Northern Ireland border with the Republic. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Brexit is too important to be left to Westminster
The UK Supreme Court judgement has finally clarified the key role of parliament in triggering Article 50. That judgement reinforced the centrality of elected politicians to decisions that will shape the future of the UK, as opposed to the Prime Minister assuming Royal Prerogative. At least now MPs will have the opportunity to challenge and oppose the Prime Minister’s determination to leave the EU in a manner almost designed to inflict the maximum damage to Northern Ireland and its neighbours – economically, socially and politically.
The stability of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is no trivial matter. This week, in the aftermath of the attempted murder of a police officer by the ’New IRA’, the NI Police Federation warned that a post-Brexit “hard border” would put police “in the terrorist firing line.”
While the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was disappointed at the failure of the Supreme Court to give an equivalent say to the devolved Assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the TUC and Congress have worked closely together on this issue, and the fraternal confederations have been exemplary in highlighting to London’s political class and ‘national’ press the importance of the Irish border. Northern Ireland is especially vulnerable to the UK abandoning the Customs Union, considering the extent of cross-border trade (especially in foodstuffs) that will be placed at risk and the potentially disastrous impact in terms of jobs.
As an all-island body representing some 750,000 working people north and south of the Irish border, Congress is keenly aware of the enormous destructive potential that could flow from Brexit.
The governments in London and Dublin need to be repeatedly reminded of this fact – and of their critical responsibility to ensure that working people do not pay the price for this ideological gambit.
As Congress General Secretary Patricia King has pointed out:
“It had been clear for some time that the current Tory government seemed intent on leaving the single market and no amount of positive spin and rhetoric about a future global Britain can mask the fact that it is intent on turning inwards, in an ever increasingly globalised world.
“Given that the UK is a key trading partner and the fact that the Republic of Ireland may essentially be the new EU land border it is imperative that the Irish government takes a lead role in negotiations with the remaining 27 member states to ensure that our unique needs and circumstances are addressed.
“Whilst the UK Prime Minister states that she agrees with the Irish Taoiseach that the common travel area should remain, this will be an EU border and not just an Irish one. Therefore this will require the agreement of the other 26 member states.
“Our government needs to ensure that the nearly 25,000 workers (and others) who traverse the border daily will be able to continue to do so post-Brexit.”
The Congress General Secretary has repeatedly pointed out that the Irish government needs to negotiate through the European Union for the creation of a dedicated funding stream to ensure we can protect all jobs in vulnerable sectors – such as Agri Food. Any such fund would necessarily remain in place until access to alternative markets has been secured.
A major concern is the status of workers’ rights in Northern Ireland, post-Brexit. These rights are a ‘devolved matter’ to the Stormont Assembly, which has now collapsed and its parties engaged in a fresh election with no obvious outcome. We agree with our colleagues in the TUC that there is a profound duty upon MPs to ensure that workplace rights do not fall behind those across the border in the EU, following Brexit.
Where is the voice of the 56% who voted to remain in the EU? It is past the time for business, farmers and community activists to speak up: Brexit is too important to be left to politicians.
We in Northern Ireland face losing from our trade and business each year more cash than the total cost of the RHI scandal which brought down the NI Assembly and Executive. Where is the same outrage over the cost to trade and investment resulting from a policy that is opposed by the majority in NI?
It seems as if the UK wants the benefits of the Customs Union without the responsibilities and obligations that this entails. We believe it is critical that the UK and in particular Northern Ireland remains in the Customs Union. Unlike the rest of the UK a majority of Northern Ireland exports (56%) go to the EU and two thirds of this figure to the Republic of Ireland.
To avoid a very damaging impact on the economy and jobs in Northern Ireland, coupled with the current political instability, it is essential that the UK remain in the Customs Union, that workers’ rights are protected and ‘index-linked’ to future improvements in employment rights across the EU and that the social and political gains made since the Good Friday Agreement are not undermined by the populist demands of other regions of the UK.