Dáil debates

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Post-European Council: Statements


2:05 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

In exactly 100 days the United Kingdom will cease to be a member of the European Union unless current UK law is changed. Without a transitionary period the impact on Ireland next year alone will be €3.5 billion. It is an unprecedented threat and one for which we are clearly not ready. Last week’s meeting of the European Council was deeply depressing for anyone who seeks to limit the damage of a Brexit referendum which was secured using a combination of dishonest arguments and dishonest means.

It has long been commented that the EU is a formidably tough negotiator which stands by the interests of its members. However, it is also, as an institution, formidably bad at politics. It is clear that the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, failed to propose specific measures which could be both agreed and ratified. However, it is equally clear that the EU itself failed to promote a constructive message. It also failed to refrain from the damaging perception of being dismissive to a person who appears to be the only party leader in Britain who is actually trying to get November’s deal ratified. Within hours of the summit’s end, EU leaders were briefing that they had made a serious error in the tone of the outcome. It is hard to disagree with them.

With time running out, last week was a wasted opportunity to move something forward even if it was only specific no-deal preparations. There are many possible outcomes to the crisis in Westminster. Perhaps the most likely remains the November deal but the reality is that we now have no option but to assume the worst and urgently prepare for a no-deal outcome. There will be no clarity in the UK’s position until the vote scheduled for 15 January which will leave only 73 days to Brexit. Delaying Dáil action on a no-deal scenario until after that vote is simply not an option any more.

There should be no doubt that there is no evidence that planning for a no-deal situation is anywhere close to where it should be with 100 days to go. If one compares it with the preparations by the Dutch Government, what we see in Ireland are half-measures, secrecy and a ministerial complacency rather than action. There has been an unwillingness to provide even basic briefing which goes well beyond the normally secretive and non-constructive approach of the Government. Over the weekend, several journalists were briefed that a memo on Brexit preparations was to go to Cabinet yesterday. In the House yesterday, the Taoiseach said there is a package of measures which will be revealed on Thursday. He also said legislators are welcome to attend a public forum and put up their hand to ask a question if they want to know anything. This will, as has become standard practice from the Government, almost certainly be given to a few journalists in advance to maximise the headlines and minimise the initial scrutiny. The political sniping through the sending out of occasional Senators and backbenchers to deliver messages on the Taoiseach’s behalf is petty.


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