe’s economic and foreign policy. We can do this through our negotiating team at EU level and also in our bilateral negotiations with the British. We should not forget that Ireland had significant links with the British state long before we both entered the EEC in 1973. We continue to have significant relations which have improved since the peace process was cemented and we see them in the current visit by Prince Charles. We should not forget that in the bilateral negotiations we have the power to persuade the British and we should concentrate as much on that as on our negotiations with the 27.
Professor Gavin Barrett:
I echo the sentiments expressed by my colleague, Professor Murphy. It is a pleasure and honour to be invited here. Suggested discussion points were given to me on four topics: UK-Ireland relations, the Good Friday Agreement, trade, and the common security and defence policy. I will make some remarks on all four points.
Ireland is clearly in a very difficult position as a result of Brexit. In the European Union we are in a Single Market of half a billion consumers. No convincing case can be made for leaving it and yet the UK is departing. While it represents only 13% of our exports, it is hugely significant for particular businesses, the food sector, farms, small and medium sized enterprises, Border enterprises and Irish-owned enterprises. There is very much a sense of being pulled in two different directions by the process of Brexit. The risk of the UK distancing itself from Ireland, which I was asked to talk about, depends very much on how hard Brexit turns out to be which as Donald Rumsfeld might put it, is a known unknown. The worst case scenario is of no agreement being reached on future relations between the UK and Europe, in which case economic relations would fall back on WTO rules. That is essentially a reduced tariff arrangement. Economically, it would be a very serious situation for Ireland because it would lead to tariffs on Irish exports and vice versa.
In the agricultural field, WTO tariffs can be quite high and that would go side by side with vastly increased competition in the UK market and also, I suspect, with a plummeting sterling which would not make life easier either. No agreement, contrary to what Ms Teresa May keeps saying, is very much worse than a bad agreement, certainly from an Irish perspective.
A step up from that would be a free trade agreement like the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, under which there would be no tariffs on goods within the free trade area, that is, the UK and the European Union, but tariffs on goods produced outside, for example, in China, Russia, Korea and so forth. That seems quite likely if Ms Teresa May holds to her position of exiting the customs union. It implies that border controls will be introduced between the UK and Ireland in order to control the entry and exit of third-country produced goods. It also enables the UK to drop its tariffs on non-free trade area products so it involves massively increased competition in the UK market for Irish producers. It would be bad news, for example, for Irish beef producers and other agricultural producers.
A customs union is the next stage of integration but that is unlikely because Ms Teresa May said in her Lancaster House speech that she wants to leave the customs union. However, she is not as vociferous on that point as she has been previously. That arrangement would involve no customs controls and therefore, no hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. It could see, however, regulatory divergences creep in between the UK and Ireland as the UK would no longer be bound by Single Market rules. In these circumstances, Ireland would need to be very careful not to allow a situation to develop in which it would be undercut by lower UK environmental, labour and consumer standards and state aid rules. However, the EU Commission's draft negotiation guidelines indicate a strong awareness of these dangers.
The Single Market would be the next step up. If we could get a Norway-type relationship, where the UK is outside the European Union but still in the Single Market, that would be the best situation, apart obviously from continued membership. However, even that would involve some distancing from Ireland in that the UK would no longer participate in the institutions of the European Union. Thus, in some but not all policy areas, Ireland would lose an ally. We would also lose UK money - Britain contributes 10% of CAP funding - and the benefit of the resources that the UK puts into processing European Union law, for example, reports, policy inputs, judicial decisions implementing legislation as a precedent and so forth. That much said, in a Brexit scenario, that would be an optimal result for us but I do not think we are going to get it.
I was also asked to consider the likely direction of negotiations on the rights of Irish and other citizens living in the UK. In that context we must distinguish between the rights of those who are or have been resident in the UK at the time of Brexit and those who take up residence afterwards. As regards the first category, the European Council guidelines, which were unanimously agreed by all of the Heads of State or Government on 29 April, described safeguarding the status and rights derived from EU law at the date of withdrawal of EU and UK citizens and their families as the "first priority" for the negotiations. A lot of importance is going to be attached to this. The annexe to the Commission's draft mandate is more specific. Among the rights it seeks to see protected are residence rights, social security rights, workers' rights under EU regulations, the right to take up self-employment and the right, very interestingly, to family reunification and to the recognition of qualifications. This is not just about workers but about anyone who is covered by the Citizenship directive. The rights involved are very extensive and it seems likely that this will have to be agreed to because the price of not agreeing may be no agreement at all.
The situation for the second category, that is, people who move to the UK after Brexit, will depend on whatever is agreed between the UK and the EU. The European Council guidelines indicate that participation in the Single Market requires free movement of persons. The guidelines hold that one cannot split up the four freedoms and that is a position that is likely to be insisted upon by the Eastern European states in particular. However, I think that price may well be too high for the UK so Britain will leave the Single Market. Controlling immigration seems to have been one of the reasons for the Brexit vote and it still seems to be a very high priority for Ms Teresa May, according to press reports of recent days. In principle, anything less than a Single Market does not involve free movement rights for individuals. In other words, a customs union or a free trade area will achieve nothing in terms of free movement rights for EU or Irish citizens. It is possible, and perhaps quite likely, that some free movement rights will be negotiated but judging by the published account of the conversation at the dinner from hell between Mr. Juncker and Ms May, the negotiations can be expected to be quite difficult. There is also a possibility that the UK will unilaterally confer rights on Irish citizens alone after Brexit. It has done that before but for the moment, everything is up in the air.
I was also asked to consider the impact of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement and in particular, on North-South relations and east-west relations. I have already considered the latter relations. In terms of North-South relations we already have, in the Miller case judgment of the UK's Supreme Court, a judicial ruling on at least one aspect of Brexit, that is, that section 1 of the Northern Ireland Act applies only to constitutional change concerning reunification, not Brexit. In other words, the veto on constitutional change does not involve Brexit but only reunification with Ireland. Interestingly, Article 1 (vi) of the Good Friday Agreement guarantees the right of all of the people of Northern Ireland to "Irish or British, or both" citizenships. That is interesting from an EU perspective because citizenship of an EU member state like Ireland brings with it EU citizenship so for the first time, more than 1 million people who are not actually resident in the EU and not presently citizens of an EU member state will become citizens of the EU.
The long-term impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland is very hard to fathom. Brexit was rejected by the electorates in Northern Ireland and Scotland and it may increase the chances of Scotland voting for independence. If that happens, Northern Ireland will have a kind of rump status and that would increase the logic of an economic case for Irish reunification. However, it is far from certain whether that would actually happen or that a majority would come to favour it. European Council guidelines have stressed the need to support the goals of peace and reconciliation enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. The draft negotiation guidelines are even more explicit in recognising Irish concerns like the common transport area and the transit of goods, which is obviously of major commercial importance to us. There is a lot of awareness of Ireland's risky position in that regard.
I will move on now to a consideration of trade policy and the implications for Ireland of the UK negotiating its own trade agreements. The search by the UK for trade agreements which are worth more than the lost opportunities of the rejected Single Market seems likely to be unsuccessful. The UK will, it is true, be able to offer one advantage over the European Union in trade agreements, namely speedier ratification. However, the product it will be selling will be a lot less attractive because all the UK can offer is access to a market of 70 million consumers as opposed to what will be the EU's 440 million consumers. One can imagine who other countries will be queueing up to negotiate with and who will get the best deal - clearly, it is going to be the European Union. The search for independent trade agreements by the UK is something of a chimera. One is reminded of Philip Stephen's comment to the effect that the UK is abandoning real power in pursuit of the chimera of sovereignty. The search for such international trade agreements is driving the UK's determination to leave the customs union because the customs union requires a common external tariff and thus prevents independent trade deals by the UK. To take that point a step further, one can say that the UK's desire to leave the customs union is actually going to result in border posts being re-erected between Northern Ireland and the Republic, with all of the negative consequences that this will entail. No matter how negotiations go between the UK and the EU, unless and until the UK abandons its plans to leave the customs union, we are stuck with a hard border, effectively. There is no way out of that. Britain may not abandon such plans because they are central to the image of what Brexit means.
Any external trade agreement will likely result in extra competition for Irish food producers and farmers on the British market. When I say that the majority of cheddar on the British market is produced in Ireland, it will give the committee some idea of the economic implications for the food industry and farmers generally. I addressed the recent IFA conference on Brexit - there are many concerned farmers watching this situation.
I was asked to address the common security and defence policy, CSDP. I will make a few rapid comments on this matter. Without the UK, the CSDP would not exist. The UK is a large military player, at least in a European context. It accounts for 40% of public defence investment in the EU and is one of only five EU member states to spend 2% of its GDP on the military. Paradoxically, though, the direct and immediate impact of Brexit on the CSDP may not be great. This is because the UK has, at least since David Cameron took office, been in a state of what has been described as "semi-Brexit" and the Saint-Malo declaration was never followed through with. This was for a number of reasons, including Conservative Party euroscepticism as well as frustration with the small scale of CSDP operations. For a long time, the UK has focused its efforts on NATO and unilateral action alongside other states, Libya being a case in point. It had started to cut back on its contribution to EU deployments and walk away from CSDP long before the referendum.
Although the UK provided leadership in, for example, combating piracy around the Horn of Africa, its contribution in terms of personnel and resources has been limited in recent years, well behind that of much smaller states. It ranks only fifth among contributors to CSDP military operations behind France, Italy, Germany and Spain and seventh among contributors to civilian missions behind Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, France and Finland. It contributes only 4% of the personnel provided by EU member states. To some extent, Brexit represents a loss of potential as much as an actual contribution.
The implications of Brexit relate more to the politics and governance of the CSDP rather than its operations or armaments co-operation. It used to be said jokingly that NATO was an organisation designed to keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down. Using the same approach, the question of what can keep the EU up and the UK in can now be asked. It will require a revision of the CSDP's governance model, that is, the core of states driving it forward, and it will involve a new partnership between the CSDP and the UK as a third party. The EU needs to devise something to replace the Franco-UK axis that was at the core of the CSDP. A Franco-German engine might be one possibility, given that Germany is evolving from a solely civilian power into one taking greater responsibility for international security.
The absence of UK vetoes might make some aspects work more smoothly, given that there would be less opposition to permanent structured co-operation and the possible setting up of a EU military headquarters, but some means of including the UK as a third party contributor operationally will need to be found, for example, a revised framework participation agreement. Defence market co-operation will suffer if the UK falls out. It has a large defence industry operation, so it may want to opt into co-operation in some form. Various possibilities that might happen in the absence of the UK have been suggested, such as the creation of an autonomous EU military headquarters, but we do not know what will happen. It is all uncertain.
The implications for NATO are unclear. The UK is clearly an Atlanticist country and likes the NATO core to defence but, judging by the recent German defence White Paper, it is Atlanticist as well. I see no great desire to get NATO out and to replace it with a European defence alliance.
Regarding the implications for Irish neutrality, that neutrality presented a difficult issue when Ireland was negotiating entry to the European Communities in the first place. However, the EU has expanded to include six neutral and non-aligned states, including us, so any future arrangement is likely to be a coalition of the willing. The special characteristics of national defence policy such as Ireland's are specifically recognised in the treaty, and let us not forget that our Constitution contains a provision precluding our taking part in a European defence alliance. On top of that is the Seville declaration.
Brexit may allow things to happen that would not have happened were the UK still in the EU, and it may require things to happen if the CSDP is to continue to have any relevance or begin to have more relevance. It will require other states to step up to the plate. Its long-term implications are as yet unclear, but I see no threat to Irish neutrality.
Clearly the agri-sector is concerned about the fallout from Brexit, but another dimension that is often ignored is that many of our major food companies are all-Ireland companies. For example, Lakeland Dairies used to be a Cavan-Monaghan enterprise, but it now has major processing plants north of the Border. Similarly, LacPatrick – formerly the Town of Monaghan Co-op – has major processing plants north of the Border. The raw material – milk in this case, but sheepmeat and beef in other cases – travels north and south for processing. There will be significant challenges if different regulatory regimes apply to food standards. These are just some issues.
I have the privilege of representing two of the southern Ulster counties. Our lives in those Border communities have been transformed since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Thankfully, the Border has been gone in reality since 1998 and there has been a normalisation and total demilitarisation of our region. In recent years, but particularly prior to Brexit, all of us argued that we did not see the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement being maximised and that more all-island bodies could have been created to do that. However, when we undertake an inventory of the Agreement, its success has been significant. We have taken that for granted.
Be it a soft or hard Border, any impediment to the movement of people, goods or services is a major backwards step, and a worrying one for Border communities. Where I live, people travel north on a daily basis to work in or access the help service, education, etc. Unfortunately, I do not underestimate the potential for difficulties when the Border arrives.
It is welcome and significant that Mr. Michel Barnier is addressing both Houses of the Oireachtas today. He has an understanding of our country. The European Parliament’s chief negotiator, Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, MEP, recently stated that the Good Friday Agreement had to be protected. That is important. Many positives have flowed from the Agreement, so it has to be uppermost in all negotiations at every level, a matter on which both of the witnesses’ contributions dealt with strongly.
I will conclude on a further point before calling on colleagues. The economy of the Border region, North and South, suffered much over the years because of the Troubles. We have only started to try to catch up. There has been good indigenous enterprise, which we have depended on down the years. Thankfully, some companies that started out small in my constituency and north of the Border have become international corporations.
The Border economy is more heavily dependent on agriculture, construction and engineering than any other region in the country. Those are the sectors that will be most impacted by Brexit, given that they depend on the British and Northern Ireland markets so much for their exports. So many double whammies will hit the local economy and communities that such considerations must be uppermost in our minds at all times.
Another issue that has not been taken into account enough is the fact that a great deal of our exports to markets beyond Britain and the EU use Britain as a landbridge. These obstacles will hit the Border region, North and South, more negatively than they will other regions.
The presentations are exceptionally good and touch on all of those issues. Although I took the liberty of making a statement, I ask my colleagues to stick to asking questions. I call Deputy Darragh O'Brien.
I will do my best, Chairman. It is difficult. I thank the witnesses. Both of their presentations show what we know, which is how complex this will be. It could lead us down any avenue. I will try to restrict myself to specific questions, the first of which is what does Britain want? My understanding from meetings is that it has no idea what it wants. I do not mean that in a condescending way, but it does not. I do not believe the Brexit Theresa May wants is possible and I also do not believe her when she says that no agreement is better than a bad agreement. What are the chances, and this is not wishful thinking, of Britain re-thinking this and coming back from the edge during the negotiations? We were given a very stark presentation from the aviation sector. In that case a deal would have to be done, probably within the next year, to facilitate open skies and to allow sales of tickets into 2019. These things are coming down the track and UK airlines might not be able to land in the EU. That is one element.
Do the witnesses believe a new UK-Ireland or Anglo-Irish agreement is needed after the Good Friday Agreement? I have been critical that the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement has not been used to its potential. Either we ramp that up or a new agreement is required.
There are many more questions I could ask but I am conscious of the time. The two-speed Europe piece interests me in particular. There is a sense that Ireland walks a very fine line in that it will not be used as a Trojan Horse, that is, to advocate for a good British deal while our European colleagues are looking at us and wondering which side of the table we are on. Ireland walks a fine line in that regard, and I picked that up in Brussels in numerous meetings I had there. Our situation not just economically, but also politically and diplomatically, is even more difficult than that of the British, once they figure out what they want. They say they want to leave. We are trying to maintain a good relationship with a good neighbour and partner, so there is a chance of the isolation of Ireland within the European Union.
I could ask about 20 more questions but I will leave it at that. I thank the witnesses for their presentations. They referred to many of the points that concern me. The final question is how easy it is to persuade hard Brexiteers. I do not believe one can. This is a sovereignty grab and it is immigration based. It is a view they have of a perceived problem with immigration. I say "perceived" because it should not be a problem for most British people, but it is a post-colonial issue as opposed to a European issue. However, one cannot convince them of that. Some of them just want out and do not care about the consequences.
I thank the witnesses for their stimulating and comprehensive presentations that complemented each other on the law and politics around Brexit. The witnesses are before the committee on an auspicious day, given that Michel Barnier will be in the Dáil in the next hour. Professor Murphy described himself as ardently pro-European. It is not a phrase one hears often but I would probably now describe myself in the same way, despite having been very critical over the years of many aspects of the EU. However, the Brexit vote has brought out, perhaps by way of contrast, the need to assert European values and so forth as a positive.
To confine myself to questions, I wish to tease out three points. I thank Professor Barrett for being helpful and clear in setting out the four levels of Brexit that are possible. As he said, the optimal one for Ireland is that Britain remains in the Single Market, but he envisages that as unlikely. How likely is it that we will have the next level, that Britain remains in the customs union? That has better outcomes for agrifood businesses in Ireland and for the Border, the Good Friday Agreement and so forth. Is that likely? How can Ireland try to promote that outcome? Are there ways of doing so?
Both witnesses referred to UK-Ireland bilateral negotiations and relations. The other EU member states appear to be opposed to that but we must assert ourselves. For example, Irish citizens have rights to vote in British general elections if they are resident there, while other EU citizens do not. We already have many demarcations due to our historical relationship. Can we strengthen those? In particular, is there a way to strengthen that negotiating position because of the issue Professor Barrett raised, which is the many people in Northern Ireland who currently are not Irish citizens and who may now take Irish citizenship? They will then be EU citizens but resident in a non-EU state. The first priority of the EU Council negotiating guidelines is to protect those EU citizens, but perhaps we do not think of Northern Irish people in those terms. It is an interesting point.
On reform, Deputy O'Brien referred to the multi-speed Europe. Professor Murphy says that is not something in Ireland's interest. How likely is it and how can we take a stance against it?
Finally, there are the rights of Irish citizens resident in Britain. There will be a difference between the rights of those who are currently resident there and of those who move there after withdrawal. What is the best way to protect their interests and particularly the interests of those who may wish to move there in the future? Again, I thank the witnesses.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. Education is another factor in terms of movement. Perhaps they would comment briefly on that. All the presentations we have received re-affirm our incredulity at what has happened in Britain. It is not that we do not respect their right to vote, but it is the lack of exploration, discussion and investigation of what Brexit would mean apart from it being focused on just migration and what Britain would save. We are seeing so much more emerging now on the massive implications. What comes across to me is our over-dependence on Britain and the opportunities to go beyond that. From my involvement with this committee and the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa, AWEPA, I am aware of the extensive number of countries in Africa and the Americas who wish to trade with us. They trust us and they trust that it will be an ethical trade, with respect for human rights. Perhaps the witnesses would address that.
There is no doubt that there was a gamble with Northern Ireland. One of the other interesting presentations we received was on the implications for reconciliation, culture and identity, not just the economic implications. I put that to the witnesses.
We see a rise in nationalism in Europe. I do not call it "nationalism". It is not my view of nationalism. It is some type of ultra right wing horrible "ism". What type of reform does the EU have to engage in to stem and cope with that?
Britain, while part of the EU, is a major seller of arms, fuelling conflict. Fuelling conflict fuels poverty and all the other abuses of human rights. Now that it is out of the EU, where there might have been some type of control over it although it was not much, where do the witnesses see that going? There will also be massive shortfalls as Britain is a major overseas development aid contributor. What do the witnesses envisage happening in that regard?
My final point is a general one and is a little away from Brexit. It is the increasing securitisation narrative from the EU, as opposed to the humanitarian one.
Professor Gary Murphy:
Chairman, I agree with everything you said about the catastrophe a hard Border would be for the thousands of people living in the Border region, as well as for the rest of the State. I was anxious to portray in my statement why we should strive, might and main, to avoid such a thing. When I was preparing my statement, I was conscious of putting stress on the importance of bilateral relations with the United Kingdom, which relates to Deputy Darragh O'Brien's question. Of course, the British do not know what they want. Unlike ourselves, they have very little experience of running referendums. We have re-run referendums relating to the European Union on the Lisbon and Nice treaties. The British clearly do not know what they want. The chances of a re-run of the referendum are zero. It was clearly overwrought and emotional last June, and it would be much worse in a re-run.
The little England mentality comes much more strongly to the fore in terms of going against the will of the people. That is an extremely difficult issue.
I will deal with two other issues. To respond to Senator Bacik, I had been concerned for some time about the development of the European Union along a two-tier process. We will hear from Mr. Barnier today when he addresses the House but I describe myself as ardently pro-European. I am here as a neutral commentator but sometimes it is no harm if we put our cards on the table. The European Union has been extremely good for this country. In many ways it has transformed the Irish State. It transformed education, to allude to what Senator Bacik and Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan raised. It was announced in The Guardianyesterday that 171 of our colleagues in the University of Manchester, for instance, are at risk of being fired. Aberystwyth University is firing staff or looking to let staff go. In many ways all of that is to do with Brexit, which goes to the point that I do not believe the British knew what they were doing in the first place. That is not to criticise them for making the decision but it goes to the point about the two-speed Europe. As we know, there are critics of the European Union in regard to the troika and the bailout. I tend to be of the view that some of that is ideological in nature but overall, I suggest that the European Union has been good for us. I am keen to stress, however, that we must make use of our bilateral negotiations with the British to state to them that the negotiations they are engaging in with the Union have to be nuanced as distinct from going in, as Professor Barrett said, and saying that no deal is better than any deal, which I believe would be catastrophic.
Professor Gavin Barrett:
I thank members for the questions. In respect of what the Chairman said about different regulatory regimes, a free trade agreement, if we get one, should preserve the free movement of goods between the two countries, although the United Kingdom will have to observe EU standards generally. They will have to follow the EU regulatory regime on an ongoing basis.
There are problems in terms of exports as well because China, for instance, recognises EU safety standards. It is very difficult to get that kind of recognition. The UK will no longer have that. I do not know what effect that will have on the industry.
The Chairman mentioned the absence of the Border. As I stated, it is dependent on the UK staying in the customs union. Unfortunately, Theresa May's priorities seem to be elsewhere. One example of that is how remarkably little priority is paid to the needs of the regions - I do not know what is the correct expression but I refer to Scotland and Ireland in that regard.
Another implication in the area the Chairman spoke about is the Common Agricultural Policy. The United Kingdom is a massive contributor to the EU budget. That will hurt farmers in Northern Ireland in a big way from 2020 onwards but it will also hurt farmers in the Republic. There is a lot of pain to go round in that regard.
The Chairman mentioned a land bridge. Interestingly, that is specifically referred to in the Commission draft mandate so it is on to this one and it is looking out for it. In other words, a special provision is being made to ensure that Irish products being exported to the Continent can go through in sealed containers or something like that or will have special routes. We will need to watch that one but it is something to which the Commission is paying attention.
Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked what the UK wanted and said that they do not seem to know. We were told that Brexit means Brexit, which is a highly ambiguous statement. Ambiguity and lack of clarity can be useful at times. For instance, it is an advantage in the sense that when Theresa May comes out of the next election, it is likely she will have a much bigger majority. Currently, she is in thrall to the Conservative Party right wing. She cannot help but be if she wants to remain in power. Hopefully, she will have a bigger majority and, fingers crossed - we do not know this will be the case - it will be a more moderate majority. If that is the case, she will get more room to manoeuvre and, hopefully, she might be able to change her mind regarding the customs union issue. She has not backed down on it yet but it is receiving less stress at the moment.
In terms of any chance of a comeback from the edge, Brexit will certainly happen. John Temple Lang, who is a legal scholar, has put forward his view. He believes that in the course of negotiations economic necessity will come to prevail and that Britain will more or less find itself corralled into a Norway-type relationship for want of alternative, sensible economic relationships. I hope that is right. I do not know if it is but I will keep my fingers crossed in that regard.
On the question as to whether a new Good Friday Agreement is needed, that is unlikely. The core of what is being aimed at is that current arrangements will remain undisturbed. I refer to human rights protection, the common travel area, to the largest extent possible, funding in deprived Border areas and so on. Those aspects will be focused on.
On the Deputy's point about Ireland being seen as a Trojan horse, he is absolutely right. That comes back to my point that we are being pulled in two different directions in this regard. It is a very difficult situation but our best interests lie in being seen with Europe.
Professor Gavin Barrett:
It is important that we are not seen as a Trojan horse for the United Kingdom.
As to how we persuade the hard Brexiteers, I am reminded of La Fontaine's fable about country mice and town mice, in that they would rather be poor and living outside the city. There is nothing we can do. We cannot-----
Professor Gavin Barrett:
Senator Bacik asked how likely it is that the UK will stay in the customs union. Theresa May said she wanted out. It is core to the Brexiteers' self-image that they have freedom to negotiate these mythical trade deals all around the world. That worries me.
As to how we promote that idea, in the past we have tried to exercise persuasion. We did not have too much luck in persuading them not to vote for Brexit. If politicians here have links with moderate candidates in the United Kingdom they should go there, canvass for them and help them out. Apart from that, there is not much we can do. We can argue the case as best we can but there is little else we can do.
On the best way of protecting the interests of Irish citizens abroad, Ireland has had what I would describe as a spectacular success in getting our priorities included in the draft mandate and the Council guidelines. The way Ireland has done that has been very impressive. It is a good illustration of the correct approach to take at European level. It was similarly used, although it is not a very popular thing to say, at the time of the bailout, that is, that some people promote a very confrontational approach vis-à-visthe European Union. It is a case of take them on, defy them, break all the rules and so on. In fact, the very opposite approach was used. In other words, if one is seen as a team player one will achieve more and get more. It certainly has worked at this stage of the negotiations and I suspect it will continue to do so if we do that in regard to the agreement that will follow governing the long-term relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan raised a number of issues one of which was the question of identity. That is key. There were many headlines that I was a little uncomfortable with concerning Northern Ireland and the unwinding agreement, if I can call it that, the Article 50 agreement we will reach. We cannot forget that there are many identity issues bound in that. The mere fact that it is economically more advantageous, for instance, to unite with Ireland does not mean that people will actually want to unite with the Republic. It was very noticeable, for instance, that Ulster farmers voted very much against their own financial interests in the Brexit referendum. They are crucially dependent on Common Agriculture Policy payments and from 2020 onwards, they have absolutely no guarantee in regard to those but yet, the issue of identity was enough to get them to vote in that regard. I agree that we cannot forget the issue of identity politics.
The Deputy raised a lot of issues but one that struck me was shortfalls in terms of overseas development aid. That is very true. It is an aspect of something I have already mentioned, in that the British financial contribution will be missed. It is a big country. They contributed a good deal in terms of finance to the European Union and either we are looking at cutbacks in regard to that money or other member states replacing the money in question.
In terms of the United Kingdom's own contribution in respect of overseas development aid, I notice that the Conservative Government has been very favourable in respect of keeping that up.
Perhaps, even outside of the European Union, overseas development aid will continue but I suppose there will be a certain decline. One can do much more collectively than individually. I hope Britain will find some way to opt in when it comes to continuing European efforts.
Professor Gary Murphy:
I refer to the point made about the Good Friday Agreement by Deputy Darragh O'Brien. We, as a State, should be very loath to start talking about a second agreement. The Good Friday Agreement was hard won. As both Deputy O'Brien and Deputy Brendan Smith, who is in the Chair, have mentioned, the Agreement probably has not been used to its fullest extent. That is what we should seek. I would be very loath for any Irish Government to consider or entertain such a notion if it came from the British.
I agree with the last point made by Professor Murphy.
A Brexit reversal is a good soundbite that makes headlines but no one realistically believes it will happen. I am surprised that no one has mentioned the Brexit vote here. Clearly, there was a significant opposing vote. No political party opposed Brexit in England and Wales. A group in Scotland clearly campaigned against Brexit and we have seen the outcome. In terms of the North of Ireland, the political parties that opposed leaving the EU included Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Green Party, the Alliance Party and the official Unionists. There was a majority vote against Brexit. How did Brexit come about? It stemmed from a row within the Conservative Party. How does one separate UKIP from the Conservative Party? Some of us thought that the murder of Jo Cox might have had an impact on the Brexit vote, but clearly it did not.
I would like to ask about the federalisation of the EU, a matter that no one has touched on. The British Government has long acted as a block when it came to attempts to further federalise the EU. EU institutions have ignored all of the data and the polls that show the disconnect. Trust and support for the EU is failing. Do the witnesses think that the EU institutions have learned anything from the polls and what has happened in Britain? People had views on the direction that Europe was taking and felt uncomfortable with what Ireland and many other countries have been forced to go through. I am sure the people of Greece, if given a vote in the morning on the EU, would be fairly critical.
There have been significant developments on the other side of the Atlantic in the US such as the election of Donald Trump as President. Do the witnesses believe that the British Government will now focus on establishing stronger ties with a new America? Will Britain prioritise a relationship with the US over one with the EU? Will greater links with the US be more conducive than what comes from the negotiations?
There is agreement in these Houses that Northern Ireland should have a special status in the EU. Do the witnesses think such a status would be significant? The Good Friday Agreement has been mentioned. How important is the Good Friday Agreement in the negotiations? Mr. Michel Barnier has given us a positive message as has the European Parliament. How important is that? Some people will be afraid that a precedent will be set. The Good Friday Agreement is a unique international agreement that acknowledges that we overcame conflict. Brexit has created uncertainty, fear and greater division, which is the last thing that we want.
Human rights was one of the pillars of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin views the withdrawal from the European Court of Human Rights by the British Government as a game changer in terms of the idea of consent for the people of Ireland. Brexit will also change the nature of the Agreement if the human rights pillar is removed. Do the witnesses view this aspect as an important part of negotiations?
It is foolish to contemplate the idea that the Brits will reverse Brexit. A customs union and the wishlist compiled by the Brits means there must be a hard border. There is no indication, coming from a successful election, that Theresa May will adopt a softer line. In fact, such a win may galvanise the right wing element in terms of Europe.
I thank both of the witnesses for their interesting contributions.
I have a real problem as to whether it is wise for us to hang around waiting for the European Union, as a body, to negotiate an agreement with Britain. Ireland has a unique situation that, in my opinion, deserves special attention. We have a better chance of getting a satisfactory agreement by getting the support of the EU at this stage to commence and secure an agreement directly with the British for the Republic of Ireland.
Whether we like it or not, anybody who has dealt with the Unionist community in the North will understand these people, as I do from my dealings with them when we set up the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association. It is very difficult for us to understand their fear. There has been no indication, in my opinion, that the community will willingly tend towards the South of Ireland. In fact, their position might harden, and I think there is every likelihood of them doing so for religious reasons as well as everything else. One must be practical about these things. I would like to hear the opinion of the witnesses on the following. Should we seek support from our fellow members of the European Union to negotiate a separate arrangement for Ireland with Britain? I do not believe we should hang around waiting for it to be part and parcel of the overall negotiations because it will get lost. Those of us who have had the experience of dealing with countries in the eastern part of the European Union will know that they know very little about the Republic of Ireland and its problems. Our problems are very serious to us but they will get lost in the overall negotiations. Rather than make a speech, I would like to hear the opinion of the witnesses on this matter. Am I thinking along the wrong lines? Should we seek the support of the European Union to secure an independent agreement?
I thank both of the witnesses for their attendance and worthwhile contributions. I have a number of questions, some of which have been touched on.
Recently I organised a meeting on Brexit in Sligo that was attended by almost 250 people, including people from the farming community. As the Chairman has outlined, I represent a constituency region that comprises Sligo, Leitrim and parts of west Cavan and south Donegal. The region encompasses a very significant number of people who have had a big connection with cross-Border activities over the years, for example, the tourism sector through the Wild Atlantic Way and the education sector. A large number students from my area have studied in Coleraine College, Queen's University Belfast and in many other educational institutions in the North.
These are major concerns for parents in my area. We talk about tourism and education, but farming is a huge issue as well. A haulage contractor made one of the major comments on that night. He operates in and out of Northern Ireland and is using the Northern ports every day. He brought home to us the implications of Brexit for his business and many other businesses and the many other people who use Northern Ireland.
One of the witnesses mentioned farming in his contributions. Many of the farmers operating in my area are cattle dealers from Northern Ireland buying cattle and transporting them to Northern Ireland. What are the implications for the farming community with regard to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP?
As a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement and the benefits we have derived from that Agreement over the years are the issues I am concerned about.
Professor Murphy and Professor Barrett are participating in a broadcast from the Houses due to Mr. Michel Barnier's speech in the Houses today. Brief replies would be appreciated, and if the witnesses wish to communicate with us after the meeting on the issues that have been raised, we would be very glad to hear from them subsequently.
We did not ask about the defence issue, in particular how the EU could deal with a resurgent Russia. We have had people in from Georgia and other countries who have real concerns about that. We may not have time for that today because it is a whole other issue.
Professor Gary Murphy:
In response to Deputy Crowe's question, 88% of self-defined Irish nationalists voted to remain, and 34% of self-defined unionists did so. Some 70% of those who did not define one way or the other voted to remain. Clearly, the urge to remain is something that needs to be taken into account in Northern Ireland. I began my remarks by criticising the EU for the way it had developed and saying it bears some significant responsibility for the result in Britain. That is not to excuse some of the mistakes that were made by the British Tory party and by the British political elite itself. The EU has a significant opportunity to change. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan raised some of the issues it might consider, such as its federalisation and also where it sees itself on the issue of the arms industry.
On the special arrangement, which Deputies Crowe and Barrett raised, the grave danger for the EU is that this begins a long breakup of the Union as nationalist movements become increasingly powerful. The EU would be very reluctant to offer special agreements for Ireland during the Brexit negotiations because it would run the risk of stoking nationalist movements in other states, including in eastern Europe where states might consider exiting the Union if they could get a good deal. The Union has to be very cautious about this, and this is why I said at the beginning of my remarks that this is in many ways the greatest crisis the Union has faced since its foundation. We should not take the idea of a special arrangement off the table, but the difficulties would be considerable.
My colleague, Professor Barrett, can answer the agricultural questions as he is far more qualified than I am.
Professor Gavin Barrett:
I cannot address all the questions in the time remaining to me, unfortunately. I would like to focus on the question concerning the European Convention on Human Rights. It is very clear from the text of the Good Friday Agreement that it was assumed that Britain would remain a member of the European Convention on Human Rights. That point was conveyed in no uncertain terms by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, to the Government of the United Kingdom. It is important to remember that the European Convention on Human Rights is separate from the EU, so withdrawal from the EU does not bring with it a withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, although Theresa May has spoken about withdrawal from that as well. She seems to have a thing about that.
Deputy Barrett raised the important issue of negotiating separately or together. It brings to mind Winston Churchill's old saying, that, "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately." Clearly, we have a far greater economic interest in this whole process than many of our fellow member states of the EU. In so far as it concerns the common travel area, the Good Friday Agreement etc., what we have been talking about is safeguarding the package that is already there, and we negotiated that package for ourselves. Those were more or less directly negotiated.
In terms of trade, which is the other aspect of this which is of key economic importance to us, are we better having a separate argument or a joint argument? The logic for having a separate argument is one for Irexit. No one is arguing for that, but that is ultimately where that logic takes us. The gain of individual negotiations is that we gain an independent voice. The loss is a huge loss of bargaining power. Professor John FitzGerald stated that the smaller party to international negotiations approaches them as the beggar. That is the way it works and that is the position we were in with Britain prior to our membership of the communities. Ironically that is the position the British are going to be in during the negotiations with the 27 member states. The benefits of being in the EU include the benefit of huge bargaining power, and that is reflected in the draft of Council guidelines and the draft mandate. As long as our views are taken account of within the greater organisation, I have no doubt that we are better off in it. So far, Ireland has succeeded spectacularly in doing that, and it is to be hoped that will continue to be the case. I take the point about other member states not even being aware of the circumstances here, but the people who matter are aware, and I suspect we will see that reflected in what Michel Barnier has to say to us today. It should be remembered that the negotiations are going to be conducted by the Commission, subject of course to the supervision of the member states and Council.
Deputy McLoughlin clearly represents a constituency that has many people living along the Border who are most sensitive to Brexit, including those involved in the tourism and haulage industries. He asked about the impact on farmers. I see it impacting on farmers in several ways. One is on the CAP, because the British withdrawal of funding is going to hit farmers throughout this island, make no mistake about it. Those who will be hit hardest are the farmers in Northern Ireland. They are looking at the end of the CAP as there are no guarantees past 2020. Joint exports are another area that will be effected, particularly exports into the UK. If they pursue a cheap food policy, it will really hit Irish exporters, and perhaps increase competition on third country markets as well, depending on what kind of deals the British can negotiate for themselves.
Unfortunately the impact of Brexit is not going to be even. There is no doubt it will hit some sectors more than others, especially the food industry and farmers. I would love to look at the common security and defence policy but time does not permit. Perhaps if I am back before the committee at a later date I can speak about that.
I thank Professor Barrett and Professor Murphy. Their contributions have been stimulating and very comprehensive, and I am sure that we as a committee will engage with them again before we complete our particular work on Brexit, which is naturally of great importance.