News & Media

Johnson Deal Least Worst Option but Risks Fuelling Tension in Northern Ireland

18 October 2019

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

Speaking in advance of tomorrow’s Westminster vote on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal with the European Union, the leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin TD, said that there is a real risk that the deal will deepen sectarian political divisions in Northern Ireland due to the plan for votes on the deal every four or eight years.

Brendan said: “From the outset, all parties in the Oireachtas backed the national interest to ensure no border ever returns to the island of Ireland. For this reason, Labour rejected any suggestion of a time limit on the open border. 

“Yesterday, the Taoiseach was celebrating a deal that involves a significant step backwards by Fine Gael from the cross-party consensus on avoiding a time limit. In fact, Johnson’s deal involves a vote in Northern Ireland four years after the deal comes into force, and every four or eight years after that, depending on whether it is backed by a simple majority of Assembly Members or a cross-community super-majority. 

“There is a serious risk that the issue of continuing this deal will become the central focus of politics in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future rather than the many other pressing domestic issues like education, healthcare and jobs. It seems highly likely that pro- or anti-EU membership will become aligned to the nationalist and unionist constitutional positions of the main parties, which will deepen sectarian division rather than move Northern Irish politics beyond the constitutional question. As things stand, the DUP, UUP and TUV are all ranged against this deal, while nationalists are broadly supportive of it.

“Even if the deal is not overturned, there is a risk that alignment with the EU will become another layer on top of decades of bitter constitutional disagreement. Johnson’s deal does not provide the certainty and stability that Labour hoped would be achieved in any UK-EU agreement.

“As we have said from the outset, there is no such thing as a good Brexit from an Irish perspective. Labour’s position is that this deal is worse than May’s deal but preferable to a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which is now hopefully averted. But now is not the time for any premature celebration given how this deal may have a long-term negative effect on Northern Irish politics and the future of cross-border relations.”