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Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement and designated special status – McDonald

22 September, 2017 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD


Speaking at a Brexit Business Breakfast event in Belfast this morning Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald told attendees that the Good Friday Agreement must be attached as a Protocol to any withdrawal agreement between the EU and Britain and that the north must remain within the Customs Union and the Single Market.  

The Dublin Central TD said:

“Britain’s referendum on exiting the European Union was born of deeply cynical and self-interested politics, and the absence of a cohesive Tory negotiation strategy post Brexit tells its own story.

“Both the British and Irish governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, an agreement that must be protected in all its parts. The GFA must be incorporated as a Protocol to any withdrawal agreement between Britain and the EU. This will not only protect the human rights provisions of the agreement for citizens, it would ensure that all Assembly legislation is in line with EU laws and regulations.

“The people of the North voted against Brexit and must not be dragged out of the EU against their democratic will. The Irish government has a particular responsibility to defend that vote and to act in the best interests of all people on this island.

“Designated special status for the north to remain in the EU will ensure that Ireland is treated as one single entity in the EU. It must also mean no land border and that the north remains in the Customs Union and the Single Market, even in the event that the Tories are unable to secure such an agreement for Britain.

“Brexit and a united Ireland are now fundamentally intertwined. Those who argue an opposing view have their heads in the sand. The die has been cast and none of us have the right to shirk the challenging debates ahead. Brexit has reenergised and reshaped the debate and we have a real opportunity now to deliver unity, prosperity and fair play for all on this island.” CRIOCH

Brexit and the Economics of a United Ireland

Mary Lou McDonald TD, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader

INTRODUCTION

Later this morning Theresa May will make a speech in Florence and if the reports are correct she will announce a twenty billion euro divorce in exchange for a deal that allows Britain remain in the single market and customs union.

What this deal will look like is anyone’s guess – but if May does seek such a deal it is further evidence that Britain is beginning to wake up to the import of the EU to the British economy, and the shocking flaws in her governments drive for a hard Brexit.

The notion that Britain could cut and run was always a pig in a poke.

Britain’s referendum on exiting the European Union was born of deeply cynical and self-interested politics, and the absence of a cohesive Tory negotiation strategy post Brexit tells its own story.

It is clear that the future of the north was not even a gleam in David Cameron’s eye when he ploughed ahead with the Brexit referendum. This in itself is an astonishing reality.

Brexit is most serious social, economic and political threat to the island of Ireland for a generation.

BREXIT, THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT AND SPECIAL DESIGNATED STATUS

Both the British and Irish governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, an agreement that secures the rights of citizens across this island. Yet Europe’s role in the GFA seems not to have crossed the Tory leaderships mind. In the context of the current political crisis, it would seem that the GFA seldom crosses their mind at all.

Whatever your political hue or none there is a collective a view that the GFA is sacrosanct – and that is why the agreement itself must play a central role is the designated special status for the north within the EU.

It must be protected in all its parts, and we are proposing that the GFA be incorporated as a protocol to the withdrawal agreement between Britain and the EU. Importantly this would not only protect the human rights provisions of the agreement for citizens, it would ensure that all Assembly legislation is in line with EU laws and regulations.

The people of the North voted against Brexit. The people of the north must not be dragged out of the European Union against the democratic will of the people. 

The Irish government has a responsibility to defend that vote and to act in the best interests of all the people of Ireland.

The Taoiseach has a responsibility to defend the Good Friday Agreement and to ensure that EU citizens living in the North continue to have their EU rights protected after Brexit.

Designated Special Status for the north to remain in the EU will ensure that Ireland is treated as one single entity in the EU.  This is better for us all.

Support for Designated Special Status for the north to remain in the EU is gaining momentum.

Designated special status must also mean no land border and that the north remains in the customs union and the single market – even in the event that The Tories are unable to secure such an agreement for Britain.

A land border does not just raise the prospect of all the challenges presented by the reinstating of customs checks or tariffs. As people in this room understand the cost of administrating a customs border will ultimately be passed on to businesses. This is simply unacceptable.

Roughly forty per cent of the north’s exports go to Britain. Whilst it is up to Theresa May to spell out how Britain see the customs union working for Britain post Brexit we do know that we cannot have tariff free trade between the north and south, and the opposite between the north and Britain. Special status means what it says on the tin.

Yet in the medium to long-term, even if special status is achieved, economic success will still be significantly stifled and the island’s potential – particularly the norths – will not be unleashed. Border counties will continue to suffer from the volatility that comes with fluctuating currencies’, a lack of inward investment and infrastructural deficits. 

That is why in my view Brexit and a united Ireland are now fundamentally intertwined. Those who argue an opposing view have their heads in the sand. The die has been cast and none of us have the right to shirk the challenging debates ahead.

Brexit has reenergised and reshaped the debate about a united Ireland.

Sinn Féin is seeking the support of all parties in the Oireachtas for a committee on Irish Unity.

We will also be bringing forward a White Paper on Irish Unity.

And we want to see a referendum on unity in the next five years.

We believe that this is achievable and winnable.

We also believe that this should be government policy.

UNLEASHING THE POTENTIAL OF A UNITED IRELAND

For our part we want to progress a debate that delivers for all peoples living on this island. Be it taxation, investment in infrastructure or the delivery of public services – we want a New Ireland that delivers unity, prosperity and fair play.

In 2015 Professor Huebner of Vancouver University produced a detailed modelling  document that projected the total combined Irish economy would in a short number of years be greater than the two separate economies, north and south, by approximately €35billion over a number year.

Let’s not forget Ireland the island is already integrated both economically and politically.

A recent InterTradeIreland and the ESRI report demonstrated our current trading relationships:

All-Ireland trade in goods was valued at €2.7 billion in 2016;

South to north trade was €1.65 billion

North to south trade was €1.05 billion

1,993 different categories of products are traded south to north;

2,269 different categories of products are traded north to south.

As a result of the GFA and the progress of the peace process a large number of bodies and organisations already work successfully on an all-island basis. Be it InterTradeIreland’s work SMEs, Tourism Ireland, the North West Cancer Centre at Altnagelvin Hospital, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann or the north south Ministerial Council – working to the benefit of all on this island is part and parcel of everyday life.

However where significant challenges remain is for business, industry and the farming sectors. Different tax, legal and currency regimes operating across Ireland creates unnecessary administrative costs and burdens for businesses hindering growth and the broader potential for the island.

Imagine what we could achieve with a single all-Ireland jobs and investment agency combing the current efforts of the IDA, InvestNI and InterTradeIreland? How attractive would a united Ireland package be for multi-nationals looking to establish new bases or grow existing investments in an English speaking base with full and unfettered access to the single market?

As Professor Huebner noted in his report - Attracting FDI is not only about implementing globally competitive tax rates but also, and in many ways more importantly, about restructuring an entire policy framework to attract and feed high value-added enterprises.

FDI can also play an important role in developing supply chain linkages for micro and small domestic enterprises, increasing knowledge transfer and productivity. 

Harmonising tax and legal structures for micro, small and medium size businesses – the life blood of both economies – and removing the unpredictability of  currency fluctuations would enable these businesses expand their client base.

The farming sector has also been stymied with issues such as two jurisdiction tagging systems and the diverging of animal health regulations. Post Brexit a new and united Ireland will become even more important for farmers and the agri-food sector.

CONCLUSION

The Good Friday Agreement and the peace process itself provide the island with a mechanism to achieve Irish unity. Our cross border relationships are already in place, an acknowledgement in itself of our shared future.

Irish unity opens up big questions, beyond what we will discuss here today. Families like enterprise and educators will have practical questions regarding the nuts and bolts of what unification will look like.

We know Irish unity is possible. We know we are in reality already part way there. We have only to look to the successful reunification of Germany to see that will the political will and of course support of the people our ambition for Ireland can be realised.

It is for the Irish government to accept that the best protection for the island of Ireland in any post Brexit arrangement is for the north to be designated Special Status within the EU.

We are stronger together than we can ever be apart.

For its part the Irish government must also be ambitious for Ireland in the face of Brexit in its demands of the European Union by:

Making a strong case for Designated Special Status for the North to ensure all of Ireland remains within the EU;

securing an exception to EU state aid rules;

leveraging of the structural funds to buffer the impact of Brexit north and south benefitting not only regional development but science and research also;

ensure the EU’s strategic infrastructure plans do not exclude the all island economy;

broaden the scope of the globalisation fund to support workers affected by Brexit and

the creation of a new Brexit solidarity fund  for investment and diversification programmes in sector and regions likely to be severely impacted by Brexit.

In tandem we have called on the Irish government to develop a real plan for Irish unity, and we are not alone in this demand.

Just last month a report by Joint-Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement recommended that the Irish government pro-actively plan and prepare for the reunification of Ireland.

The report also notes the role the EU would play in assisting that plan in the event of the people of the North voting for it in a unity border poll by calling on the EU to allow the people of the north to be admitted automatically to the EU without the necessity of an application process.

EU leaders have committed to protect Ireland’s interests and have guaranteed that the north could rejoin the EU as part of a united Ireland.

The debate on what Irish unity will look like is happening across the island, and the EU. This morning is an opportunity for us to not only deal with Brexit but to share our collective vision for a united, prosperous and equal Ireland.

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