Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Brexit Stephen Donnelly TD says the government’s December agreement on ensuring no border around the six counties is in danger of unravelling. The agreement was overhyped and oversold to the Irish people by the Taoiseach as ‘cast-iron’ and ‘bulletproof’. But events in the past few weeks suggest otherwise.
In December the government explained that the agreement contained three layers of protection, starting with a desire to see full UK-EU alignment. Failing that, the agreement calls for specific solutions for Northern Ireland. And failing that, it calls for full alignment between the economies of Northern Ireland and Ireland.
However, the DUP secured agreement that the economies of Britain and Northern Ireland would remain fully aligned, making unique solutions for Northern Ireland difficult, at least while the DUP hold the balance of power in Westminster. Furthermore, the UK government is insisting it will leave the single market and the customs union. Responding to Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin in the Dáil today, the Taoiseach admitted that this would inevitably lead to ‘checks between Ireland and Britain’. But, he said, ‘it is in that scenario we trigger the backstop.’
Deputy Donnelly has called on the Taoiseach to explain how he intends enforcing the backstop agreement should he need to do so. Deputy Donnelly said, “As things stand, two of the three layers of protection in December’s agreement may not work. The Taoiseach accepted in the Dáil today that, should the UK leave the single market and customs union, checks between Britain and Ireland would be inevitable. Michel Barnier said the same last Friday. But that is their intention. In fact, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson went even further today, explaining that regulatory divergence is a reason for Brexit. At the same time, he didn’t mention Ireland, Northern Ireland or a border even once.
“As such, everything may rest on this so-called backstop. No border controls of any kind can be countenanced on the island of Ireland, so important questions must be asked. How would this backstop be enforced if the UK is outside the jurisdiction of the EU? What regime of sanctions would the UK sign up to, and would the EU be willing to impose?
“Right now, there isn’t even agreement as to what this backstop actually means. The UK government has a different understanding to the EU. Their interpretation is a minimalist one, covering certain sectors only. This is a far cry from the ‘cast-iron’ deal what the Taoiseach spoke of before Christmas.
“The recent Copenhagen Economics Report confirms that a hard Brexit could cost Ireland 20,000 jobs, with 12,400 of these being in the agri-food sector. The Government has dithered in its domestic preparations for Brexit. It needs to introduce a comprehensive domestic support package to help businesses overcome the challenges a hard-Brexit poses. We cannot wait until after a hard-Brexit occurs before we take action. No one in Ireland wants to see a hard-Brexit, but precautionary steps must be taken to protect our interests.
“The Taoiseach needs to stop with the spin. He oversold and overhyped the pre-Christmas agreement. He now needs to set out how he will enforce the Brexit backstop that he has spoken of should a hard-Brexit become a reality.”