News & Media

Second UK Referendum in Ireland's best interests

29 May 2019

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

Reacting to the latest Brexit developments, the leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin TD, said that the withdrawal agreement cannot gain a majority in the British Parliament. In those circumstances, Ireland’s best interests lie in advocating for a second people’s vote, with the option for the UK to remain in the EU, in order to safeguard jobs in Ireland and to retain an open border.

Brendan said: “It is now crystal clear that there is no majority in the UK Parliament to pass the withdrawal agreement. Regardless of who becomes leader of the Conservative Party, and potentially the next Prime Minister, the European Union leaders have said that they will not re-open the withdrawal agreement.

“There are now only two realistic ways to break the current impasse. The first is a general election and the second is a new people’s vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union after all.

“Between a combination of the Fixed Terms Parliament Act and the Conservative Party’s fear of handing power to the British Labour Party, it seems unlikely that this Parliament will vote in favour of holding another general election.

“The only alternative is to push for a second vote, and Ireland cannot afford to be neutral on a policy that is likely to scar our economy and our relationship with Northern Ireland for decades to come. A second vote on EU membership is now the best way to preserve jobs and an open border on the island of Ireland.

“The truth is that the only impediment to Britain retaining full sovereignty over its affairs is that the UK wishes to engage in deep and extensive trading relationships with European countries. The European Union’s comprehensive rules are designed to enforce a level playing field for trade. Europe is not going to allow the UK unfair advantage in trade. That is the core dilemma for the UK.

“Many British people have come to realise the enormous self-harm involved in leaving the European single market and customs union, and they have come to recognise the necessity for its rules to ensure standards, workers’ rights and fair competition. What is needed is political leadership to convince the majority that a second vote offers the necessary catharsis for the current strain in British politics.

“It is reasonable to say that support for a hard Brexit has peaked. The five million or so voters who back the Brexit Party represent those who either feel insulated from the trade issue, or who prioritise national identity or other issues. But 41 million voters did not vote for the Brexit Party, which only secured five more seats and fewer than one million extra votes than UKIP achieved in 2014. The hard core of the ‘no deal’ Brexit movement has peaked at something like 10% of the British electorate. This is a significant political force, but it is smaller than the vote share of right-wing nationalists and populists in many other European countries.

“My conclusion is that the great majority of the British people want either a sensible agreement with the EU or to remain. With the lack of support in Parliament for the best-possible withdrawal agreement, all the signs point to the need to renew the case for the UK remaining at the heart of the European project.

“When I meet with UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn this evening, this is precisely the argument that I will be making with him.

“The British Labour Party is best placed to reverse decades of economic inequality in the UK, while also steering European policy towards greater equality and stronger social protection.

“The interests of Ireland and the European Union are for the British Labour Party to now fully embrace the project of advocating Remain while seeking to bring about a Social Europe model in the EU.”