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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 17 November, 2018

'If the British government refuses to do the right thing by Ireland decisions should be taken out of its hands'

In the event of a Brexit crash, a disorderly Brexit or a hard Brexit, to which the Tories seem wedded, the British must not imagine that the Irish people will simply resign themselves to their fate, writes David Cullinane.

David Cullinane TD Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Brexit

LAST WEEK THE European Council expressed concern that no substantial progress had been achieved on a backstop solution for the North and Ireland.

For all of the talk and promises that we would have real and substantial progress and that we were not going to stumble into October without any resolution of the Irish issues, that is exactly what happened, yet we move on regardless.

All other European partners have their concerns and issues, all of which I respect, but the Irish government’s position has to be to protect the interests of those who live on the island of Ireland.

At the very least the Irish government has to hold Britain to account, pressuring the European Union to hold it to account and using whatever leverage we have to make sure that will happen.

Concrete solutions

That was the Irish government’s stated intention, according to its rhetoric, but it seems that it was comfortable in allowing the phase 1 negotiations to move on without real concrete solutions.

Now it seems content to leave the June summit without concrete solutions, even though it stated all the way along that it would not allow that to happen.

Leaving aside all of the differences we can have on these issues, with the British Government and the European Union, and leaving aside all of the different scenarios with max fac, max fac plus and all of the things we are hearing that might come from the Chequers meeting and the White Paper in which Theresa May will put some options on the table, the hard reality is that the British government is still intent on taking the North out of the European Union, the customs union and the Single Market.

There may be some sort of customs partnership, but we do not know how it would work in practice.

Not included

What we do know is that services will not be included. Not every area of trade will be included. There are real question marks about whether the European Union will agree to any type of arrangement which will allow Britain to stay in the Single Market without supporting the four freedoms which include the free movement of people.

I have no difficulty with the European Union defending its position and making sure the rules of the Single Market and the customs union are protected. We are a member of the European Union and it is taken as a given that that must happen.

However, if there is divergence and the North is not aligned with the rules of the Single Market and the customs union, we will have a problem. That would be a step backwards and we did not vote for a step backwards, North or South.

We should not accept it under any circumstance.

A lot of work to do

The government has an awful lot of work to do between now and October to recover lost ground. Pressure needs to be exerted on the Minister of State and the government to come back with a solution that will protect the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts, avoid any hardening of the Border and protect the rights of citizens.

It is clear that we need a Brexit summit focused solely on Irish concerns prior to the October meeting, not a conversation about Brexit over breakfast. This is something that the Taoiseach must put forcefully to our European partners.

The backstop agreed in December – signed, sealed, delivered and enforceable – is the bottom line and the very minimum needed to protect our island, jobs and economic progress.

We also need to see recognition from the Tories that the people of the North voted to remain, not to exit. Given how the negotiations have gone to this point, it is clear the British government cannot grasp the importance of these issues to Ireland. It either cannot grasp it or it does not care but, either way, the result is the same.

If the British government refuses to do the right thing by Ireland, refuses to produce credible proposals and continues along a path that will only deliver economic devastation and political upheaval on this island, then those decisions should be taken out of its hands and placed in the hands of the people of this island.

In the event of a crash

In the event of a Brexit crash, a disorderly Brexit or a hard Brexit, to which the Tories seem wedded, the British must not imagine that the Irish people will simply sigh and resign themselves to their fate.

Theresa May and her government need to understand that, in the event of a crash, a chaotic or a hard Brexit, they will have no democratic alternative other than to put the constitutional question on the issue of ending partition and Irish reunification.

A shared, agreed, new Ireland is by far a better vision for all the people of this island than the destruction the Tories seem intent on.

As somebody who is committed to Irish unity, this is not the scenario in which I would wish a debate on reunification to occur; far from it. However, if it is the case that we are left with that mess, Theresa May needs to understand that the question, democratically, will have to be put.

David Cullinane TD is Sinn Féin’s Brexit spokesperson.

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About the author:

David Cullinane TD  / Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Brexit

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