Wednesday 18 September 2019

Colette Browne: 'With a no-deal disaster inching ever closer, we have a right to know how Government will handle it'

British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA Wire
British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA Wire
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a novel way of approaching Brexit negotiations with the EU - holding a gun to the UK's head and threatening to shoot unless he gets everything he wants.

Understandably, people in this country are watching the chaos unfold across the water with grim fascination. After all, it's not unusual for witnesses to a car crash to have a good gawk.

But, while it is tempting to consume ourselves with the daily deluge of insanity and inanity that now comprises British politics, focus needs to be trained on our own politicians and how they plan to react if that gun ever goes off.

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Or, better still, what they could do to prevent a misfiring.

Sinn Féin has consistently ridiculed any suggestion that it could abandon its abstentionist policy and take its seven seats in Westminster to thwart a no-deal Brexit.

At the weekend, a rather convoluted proposition from journalist Fintan O'Toole was also summarily shot down.

Under that plan, Sinn Féin's seven MPs would resign and elections would be held in which unity, non-politically aligned but Brexit opposed candidates would stand for the express purpose of voting against any attempt to usher in no deal.

Then, when that work was over and the threat of no deal had receded, those individuals would dutifully resign and allow Sinn Féin candidates to retake their seats - after another election.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald dismissed that idea as "a total non- runner" and "unworkable in the real world" and she probably has a point.

But if the plan is tortuous, and it is, that is a result of Sinn Féin's own refusal to countenance any direct involvement in attempting to stop a no-deal calamity.

Everybody understands that Sinn Féin does not take its seats in Westminster, and its MPs have been elected on that express mandate, but Mr Johnson's wafer-thin majority of just one in the House of Commons means that position needs to be re-evaluated.

It's easy to simply renounce seats in Westminster when your votes won't make a blind bit of difference to the arithmetic. But, when those votes could be the difference between chaos and calm, then surely some more consideration is required?

If no deal is as bad as some of the forecasts, then 40,000 jobs could be lost in the North - 5pc of the workforce. In the south, the figure is 34,000 in the short-term and 100,000 over 10 years.

Ms McDonald has said that Sinn Féin has gone on a "diplomatic offensive internationally" to "stand up for Ireland's interests" in an attempt to prevent no deal. If the party is willing to go on an international offensive, why not at least have an internal debate about taking its seats in an attempt to avoid the forthcoming calamity?

Personally, I think it would be quite powerful to see Sinn Féin MPs trooping into Westminster to torpedo the plans of Tory extremists before leaving again and never looking back.

The failure of the party to even entertain taking such action, which could surely be rationalised to its supporters as desperate times requiring desperate action, suggests that what most of us suspect is actually true.

Sinn Féin, while ostensibly opposed to a no-deal Brexit, in reality views it as the fastest route to a united Ireland and, therefore, a necessary evil. Ms McDonald said as much herself when commenting to one newspaper.

"If we are faced with the scenario of a no-deal Brexit and the undermining of the Good Friday Agreement, then the people of the North should be given an opportunity to vote for which union they want to be part of in a unity referendum," she said.

So, Northern Ireland crashes out of the EU and into a united Ireland.

But, of course, it wouldn't be that easy. Even if a Border poll were to indicate a majority in favour of a united Ireland, it would take years of planning and preparation for that to become a reality.

And, what are those in the North and down south, whose livelihoods and prospects have been ruined by the devastation wrought by no deal, supposed to do in the meantime?

View themselves as collateral damage sacrificed for the greater good?

Sinn Féin has already seen its vote collapse in the south in the last local elections.

Being viewed as the party that could have done more to stop the next great recession will do nothing to win back support.

While Sinn Féin mulls its unprecedented power in Westminster's voting lobbies, Fine Gael also has questions to answer about its no-deal planning.

For a start, it could try telling us what concrete measures are being put in place to prepare for that doomsday scenario.

According to the British press, Mr Johnson and his team are "turbo planning" for a no-deal exit - although, with just three months left to go, it's hard to see what they can actually achieve having started from a position of near zero.

In this country, a support package of €100m for beef farmers has been announced.

But surely other industries and businesses deserve to know, at this late stage, how the Government intends to help its sectors if the worst happens.

At the moment, it appears August is going to be a write-off, with everyone taking a long break.

And decisions are going to be deferred until at least September.

Given the sort of briefings coming out of London over the weekend - that Mr Johnson's special adviser Dominic Cummings, the orchestrator of the Vote Leave campaign, has vowed to use every dirty trick in the book to nobble parliament and ensure Britain leaves on October 31 - it is time our own plans for no deal were more clearly laid out.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he was "not fatalistic" about the prospect of the UK crashing out of the EU and that while the "Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, was closed" there was always room for talks and negotiations.

Coincidentally, he made those comments at almost precisely the same moment as the man responsible for no-deal planning in the British government, Michael Gove, was telling the press he was "deeply saddened" that the EU "seem to be refusing to negotiate" with the UK.

While the propaganda war will rage indefinitely, the game of chicken between the EU and Britain can only end in three ways - a further extension of time, the revocation of Article 50 or a disastrous no deal.

Politicians in this country need to have a plan for all three outcomes - and let us in on what they are.

Sooner rather than later.

Irish Independent

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