Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Recent Developments on Brexit: Statements
I compliment the Government, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and all the team who have been involved in this negotiation over the past two years. What has been happening in the Dáil is in stark contrast to what has been happening in Westminster. I acknowledge that because it is important. What we are talking about this evening in a calm and measured manner did not just happen by accident. It has happened through hard work and co-operation.
I would like to approach this debate from a different angle. Rather than looking at it in minute detail, I will look at it from the angle of the lack of trust that has permeated this debate. There is a lack of trust in the withdrawal agreement in Westminster. There is a lack of trust in the reassurances and clarifications that have been given to underpin the withdrawal agreement. There has been a lack of trust within Westminster, a lack of trust within the Conservative Party, a lack of trust within the Labour Party and a lack of trust between the two parties. It is astounding to watch it unfold in Westminster. The suspicion and lack of confidence to act decisively is quite breathtaking. When we look at the body language in terms of what is happening in Westminster and what is happening in Strasbourg, the body language of Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker sitting beside the British Prime Minister in Strasbourg on Monday night last was telling. The frustration was telling also. Mr. Juncker was exasperated, asking how the EU can give clarification upon clarification and reassurance upon reassurance and how can one have a second chance and not take it. He asked what one does with one's second chance. That is most important thing.
We respect what the referendum in the UK delivered. It was a sovereign decision by the population and, of course, we must respect it. I think we have respected it, not only in Ireland but across Europe. We have given every opportunity to the UK to reach a withdrawal agreement. The EU has compromised in relation to the withdrawal agreement, moving from a Northern Ireland backstop to a UK-wide backstop. That was important to reassure the UK that neither Ireland nor the EU had an ulterior motive.
When one looks at this, the backstop is merely another hurdle to get over. The backstop is the reason the withdrawal agreement is being held up but the real and most important negotiations are beyond the withdrawal agreement. Those negotiations are when the EU gets down to negotiating the future relationship. That is where the real tough and complex negotiations will start. The backstop is being used politically to frustrate progress in coming to an orderly exit from Europe. That orderly exit will be negotiated within the future relationship, not really within the withdrawal agreement. The withdrawal agreement outlines the process but the important negotiations will be on the future relationship and hopefully they will be concluded.
Everybody wishes that there will be a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU and between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Everybody wants that. It is disappointing that there is no trust in the possibility of getting to that.
Triggering the backstop would be a failure in negotiation and that we could not, having spent two or three years negotiating, come to an agreement. Nobody wants to trigger the backstop. The backstop is important but it is only there to prevent chaos on this island. It is merely an insurance policy which will not be invoked for two or three years although hopefully it never will be.
Brexit is the political dilemma of our lifetime. It is the political issue that will be taught in our schools in generations to come. Unfortunately, the only certainty at present is uncertainty as we watch matters unfolding in Westminster. Really, there are only three choices. The first is a hard Brexit and that means no transition which makes no sense and means that there will be no agreement on the future relationship. The second choice is no Brexit, and for that to happen Article 50 has to be revoked or the UK has to have a second referendum which would overturn the first referendum. The third, and the most logical outcome, is the negotiated deal with its legally-binding commitments, reassurances and clarifications.
There is no alternative to a negotiated deal other than a hard Brexit. The European Union has compromised, as I have already stated, in broadening the backstop to become a UK-wide mechanism. When Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker spoke about reassurances on reassurances and clarifications on clarifications, he indicated that the EU does not want to trap the UK in any relationship with which it is not happy. It looks like a compromise would not be enough to satisfy the unionists, the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, and committed remainers.
I am sharing time with Deputy Fitzmaurice. I did not realise he had entered the Chamber.