Thursday, 11 July 2019
Brexit Contingency Action Plan: Statements
Brendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
Half way through the extension agreed with the EU 27 a number of permutations and combinations of how dangerously Brexit may play out have increased. The leadership contest within the Tory party, some uncertainty, to say the least, in the British Labour Party, the rise of the Brexit Party and the increasing Scottish support for a second Scotland independence referendum means that things are now far more uncertain than they were last March. It is a costly and dangerous uncertainty for us on this island. While we still fervently hope for an orderly and managed Brexit based on the already negotiated withdrawal agreement with a lengthy and calm transition phase, we know that we must prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
The wild speculation and the misinformation that is passing for political analysis from those around both of the Tory leadership candidates leaves us with no alternative but to be prepared for the worst, but we must still be careful that what we do and say does not add fuel to the flames of the misinformation. There is a responsibility, indeed a duty, on those who speak for the Government to be measured and precise in their phraseology in these uncertain times. People need to be kept informed. The political atmosphere on the neighbouring island is now so febrile that even the wildest piece of nonsense, something that we here know as totally untrue and incorrect, is hailed as political fact. We saw this recently at the ITV Tory leadership debate. Both candidates were asked about the Irish Border and the backstop. Mr. Boris Johnson asserted that the Border issue could be kicked down the road and addressed during what he called the "implementation" period after Brexit. That this nonsense claim was not challenged by his rival or by the moderator is breathtaking. Leaving aside the simple fact that there is only an implementation period if there is a withdrawal agreement, the other fact is that the Irish Border must be addressed in phase one. It cannot be kicked down the road to be used as a bargaining chip by Britain to hold us hostage. Mr. Jeremy Hunt failed to call out Mr. Johnson's nonsense and added to it by saying there were ways of avoiding checks at the Irish Border after Brexit. Mr. Hunt then bizarrely said that is “not new technology, but technology that already exists”. Let us be clear that such a solution does not currently exist. As the EU’s Director-General for trade, Sabine Weyand, said in January: "We looked at every border on this earth, every border the EU has with a third country – there’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls." As others have pointed out, even if the EU agreed to implement a solution using existing technology, such as one based on mobile phone tracking, there is not a chance it could be designed and put in place by 31 October.
We risk seeing a whole fictional fake news world being built up around the idea of alternative arrangements as a viable and available solution. Last week the Prosperity UK think tank came to Dublin to outline its alternative arrangements proposals, which it claims provide a working solution that would supersede the backstop, ensuring it never comes into operation. To its credit Prosperity UK does at least acknowledge the primacy of the Good Friday Agreement, something that many in the Tory party do not acknowledge and seem happy to tear up. The good news, however, ends there. The excellent note from the British Irish Chamber of Commerce calmly and factually debunks and dismantles the alternative arrangement proposals championed by Prosperity UK when it advocated inspectors from neighbouring jurisdictions going onto farms on both sides of the Border. From going up there I know how welcome that would be.