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Howlin Warns of No-Deal Brexit Risk as UK Parliament Fails to Agree a Way Forward

10 January 2019

Statement by Brendan Howlin TD
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland

Following a visit to Rosslare Europort to learn about Brexit preparations, Leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin TD, reacts to the latest chaotic developments in the Brexit process.

Deputy Howlin said:

“The latest series of amendments in the UK Parliament show that the situation there is unstable and unpredictable. It looks very unlikely that Theresa May will manage to secure a majority for the Withdrawal Agreement. Attempts to dilute the Withdrawal Agreement unilaterally through Parliament must be rejected, as the backstop agreement to secure an open border must be preserved in its entirety. We cannot allow a situation where the UK’s international treaty obligations say one thing, but votes in Parliament say something entirely different, as is the case with the recent Swire amendment that seeks to grant Parliament a notional right to end the border backstop after just one year.

“Leo Varadkar’s Government needs to be ready to protect Ireland’s people from the chaos of a disorderly no deal Brexit. Whatever about its blundering, the UK Government is correct to charter ships and prepare stockpiles of vital goods, to be ready for a no deal Brexit. No such action has been taken by Leo Varadkar’s Government, which seems to be stuck in denial that a disorderly Brexit could actually occur.

“Recent days show that there is still no alternative in the UK that commands a majority in Parliament, and the risk of the UK stumbling out of the EU by accident is a real and present threat to Ireland’s economy and our people’s economic wellbeing. Many Irish SMEs export heavily to Britain and they may not survive an abrupt exit or a plunge in the value of Sterling. The Government needs to unveil new investment and to create transition funds to support jobs and businesses, not just conduct briefings and information meetings.

“Ireland also urgently needs a Plan B alternative to the ‘land bridge’ of Irish goods being transported across Britain to the European continent, yet little or no serious attention has been payed to this strategic priority, as we have seen a lack of investment in Rosslare Europort, or Cork or Shannon ports, to handle more goods. Current plans for enhanced customs facilities in the next three to five years are simply not soon enough, if there is a hard Brexit less than three months from now. Real preparation means making investments now, even if they are ultimately not necessary. It is better to be safe than to gamble with people’s livelihoods.

“The issue is not just access to Britain, but the very real possibility of delays in the vital Dover-Calais crossing. It seems highly unlikely that Irish goods shipments will be given priority over British ones when this crossing becomes overwhelmed by traffic. The Government is simply not doing enough to prepare workable contingency plans.

“While I still hope the UK Parliament will hold a fresh referendum based on the new information and options now available to the British people, we have to prepare for the worst outcome of a disorderly Brexit. So far, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are clinging to the belief that the Withdrawal Agreement will survive and be passed by Parliament. That is a dangerous assumption that risks Ireland’s vital interests being undermined from the outset.”