Ireland must continue to set the agenda for the Brexit talks, Mairead McGuinness, MEP and First Vice-President of the European Parliament said in Letterkenny at the weekend.
In an address to the 28th Colmcille Winter School on the topic ‘The EU-post Brexit – stronger or weaker?’ she said the task was to “reach a place where we consolidate around the gains based on the original core values of the European project – peace, co-operation, human rights and avoidance of war and conflict.”
Ms McGuinness said the decision of the UK, while highly significant, cannot set the agenda for the EU. However, she said the challenges are great.
On the future of the EU, Ms. McGuinness said the UK decision cannot dictate the fate of the EU. “It’s up to the EU27 and its citizens to decide if countries working together is more important and valuable than the alternative, which is disintegration and chaos.
"We have to take on board citizens concerns about where the EU is heading. But we must challenge head-on the notion that a retreat to the nation state at the expense of EU cooperation is a ‘better’ way forward. This requires deeper engagement between the European Parliament and members of National Parliaments. As first Vice-President with responsibility for relationships with National Parliaments, I believe we have a lot of work to do to stop the almost constant attacks on the EU.
"One of the only positives to emerge from Brexit is the realisation it has awoken about how important the EU single market is for business and jobs, how free movement of people works and the value of agreed standards around so many issues, including food and environment.”
McGuinness said the Brexit negotiations will be difficult because the EU will not compromise on core principles and its collective determination to stay unified is very strong. The UK, on the other hand, appears to want to cherry pick and this is something the EU already has said is impossible.
“While the jockeying for position on both sides will be intense with doomsday scenarios being thrown about as the negotiations intensify Ireland, given its geography and history, is uniquely placed to keep all reminded of the ultimate goal, of a fair deal, which is in the interest of both sides,” Ms McGuinness said.
She said already, before formal negotiations begin, the question of the UK’s financial contribution for legally binding contractual commitments the EU has entered into, is being debated with political considerations within the UK itself likely to make this one a ‘white heat’ issue in the negotiations.
She said agriculture and food was a key area where there are significant concerns about the potential impact of Brexit, given the high level of exports to the UK.
“The all island nature of the agriculture sector could be damaged by a Brexit that results in borders and tariffs on our food exports. In a worst case scenario we could be looking at tariffs of 50-60pc on our agri food exports, which would make us very uncompetitive and increase prices for food in the UK,” she said.
And she said any potential trade agreements made by the U.K. following Brexit with countries like Brazil or New Zealand would hit farmers badly. However, Ms McGuinness said the UK food supply chain relies on Irish food imports and this could not be replaced suddenly.
“We need to keep the concerns of citizens on our island to the fore, including our common travel area,” she said. “We must work towards a solution which enables us to continue to trade even if achieving this may be very difficult,” she said.