Speaking in reaction to the EU summit and the speech by British Prime Minster Theresa May, Leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin TD said that the risk of a damaging conclusion to the talks is growing larger.
Deputy Howlin said
“Ireland now faces into a potential lose-lose Brexit scenario.
“Labour warned the Government repeatedly that we must not allow the Irish backstop to be part of the final horse-trading between the EU and UK about the Withdrawal Agreement. Leo Varadkar’s approach has failed to resolve the Irish border issue in advance of these final summits. He naively promised that it was ‘bulletproof, rock solid and cast iron’ this time last year. This is quite obviously not the case, as the backstop is the single major issue left to be resolved in the negotiations and deadlines for an agreed legal text have been repeatedly missed.
“Theresa May’s address to the EU Council yesterday offered nothing new, other than a willingness to consider the offer of an extended transition period. This must be seen as either a negotiation tactic or else a genuine admission of the limits of her room for manoeuvre. In either case, she is saying that she cannot give any more concessions and she has called on the EU to offer some innovative solution to the backstop issue.
“I have no doubt about the firm commitment of Michel Barnier’s negotiation team to Ireland’s concerns, as well as the solidarity of the 26 other EU member state governments for our insistence on no hard border. But that is not the point. The potential lose-lose scenario is one where the British Government cannot or will not fulfil their December promise to agree a permanent backstop. If that happens, we would be presented with a ‘no deal’ outcome from the talks.
“At that point, all eyes would turn to Leo Varadkar. Our allies across the EU will ask him what Ireland wants to do next. He will have to choose between no deal – and therefore border controls – or no backstop, and the risk that the future EU-UK relationship will require border controls after all.
“I welcome that Theresa May has apparently acknowledged that the backstop must be permanent, but there is no guarantee that she can deliver it. It is uncertain that a Withdrawal Agreement that includes a permanent backstop would pass through the House of Commons as the DUP will not only oppose it but would withdraw their support from the May government.
“Faced with the choice of a definite hard border or the risk of a hard border, pressure from business may well come on the Taoiseach to avoid the worst case ‘no deal’ outcome and to take the gamble that the future EU-UK relationship will be a close one.
“We need to be crystal clear that the risks associated with the backstop cannot be shared. Either Ireland takes the risk of no backstop agreement, in the hope that the future relationship with the UK will be so close that no border controls will be needed, or else the UK agrees a permanent backstop arrangement and takes the risk that this will be called into use if the talks on the future relationship break down, with all that implies for unionist dismay in Northern Ireland. The binary nature of this risk reduces the scope for us to produce any ‘innovative’ solution to the dilemma facing Theresa May.
“As a point of fact, the UK Government agreed in December 2017 to ensure no hard border and I welcome Theresa May’s recent reiteration of her Government’s ‘profound responsibility’ to preserve the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. However, they have not yet formally accepted a legal text to guarantee a permanent backstop, and the influence of the DUP in Westminster is clearly a reason for their hesitation.
“The instability in current British politics gives no reason to believe that the UK Government will be able to deliver the permanent backstop that they promised. The risk of ‘no deal’ is growing.
“Ireland must stand firm on the requirement for Theresa May’s government to fulfil its commitment. If she can’t deliver, then we must await the successor government to do so.”