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Polish MEP on Irexit party: 'We should be asking for examples of what the benefits of leaving would be'

Danuta Hübner says that citizens must “not take all those lies and all those millions, like those that were promised before the UK referendum”.

NIGEL FARAGE PERTH Former UKIP leader and MEP Nigel Farage speaks during an event in Perth. Source: PA Images

A POLISH MEP has said that there’s not much concern that another member state will leave the European Union -  but added that citizens should quiz political organisations who propose leaving on what the benefits would be.

The UK is in the process of negotiating its withdrawal from the European Union – the official departure is scheduled for 29 March next year (more on that timeline here). Much debate has taken place about what was promised to voters versus what the final Brexit deal will deliver.

The vote also sparked a debate on the future of the EU, and whether the UK’s departure signals the end of the social and economic union. When MEP Danuta Hübner, who addressed the DCU Brexit Institute this week, was asked about whether other member states will leave, she told TheJournal.ie: “We had those fears in the beginning.” 

“There will be always politicians that want to do it. But Brexit is a learning process for everybody where you can see, not only how difficult it can be, but how much you can lose.

“You can of course replace things, but it will take time. By the time you build your own supply chains or your own solutions to problems it will be decades later and have a high cost attached to it.” 

She says that studies by the CER and Bloomberg have shown that the UK Treasury is already losing money because of Brexit. “There will be less trade and less integration -  everything that creates jobs and growth is in the Single Market and the Customs Union.” 

United Kingdom: Ministers Attend First Cabinet Meeting After The Summer Recess Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Despite this, the EU is still sensitive to any shifts in public opinion that could lead to another member state leaving.

“I don’t think the risk is on a massive scale, but we have to be vigilant. We often lose those moments where things change – like we didn’t see the moment where politicians introduced this anti-European narrative.”

European politician

Danuta Hübner’s political career has been at the heart of European politics: she’s served as a Minister for European Affairs in Poland, a Commissioner for Regional Policy within the EU, and a Co-rapporteur of the Constitutional Affairs Committee.

As part of her role on the latter committee, she announced that English would not be an official language of the EU anymore, and that a number of EU member states would get additional EU representatives because of the UK’s departure (Ireland is to get two).

She’s also a member of the Brexit Steering Group, which represents EU parliamentarians’ views on Brexit; they meet once a week with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier to be updated on how the talks are progressing. There are no Irish members of the group.

When asked about her thoughts on the progress made so far, Hübner says that talks have advanced significantly since Dominic Raab took over the post as the UK’s chief negotiator after David Davis resigned in July following the Chequers plan.

Michel Barnier And Dominic Raab Press Conference - Brussels Michel Barnier and Dominic Raab give a joint press conference on 31 August. Source: Monasse Thierry/ANDBZ/ABACA

She says that although a no-deal scenario is possible and must be prepared for, she doesn’t think it’s probable, and shakes her head repeatedly at the idea of it.

When asked whether the fear of the UK profiting from Brexit prompted EU negotiators to be harsh on compromising to reach a deal, Hübner says:

I think it didn’t influence the way we are negotiating, I’m absolutely convinced it didn’t convert talks into a punishment.


Hübner becomes quite passionate at the suggestion that there could be some advantages to Ireland leaving the EU, as claimed by the Irexit Freedom Party, which was launched this weekend in Dublin

When asked about what she thought of the party, Hübner says: “You should ask them what are the advantages to leaving. That’s very difficult to answer.”

Think of all the time after the Brexit vote when the UK was preparing studies on what could be repatriated from the EU, what the benefits were. And until now, no one has really shown the benefits of leaving.

“Even in Ireland, no one is proposing any constructive benefits.

“I think [an Irexit] is really sad and also really absurd. I don’t think they will build a majority in Ireland, but we should still ask those people [proposing it] for examples of what the benefits would be.

We have to be realistic and not accept all those lies and all those millions, like those that were promised in the UK referendum. 

Opinion polls generally show that Ireland’s satisfaction with the EU is very high. In a recent Red C poll, conducted on behalf of the European Movement group, 76% of people said that they “agreed strongly” that Ireland should remain as part of the European Union.


Hübner believes that the biggest threat to the European Union at the moment is the increase in “populist politicians using anti-European sentiment as political capital”.

“They use it to convince people that Europe should be different, that Europe should be nothing more than an economic cooperation. This is a risk for Europe, if we don’t create a counter narrative we don’t show that this is not a solution.”

Spain: 259 Rescued Migrants At The Malaga Harbour Rescued migrants waiting onboard of the Spaniard vessel to be transferred to the Red cross tent, in Malaga, Spain. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

One topic that has been dividing Europe for years is the issue of migration. Recently, in the German province of Chemnitz, protesters took to the streets in anger about the scale of migration in the country; counter protests also took place welcoming migrants’ contribution to the country’s society.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself has come under criticism for strongly supporting an open border policy – from both within her own party and from the public.

Hübner says that countries that have one type of religion, one type of ethnicity, is a thing of the past; that the population of countries in Africa will rise sharply in the next 10 to 20 years, and because of this Europe must be prepared for increased migration to its countries.

“What are we going to do, build walls? And even then, think of a person who has travelled across seas to get to Europe – a wall isn’t going to stop them.”

She said that the best way to deal with the migration is to work together with other nations towards a solution.

There is no global challenge, such as migration, that can be solved better at a national level without cooperation. I think it’s a lie.

That example involves countries working together for solutions to problems they have in common; but what about countries working for a solution to a problem specific to one nation – the border in Ireland post-Brexit, for example.

“We must have a backstop for Northern Ireland, we all on both sides understand the importance of the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area, and how easy it is to undermine processes which are fundamental to the future of people there.”

Both the EU and UK have pledged to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, but neither have a proposal that would avoid that and satisfy both sides.

The EU has suggested keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market; UK prime minister Theresa May has said that she couldn’t accept a border in the Irish Sea. The UK has suggested a plan dubbed ‘max fac’, which involves delaying Brexit until technology is created in order to carry out customs checks without hard infrastructure.

If there’s no agreement on a backstop for Northern Ireland, or a Plan B in the event of no other solution, there is no Brexit deal between the UK and the EU. In a no-deal scenario, a hard border would automatically go up on the island of Ireland.

If we don’t get the backstop, it’s not acceptable, we won’t have an agreement. You’re saying that there is a cost on that [for Northern Ireland]. That’s why I trust that we still have some time and if there is good will on both sides, and I think there is, then we will have to find an agreement.

“The Irish issue is everywhere… I think there is absolute unity with regards to Ireland.”

Northern Ireland in talks on EU cash Former Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley and former Deputy Minister Martin McGuinness with then-EU Regional Commissioner Danuta Hubner in 2008. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

When pushed further and asked about what assurances or advice the EU could give citizens in the North, particularly communities along the border about the protections they will have from a hard Brexit or no-deal Brexit, Hübner pauses.

“Before the summer, kids from a secondary school in Northern Ireland came to visit. And those kids had a competition in school where they prepared studies on the consequences of Brexit on their life. And they were fully aware of the consequences: for their health service – the only hospital for kids is in Dublin – and other things like that. Those kids asked ‘Don’t leave us alone’.

I told them that you have to go and vote, you have to get involved in politics, continue a dialogue with your government because it’s about your life.

“All the grandmothers who voted to leave and didn’t think about the consequences for their granddaughters.

“It is important,” she says.

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