Sitting Time 20:20 Sitting Date 21/11/2018
Deputy Declan Breathnach: In supporting the motion, I wish first to commend the many politicians, of every party and none, and the public officials, together with those in the many sectoral areas, who worked tirelessly to come to this draft agreement that is before us. In saying that, I preface my remarks by saying that this House respects the UK vote. We regret their decisions. If the UK does wish to leave, we will resolve to minimise any damage to the people and our economy, both North and South, but more importantly to maintain peace on our island.
Unfortunately, Brexit is a regressive and retrograde step. It is ridiculously wrong that such exhaustive resources and time has had to be committed to resolving the issue. The biggest R that I find in all of this rhetoric is for this House and Government to be ready for all eventualities. I say to those who seem to desire that cliff-edge Brexit that the cards have been dealt and one has to know when to hold them and when to fold them. I say to the DUP that the Good Friday Agreement protects all our constitutional rights. The deal on offer is about ensuring that our all-island economy strives, and continues to strive, struggle and succeed. I say to them to forget their ideologies. This draft withdrawal agreement is about the unity of our people and, as I have said many times, not about our land. It is all about our base and that is our families, especially our young, and that unity is in the interests of both our islands’ progression, peace and prosperity.
Theresa May has a long way to go to achieve consensus on the agreement for her side, and I wish her well in that uphill struggle. While the Minister and others have said the agreement was not open to negotiation, Mrs. May was in Brussels today in the scramble to finalise a deal in time for Sunday’s summit. While I know that Theresa May is trying her best to achieve consensus on the Brexit agreement, officials today in the EU are hinting that Sunday’s EU summit could be cancelled, with one official saying he would need to have agreed the political declaration on the future relationship beforehand and we are not there yet.
In my view, Theresa May is a long way off achieving any agreement in her own Parliament. As a Border Deputy, the impact on the North of our island and the Border region, which I represent, cannot be underestimated. The Irish and British Governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement and therefore this must be respected in all its parts. The fact that the parties in the North cannot reach agreement to restore power-sharing does not help our situation.
This week, the European Ombudsman called on the European Commission to publish a key document spelling out all the areas of North-South co-operation under the Good Friday Agreement that are at risk from Brexit. This document came about following the mapping exercise which was jointly carried out by the UK and EU in 2017 to identify all of the areas which were at risk and which discovered that there were more than 150 areas contained in the Good Friday Agreement which were underpinned by EU law. When will we have sight of this most important document? I believe it covers a wide range and array of cross-Border topics, such as trade, animal health, tourism and environment, cross-Border fraud prevention and mutual recognition of professional qualifications, to name but a few. These are some of the areas that I wish to mention today as a resident of north County Louth. The practical changes that a no-deal Brexit would present are enormous. Many of my neighbours have to travel across the Border daily, some students, some farmers, some transporting produce and other goods, and some healthcare workers. I could go on and on.
Dominic Raab, after his resignation, admitted he did not realise the full extent of UK trade on the Dover-Calais crossing. I am quite sure he also has no idea what Brexit means to the Border region in Ireland and the Irish-British trade route.
I wish to focus for a few moments on the young people, many of whom feel their voices have not been heard. One young person’s blog, called “Brexit will define my generation, yet young people’s voices are still ignored”, pointed out that they are already set to be worse off than their parents and now they face another assault, through Brexit, on their futures. I also watched a video of young people in Northern Ireland on the threat of Brexit which was contrary to what Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan has said. They were called the children of the peace process. They said they had never known a border, never mind a hard border. The sectarian divide, they said, is palpable again in the North because of Brexit. These young people are speaking out against Brexit and in favour of peace. They have never known that hard border and they have never witnessed the terrible violence of the past and do not wish to return to it. They say that they are being completely ignored and do not have a government in the North to speak up for them, even though the majority of the North voted to remain. On that, I commend the Irish Government in taking young people in to listen to their voices, and indeed other sectoral interests in the North, when they had nobody to speak to.
Across the UK, the consumer organisation Which? found that, among the 18 to 34 year olds in the UK, 64% say they are concerned about the consequences of any Brexit. The same survey stated that the older generation, the over 65s, are becoming increasingly concerned about Brexit. While the majority of the older generation voted to leave the EU, 61% of them are now just as worried about Brexit as the young voting group. In fact, the Which? survey found that almost two out of three people nationwide in the UK now have very serious concerns.
This is another reason Theresa May has a job on her hands, not only to convince the Parliament but to convince her people. I firmly believe that, despite all of the hard work that has gone in from the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to get us to where we are today, this agreement may still not have the backing of the British Parliament.
Whether the deal gets through or not, there is no Brexit outcome that is economically good for Ireland or indeed for the islands. It is a worry that it seems to me that our Government here has been operating on the basis of an agreement. There is no serious contingency plan for a no-deal Brexit. I know the UK Government has already published 85 guidance notes on a no-deal Brexit scenario covering a range of possible areas affected, from consumer rights to climate change, medicines, blood and blood products and many more. I am asking a simple question today. How prepared are we in Ireland for a no-deal Brexit?