“From a first reading of the White Paper, there are elements that are not perfect, or indeed realistic. But crucially for Ireland, it points towards a realisation that a ‘soft Brexit’ is not only desirable for the UK, but in many ways inevitable.”

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD has said the publication by the UK Government of its Brexit White Paper lays a foundation for its position – but cautioned that a number of potential pitfalls will need to be addressed as soon as possible.

Speaking on Dáil statements on Northern Ireland and Brexit, Deputy Shortall said:

“Previously in this house, we have castigated the British government for their seeming ineptitude and infighting that has repeatedly confounded attempts  to nail down even the most basic of positions of their proposed future relationship with the EU.

“The last week however may prove to have been somewhat of a catalyst for the future of the negotiations.

“The White Paper, published this afternoon lays the foundation for the UK’s position going forward, and the most strident dissenters have been side-lined. Despite this, there remain a number of potential pitfalls that will need to be addressed as soon as possible.

“From a first reading of the White Paper, there are elements that are not perfect, or indeed realistic. But crucially for Ireland, it points towards a realisation that a ‘soft Brexit’ is not only desirable for the UK, but in many ways inevitable. The UK policy now seems to have reoriented towards seeking a “free trade area for goods”, which would require synchronisation with EU rules, a so called ‘common rule book’, or harmonisation by another name.

“This would in effect mean that existing customs and regulatory arrangements for manufacturing and agricultural products would continue after Brexit, but services would diverge.  A ‘facilitated customs arrangement’ is proposed. This would see the UK and EU become a “combined customs territory”, in which the UK would apply the EU’s tariffs and trade policies for goods intended for the bloc, with domestic tariffs imposed for goods heading to the UK. This proposal, regrettably, harkens back to similar UK proposals that the EU has already rejected.

“Most alarmingly however, the white paper seeks to end free movement to the UK from EU member states. Aside from contravening the principle of no access to the free market without free movement, this section is very problematic from an Irish perspective. The section of the White Paper dealing with immigration is laid out “without prejudice to the Common Travel Area”.

“If I am correct in my reading, it means that the UK wishes to limit EU migration to skilled workers and simultaneously keep an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It is not clear how this circle can be squared. Also, and with complete disregard to the Good Friday Agreement and Irish Citizens in Northern Ireland, the White paper states bluntly that the jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK will end, except ‘in relation to the interpretation of those EU rules to which the UK had agreed to adhere as a matter of international law’. We urgently need clarity on this issue, as to whether the Good Friday Agreement falls into this category.

“As we all know, Theresa May’s majority in the Commons relies on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party which has, despite the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland, been one of the most vociferous in their support of a hard Brexit. We have not seen their reaction to the contents of the White Paper as of yet, but If Teresa May is to fully re-establish her authority as Prime Minister, then she must demand the DUP either produce workable alternatives to what is in the document, or fall into line behind her.

“I would also echo the calls that others have made and ask again that Sinn Féin reconsider their abstentionist policy, even temporarily for the purposes of securing the best deal for their constituents in Northern Ireland. This is particularly pressing given the elements of the White Paper that will affect Northern Ireland that I already highlighted, specifically the free movement of people and the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

“These two issues, along with the customs proposals should set alarm bells ringing for the government, particularly in light of the comments by Michel Barnier on Tuesday who said that a Brexit deal was “80% done”. We can only conclude from this that the substance of the white paper was seen by the European Commission before publication. If the remaining 20% concerns the inconsistencies I have highlighted then I would urge the Tanaiste to seek assurances from the European Commission and EU leaders that they will be dealt with a matter of urgency.”

ENDS

12 July 2018