Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Last night the Westminster Parliament again overwhelmingly rejected the withdrawal agreement agreed between the British Government and the European Union in November. That same withdrawal agreement was adopted and supported by this House. It is regrettable that it was rejected for a second time, but not surprising given the chaos in Westminster and in the British political system. What happened last night heightens the prospect of a no-deal scenario or a crash-out Brexit at the end of the month. Mr. Barnier was right when he tweeted last night:
The impasse can only be solved in the #UK. Our “no-deal” preparations are now more important than ever before.
That is a statement I agree with, and I am sure the Tánaiste does too. The root of the problem is the British Parliament, the hard Brexiteers and the DUP. There is an irony in what the British Government has proposed today. It accepts the logic that there is a need for different rules to apply to the North and that the North needs to be a special case where trade is concerned. At the same time, the British Government is trying to undermine the solution which is on the table, that is, the backstop. Again, we need to ensure that there is absolutely no movement on the backstop. It is the bare minimum necessary to protect the Irish economy, businesses and farmers and to ensure there is no hardening of the Border. The problem is that with every passing day we lurch closer to a hard Brexit. It is a possibility. That will bring chaos at the Border and will create problems for the Good Friday Agreement, economic chaos and problems for citizens in terms of their rights.
As we speak, farmers, businesses and exporters are worried. They need real solutions. The Tánaiste said earlier that the European Union is examining easing state aid rules. We need more than that. We need hard, concrete and practical solutions for businesses, exporters and farmers. We have proposed a Brexit stabilisation fund to be put to use to protect farmers and give them the practical support they need, to protect vulnerable businesses and to protect exporters. Will the Tánaiste agree to such a fund and will the Government establish it? When will the European Commission give the Irish Government the necessary flexibility with state aid rules? There is no point in continuing to make promises when today, given what the British Government has announced, people are concerned and worried. The Tánaiste and the Government have a responsibility to make sure that businesses, farmers and the Irish economy are protected. The Tánaiste, the Government and the European Commission need to step up to the plate. Can the Tánaiste spell out to us exactly what the European Commission says it will put in place to ease state aid rules and what additional supports will be put in place by the Government?