Thursday, 11 July 2019
Brexit Contingency Action Plan: Statements
The ongoing circus that is the Tory leadership contest should not in any way lessen the gravity of the situation facing Ireland. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have both shown an ignorance of the island of Ireland, its history, its politics and its economic reality, which would be laughable if it were not so serious. Regardless of who wins, this island needs to be prepared for all eventualities.
No matter what way we look at it Brexit means disruption. There is no doubt about this and the only question is by how much. Apart from Britain, Ireland will be the country most affected by Brexit in ways that are out of proportion to anything that may be experienced by the rest of the EU member states. Because of this it is not possible to apply a contingency plan drawn up to suit France, Germany or Italy and expect it to work for Ireland. We need bespoke solutions because our situation demands it. This is the case whether there is a soft or hard Brexit. Last year the EU took the decision that in the event of a no-deal Brexit all 27 remaining EU member states will initiate the same plan and it has not altered or changed those plans in any way since. The EU is using the same logic it used with the banking crisis and subsequent austerity, a logic that had disastrous consequences for the Irish State and for Greece, Portugal and Spain. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to a no-deal Brexit. While cognisant of our EU responsibilities the response that is needed should, nonetheless, address the singular problems facing Ireland, namely the threat that Brexit poses to exporters, the all-island economy, the Good Friday Agreement and the Border. There is a need for direct Government support for importers and exporters who trade exclusively with Britain.
I shall now move on to the substantive issue of the threat of a border and to the all-island economy in the event of no-deal. I reiterate that Sinn Féin has supported this Government and will continue to support this Government when it comes to the backstop and guarantees for the island of Ireland. We have not and we will not play politics with this issue.
We have concerns and we want to raise them, not to score points but because they are legitimate. They are held by the majority of the people in the North who are worried about what the next Tory party leader will do, be it Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt. People are worried about the threat posed by a no-deal Brexit to the Good Friday Agreement. They are worried about what a no-deal Brexit will bring to a British imposed border. Brexit will be catastrophic for the people of the North and the island of Ireland. It is quite clear the British Government does not care about the impact of Brexit on the North's people, economy, businesses or agreements.
Brexit is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement. One of the legal components of the Good Friday Agreement is the birthright provision that enables citizens in the North to identify as a right and be accepted as Irish, British or both. As such they should be allowed to assert their full rights as EU citizens. We must ensure Ireland’s interests and the rights of citizens in the North are fully protected at this crucial time. As joint guarantors of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, including its nationality clause, the Irish and British Governments have a responsibility to defend it and to ensure its protection to protect the peace process, the all-Ireland economy and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Sinn Féin has been clear, the EU has been clear and the Irish Government has been clear that the backstop is the insurance policy for the people of Ireland. It is the bare minimum and it must be maintained. In the absence of a deal we must hear from the Irish Government and from the EU just how exactly they expect to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement had many presentations from Border communities and organisations trying to plan programmes that benefit communities and businesses and local authorities North and South. A mapping exercise was completed by the British Government and published in December 2018. It identified 156 areas of North-South co-operation, including the implementation bodies, agriculture, environment, health, tourism, education - including higher and further education - energy, telecommunications, justice and security, and fisheries. It shows that it is not enough to talk about border checks and what is happening away from the Border as if this will somehow square the Brexit circle. It is important to understand that Irish prosperity, in addition to being linked to the Single Market is also linked to the all-island economy.