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We must prepare to give UK more time on Withdrawal Agreement

6 December 2018

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

Speaking in response to the developments this week in the UK, Leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin TD spoke about the need for Ireland and the EU to prepare to give the UK more time to complete their internal deliberations on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Deputy Howlin said:

“Ever since June 2016, the British Parliament has been deadlocked on the question of Brexit. After two and a half years of wrangling, they now have to find a solution that satisfies the referendum result while also safeguarding the public interest. But there seems to be no majority for anything.

“There is apparently no majority for Theresa May’s deal. We will know for sure on the 11th.

“There is apparently no majority for a ‘no deal’ scenario.

“There was a majority in Parliament to remain in the EU, before the referendum, but many MPs have now accepted the 2016 advisory referendum as binding.

“The only thing that Parliament seems to agree on is their need for more information to make up their minds by next Tuesday. On Tuesday as the culmination of a set of historic firsts, Theresa May’s Government was declared in contempt of Parliament.

“The now published legal advice from the Attorney General to the Government makes it clear that the Irish ‘backstop’, if triggered, would remain in place until and unless it was replaced by some other future arrangement. This is a vital part of the Withdrawal Agreement to protect Ireland’s interests, and it is welcome that the UK Government’s official legal advisor confirms the durability of the backstop.

“Our assumption at this point has been that the process is now entirely internal to the UK. But there is a very real risk that the UK Parliament will be unable to agree anything before March 2019, meaning a disorderly exit from the EU by accident rather than design. This would have disastrous consequences for Ireland as it implies that the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop would not be in place.

“While we cannot interfere with internal British politics, we can take action in the EU that might make continued British membership of the EU more attractive, and provide time for a more rational decision to be arrived at in the UK.

“We know from the opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice that the UK can, of its own volition, withdraw its Article 50 application. But can Article 50 be postponed?

“There is a risk that Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney will adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach to the spectacle of deadlock in Westminster. Labour’s view is that the Government should offer support for extending Article 50 if that is requested by the British Government.

“The possibility of the UK unilaterally withdrawing Article 50 has given greater hope to those Remainers from all parties who want a new referendum, to offer the people the choice between Theresa May’s deal or remaining as full EU members. In my view, that is the most democratic option, as I have repeatedly said in my engagements with UK Labour colleagues over the last two years.”