ICTU Executive warns “no deal” Brexit would be a catastrophe for workers North and South
Today the leadership of the all island Trade Union Movement at its Executive meeting in Belfast considered its response to the Draft Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the EU and UK
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions represents the interests of nearly 800,000 workers on both sides of the border across the island of Ireland. Given that unique cross border perspective, we campaigned against Brexit. We remain firmly of the view that there is no such thing as ‘a good Brexit for working people’ in Northern Ireland or in the Republic of Ireland. Any Brexit Withdrawal Agreement will still be less favourable than full UK membership of the EU for working people across these islands.
The recent draft Withdrawal Agreement is essentially the end of the beginning of the UK isolating itself from the EU. It also remains to be seen if there is any real prospect of this proposed agreement commanding the support of the majority of MPs in the House of Commons.
We have always argued that if there has to be a Brexit, it should be as soft as possible given the very close nature of the 52% - 48% vote, as clearly the UK is extremely divided on the matter. In Northern Ireland the majority of people voted to remain.
Our objective has been, and remains, the defence of the interests of working people on the island of Ireland economically, politically, socially and culturally. For this to occur we need to ensure that any long term agreement or a backstop avoids;
• A hardening of the border on the island of Ireland
• A border in the Irish Sea
• An economic border between these island
It is our view that the best way to achieve this is to negotiate as close as possible a relationship between the UK and the EU; preferably with the UK as a whole remaining in the Single Market and a Customs Union in the longer term. Only by achieving this can we arrive at a situation where the rights of citizens and workers, and where jobs and trade will not be impacted to a detrimental extent by this Brexit.
A backstop is a fall-back position, an insurance that you hope not to have to use. However, a UK wide backstop with the entire UK in a customs union is preferable to a Northern Ireland only backstop. We must insist that a ‘no deal’ scenario that sees the UK crash out of the EU at the end of March 2019 must be avoided at all costs and is unacceptable. The consequences of such a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be catastrophic.
We must also insist that both governments honour the full terms of the letter and spirit of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Common Travel Area, and all it entails, needs to become an international legally binding treaty between the Republic of Ireland and the UK. In the case of Northern Ireland, the rights of citizens who choose to be British or Irish or both, need to be maintained and they also must have the capacity to vindicate those important rights. There must be a level playing field for workers’rights.