By Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion
The people in the north of Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Yet on 29 March Theresa May signalled to the European Council the British Government’s intention to leave the EU and drag us out.
The first phase of a two-year negotiation on Brexit started in June and prioritised the British Government’s “divorce bill”, the rights of EU citizens and how Brexit will impact Ireland.
The EU made clear this Brexit process must safeguard the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, the rights of citizens and north-south cooperation - including no hardening of the border.
When finally the British and the EU appeared to agree on a solution on Monday, the DUP vetoed it in their own narrow sectorial interest. The putative agreement between Theresa May and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, appears to have been derailed by them.
In effect, when attempts were made to cater for the unique position of the north of Ireland and to protect citizens’ rights, our economy, and the Good Friday Agreement, the DUP went out of their way to block this.
Last week the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, visited Dublin. He said if the British Government’s offer on the border is unacceptable for Ireland, then it will also be unacceptable for the EU. This is a welcome approach which needs to be maintained.
The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, should continue to stand up for the Irish people - north and south - against the British Government, DUP and the right-wing press.
The DUP are Theresa May’s partners in this sorry mess. But the DUP do not speak for the cross-community majority here who voted Remain.
They, like their Tory partners, represent only a tiny section of the Brexit-at-any-cost British establishment.
No one, least of all the DUP, has made a credible case that the north of Ireland will be better off outside the EU. They cannot tell us how we will maintain essential cross-border services such as the all-Ireland cancer centre in Derry or the freedom to travel and trade across the EU.
In Ireland, Brexit would mean economic damage on an unquantifiable scale due to trade tariffs and regulatory divergence.
All of this is occurring against a backdrop of relentless, DUP-driven Tory austerity, severe cuts to public services and investment.
The solution to Britain’s Brexit crisis in Ireland is clear. The north of Ireland should have Designated Special Status within the EU, ensuring that we remain within the customs union and the single market. That is the only guarantee of stability and certainty which will deliver the full protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts; including Irish citizenship and the benefits of EU citizenship.
This is a common sense, practical, and achievable proposal and does not change the constitutional position of the north. We are told Brexit is happening and we must accept it. Sinn Fein and citizens across the island of Ireland reject this as an abdication of political leadership.
We are at a crucial juncture in the process. The Irish Government have the responsibility and the leverage to ensure clarity and certainty from the British Government.
The DUP’s determination to deliver Brexit regardless of the cost to the people of Ireland, north and south, including large swathes of their own electorate, is clear. But they represent a minority of people in the north, a minority in Ireland, a tiny minority on these islands and a minuscule minority in Europe.
The relationship between the people of Britain and the European Union is entirely a matter for the people of Britain. But the people of Ireland cannot be collateral damage in a process that is driven by Brextremists in the DUP and the Tory Party.
Defending the economic security and future of Ireland must be the priority for the Taoiseach in the immediate time ahead.