It is useful that we are having statements on Brexit after Guy Verhofstadt's visit here and British Prime Minister May's statement on Friday, 22 September, but we must look at the format of how we do this. We have had a debate on Brexit over two days. If we get past the first phase of the negotiations - I will deal with that in a minute - I believe the Government should work with the Opposition and other parties to publish an agreed statement, an agreed motion, from the Dáil reaffirming our position as an Oireachtas. I do not want this to be divisive. Statements are good and this business is appropriate but, as we get further down the line, if we get to a stage at which the financial settlement, Ireland and citizens' rights are agreed, the Dáil and the Seanad - the Oireachtas - should consider making a formal statement, particularly in light of the fact that we have a minority Government in place. Yes, we have Ministers in place, but it is important we do that.
I know this is not a questions-and-answers session but I am interested in the Government's view on the status of the negotiations on the financial settlement, citizens' rights and reciprocal rights between UK and EU citizens, and Ireland, specifically Northern Ireland. If we are really honest, progress has been extremely slow. One of the areas where there has been some positive comment is Ireland and the North of Ireland. However, I would caution again, as I have done every time I have spoken on this, that we should not allow Ireland and the North - the island of Ireland - to be used as a British Trojan horse when the British are dealing with the European Union. What is good for Ireland, in the position that Britain has actually put forward, is also good for Britain.
Furthermore, if history teaches us anything, it is that until recent times, the past two to three decades, British foreign policy has not been advantageous to Ireland but has been about Britain, Britain first and Britain alone. I would therefore be cautious about the welcome we are giving to Britain's affirming what it has already affirmed in international law. I refer to the Good Friday Agreement, to which the UK has signed up as a co-guarantor, and which is an international treaty lodged with the United Nations. The common travel area is also based on agreements between two sovereign states and those agreements go back to the foundation of the Free State. The Good Friday Agreement and the common travel area are therefore fundamental issues. I do not see Britain saying it will guarantee them as a give from Britain. They are must-haves. They are absolute. The UK cannot just unpick them, tear them up and throw them away.
I do not wish to be overly negative. There were positive aspects of the British Prime Minister's speech. Ireland was central to it, there was the reality of a time-limited extension to the two-year period, a transitionary arrangement, and there was a commitment to honour future financial commitments and obligations. The latter is important because it flies in the face of the "go whistle" strategy of Boris Johnson and others and is therefore a big change, which we recognise.
However, while we should not be used as a Trojan horse for Britain, neither can we allow ourselves to be used as a battering ram for the EU. It concerned me when Michel Barnier was here and took a particularly hard line, but some of Guy Verhofstadt's comments also concerned me. The engagement with Mr. Verhofstadt was useful to have, particularly the questions-and-answers element of it, but let us remember that Guy Verhofstadt is effectively the representative of the European Parliament. He is not a negotiator and is not on the negotiating team. When Mr. Verhofstadt says Ireland should not and will not suffer because of Brexit, I am absolutely with him 100%. They are good words but they must be backed up by deeds. Furthermore, when Guy Verhofstadt, Michel Barnier and others say it should be up to the British to come up with solutions, I could be okay with that if I thought the British could come up with solutions to this and if Boris Johnson, Mr. Davis, Prime Minister May and a Cabinet in Britain, that is fractured, were not involved.
Are we going to leave it up to them to come up with solutions? The political judgment of the Tory Government over successive Prime Ministers, including the former Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, but particularly the current one, and successive foreign secretaries would tell me there is no way on earth we should leave it to the British to come up with solutions, particularly a solution to an Irish border. Again, history tells us that the British do not really have a fantastic track record of drawing up borders and dealing with international crises. I do not wish to be facetious. I genuinely think we and the EU have a role in bringing about solutions. It is not acceptable to say we will leave it to the British to come up with the solutions.
We must remember that when the British talk about free trade and access to a free market, the irony and contradiction of that is that they actually have that already. They have access to the largest free trading bloc in the world with the highest of standards and their own British companies export over €300 billion worth of goods and services into the EU. Do they actually think they will be able to replace that level of trade with trade with Argentina, Brazil, Australia, India and their former colonies in the far-reaching four corners of the world of the former British Empire? They will not be able to do so. Nor will we be able simply to replace any trade with Britain that is lost, and that will be very difficult. To talk about diversification is fine, but in certain sectors it is not that easy. The Minister knows this, as do my other colleagues in the Chamber, in particular in respect of the agrifood sector. In my area of Dublin Fingal, where there is a large horticultural sector, the value of exports to England has already dropped. We have lost nearly €800 million worth in the value of exports in that sector alone and we are highly exposed in certain other sectors.
What we have proposed, as a party, and I made this point to Guy Verhofstadt, is the creation of an EU reform fund, which is a pan-European fund that certain affected sectors, such as the horticultural sector in Holland, Poland or Ireland, can access so that those sectors which are most at risk and which are losing jobs can get real support from the EU. I welcome the fact Mr. Verhofstadt said that is under active consideration. However, what I need the Minister of State and the Government to do is to formally request it at Council of Ministers level and Commission level. That may have been done since July and the Minister of State may be able to inform me of this separately. When I was in Brussels with my own party team in May and June, we questioned whether a formal proposal had been put forward. A parliamentary question was also asked of the Minister of the time, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, as to whether we had requested of Europe a relaxation of state aid rules in order to look at an EU reform fund to assist businesses. It had not happened as of then.
If it has not happened, it needs to happen urgently while the door looks like it is slightly ajar. However, it should not be just seen as a dig-out or a helping hand for Ireland alone. In Denmark, Belgium and Holland there are people who are highly exposed to the British market, particularly in the horticultural sector. We need to level the playing pitch. We need have no doubt that, right now in Britain, EU state aid rules are not to the forefront of the British Government's mind. The Nissan deal in Sunderland was one area where, if we were to get the details, we would be able to see whether it breached state aid rules. We have to level the playing pitch.
Let us remember as well, as part of this, that while the UK is our biggest single market and a very important market that needs to continue operating, at the same time, Ireland is the UK's fifth biggest market. The trade between the two countries is over €60 billion a year, which is significant and important. Furthermore, what is also significant is the lack of agreement in an area where I would have foreseen agreement happening much sooner, namely, on citizens' rights and the reciprocal rights of citizens. We will have the largest number of EU citizens living outside of the EU should Brexit happen, which it will, and they are our own fellow citizens in the North of Ireland. However, what Britain proposed was a new level and a new grade of citizenship for which someone would actually have to apply and which was not reciprocated. The EU has been very clear that British citizens' rights in the EU will be protected and will be transferred across. However, if we cannot even agree that fundamental, I think we have to prepare for the worst; we have to work for the best but prepare for the worst.