Brexit is the overarching issue but we must also remember the European Union’s responsibility for the incredible mess that we are in now. It was the European Union which insisted on separate negotiations for the withdrawal, or divorce treaty, and the future relationship. In any divorce, the basic premise is that the future relationship will be at the forefront, but that is not what happened here, which people have often likened to The Eagles song “Hotel California” because “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. How the EU organised this is part of the problem, which is not only the responsibility of the horrendous Tory party and its crazy ideas, as my colleagues discussed earlier. We now have only 99 days to go. British Government ministers are buying fridges and are beginning to ramp up toward leaving at the end of March. It is profoundly affecting us. Even the timing of our general election has been affected by it. It is a great mess, but we should remember the European Union’s own responsibility for this.
The conclusions referred to the Multi-Annual Financial Framework, MFF, and the single resolution fund. These measures shore up the euro but our fiscal freedom may be circumscribed, particularly in the continuing need to meet the fiscal rules.
I have spoken before of the grave reservations across the European Union towards President Macron’s proposals for a federal European Union, which are probably shared by most people in Ireland. His Thatcherite economic policies have thankfully received a severe setback as a consequence of the gillets jaunes in Paris and other French cities in the last six or seven weeks. The relentless pressure from France and Germany to move to a federal-style EU budget continues to pose significant dangers for Ireland and other smaller states. I often have noted the growing net contribution by Ireland to the EU budget and the fact that post-Brexit, our EU contribution will be larger still.
There appears to have been no discussion on the European Central Bank’s withdrawal of quantitative easing and that it will no longer buy assets. Surely that will have a huge impact in 2019, 2020 and beyond as it did provide a stabilising backdrop, even though I profoundly disagreed with the approach as it rewarded those with property and assets instead of spending the money on ordinary EU citizens.
In pillar 3 there was discussion on migration. The European Border and Coast Guard, EBCG, negotiations are ongoing, as are other negotiations on areas such as the Asylum Agency, the Return Directive and the Common European Asylum System. The impacts of these institutions on our country and on our management of our Borders needs to be spelled out.
I note the reiteration of the PESCO plans.
I was one of the 45 Members of this Chamber who objected to permanent structured co-operation. I have great fears, particularly when I heard the Minister of State commenting in one of her conclusions about what happened at the Kerch Strait which opens onto the Sea of Azov and the stand-off between Ukraine and Russia. I have grave concerns that the European Union and Ireland could be dragged into any militaristic conflict in that region. Differences between those two countries can only be settled by peaceful discussions.
Our overarching concern is that this Christmas we are left in the most uncertain position that the country has been in since 1945. The UK Government making these dramatic moves towards a cliff-edge Brexit certainly seems to put us in very sombre situation. I wish the Minister of State well in the remaining discussions. It is a very critical moment for our country.