Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Recent Developments on Brexit: Statements
I thank all Deputies for their contributions, not only tonight but over the course of what has been a lengthy discussion. If I could correct the record, I said that the Cooper amendment had been passed but in fact it was the Spelman amendment, moved by Ms Yvette Cooper, MP.
To begin with the last Deputy's question on an extension, we have always said that we would not stand in the way of an extension. However, we need to see what exactly the UK Government seeks that extension for and for how long it would apply. We still do not have clarity on this, even following the passing of the amendments and the Prime Minister's motion this evening. We await the movement of amendments and possible motions tomorrow, but I think we would respond favourably. That said, our colleagues in other member states will want to see why we are extending this, the possible objective and the possible outcomes. We will have to wait and see what they are.
Regarding the documents that were agreed on Monday, it is important to outline that further moves were made by the EU to provide further legal clarity and certainty to the UK. That was done in two or three ways. It was done first by strengthening the political declaration, which had already been agreed last week. That gave further clarification that the EU has no intention of trying to trap the UK within an indefinite backstop and that a very specific timeline would be set out within a framework to try to come to an arrangement on the future relationship. There would also be a move to start looking at alternative arrangements. However, an addition to the unilateral declaration outlined how the UK could possibly leave the backstop or avoid its invocation.
The first means of avoiding the backstop has always been there, that is, for the parties to form a future relationship that would deem it unnecessary. The second is for alternative arrangements to be identified and put in place, but we have yet to see those. The third would be the arbitration process. Deputy Chambers referred to this making it easier for the UK and more difficult for us to prevent the UK leaving on a unilateral basis.
These documents very clearly state that the disapplication of the backstop must be connected with Article 20 which, as already outlined in the withdrawal agreement, is related to the review mechanism from which the UK cannot pull out unilaterally. Title III of Part 6 of the withdrawal agreement provides that as part of the arbitration process the UK must show the EU to have continuously acted in bad faith, and not only that, but to have failed to try to rectify this. There is a very clear and strong process in place. Meanwhile the EU has given further assurances through the political declaration that it has no intention of keeping the UK locked in an indefinite transition or an indefinite backstop position and that we want to address all of these concerns as part of a close and comprehensive future relationship. After weeks of negotiations and the agreement of these documents on Monday, the UK Parliament was last night unable to pass the withdrawal agreement. This has come as no surprise to many people but we are still extremely regretful of the outcome. Tonight the House of Commons, as we all know, has voted to reject the UK leaving the EU without a deal. We will see tomorrow how it votes on possibly requesting an extension of Article 50.
Meanwhile, as many Deputies have mentioned, the UK Government published its own tariff plans this morning as part of its no-deal planning. As a Government we are considering them and working with our partners in the EU to assess their impact fully. There is absolutely no doubt that tariffs would have a negative impact on trade. They would be damaging for business, farmers and consumers, not just here and in the North but also in the UK. I want to be clear. No option, including 0% tariffs or managed tariff-free quotas, would be as good as what we have in the withdrawal agreement. This would preserve the current tariff-free trade arrangement throughout the transition period. It also guarantees that there will be no hard border and protects the all-island economy. It is in the interests of both the UK and the EU that we ratify this.
Built on two years of complex negotiations, with fair compromise on both sides, the withdrawal agreement provides the certainty that so many of us seek this evening. This morning I attended an event in the Carrickdale Hotel, which has become very well known to many people who have travelled to the Border region. Some 300 people attended, not to get an understanding of what is going to happen, because none of us knows that, but to make sure they are as prepared as possible given the uncertainty that still exists. There is a deal on the table. The EU has provided strong and repeated legal assurances, as I have outlined, on the concerns raised by the UK. We are all determined to reach an ambitious future relationship agreement as a priority. Such an agreement would meet the obligations held by both Ireland and the UK as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. A no-deal outcome is in nobody's interests. It is for Westminster to decide how it believes this can be avoided. While time is short, it has not yet run out. There is still time for sensible solutions. MPs in Westminster have indicated their desire to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but best wishes are not enough. A decision is required and we need clarity on where the UK thinks it can go from here. For the EU's part, our position has been and will always continue to be consistent and clear. The best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal is to ratify the deal that is on the table.
Finally, I want to be very clear that regardless of the outcome, we can be certain of our place in Europe and of the continued support of our fellow member states, just as they can be certain in their confidence in us and in the European Union. Brexit has been a long and difficult process, but we have not faced it alone and I would like to express our sincere gratitude to our fellow member states and to the Commission for their understanding and unwavering solidarity. I also wish to express our thanks and appreciation for the support and advice received by all parties in the House throughout this process. It has been far-reaching and has had far-reaching implications for us, but we will continue to keep the House as fully informed as possible on developments in recognition of that.