Coverage of the budget and related events will probably have overshadowed the very significant speech by Mr. Michel Barnier on the withdrawal treaty and the progress achieved in that regard. I understand from his speech, as covered in a RTÉ report this morning, that some 85% of the agreement between the United Kingdom and European Union has been agreed. The remaining 15% applies directly to Ireland and to how goods are imported and exported east to west and north to south. The progress is welcome. I commend all the Irish officials who have been involved.
In this House, we agree that a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is absolutely unacceptable for political, human and economic reasons. Mr. Michel Barnier stated yesterday:
The UK wants to and will leave the Single Market and the Customs Union.
This means that there must be checks on goods travelling between the EU and the UK – checks that do not exist today:
- customs and VAT checks;
- and compliance checks with our standards to protect our consumers, our economic traders and your businesses.
We have agreed with the UK that these checks cannot be performed at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
It looks like this will be a unique set of circumstances, if agreed by all EU members and, of course, the Parliament in Westminster. Again, this is good news but the mechanisms now have to be worked out.
I am concerned about the response from the DUP. In particular, it is latching on to old arguments and, unfortunately, old language by mentioning "blood-red lines", saying it will not be treated differently than others in the United Kingdom. This is highly politically charged and unnecessary language. It does not represent the views of the majority in Northern Ireland, who just want to get on with their lives and with doing business and creating and retaining jobs.
Has the Tánaiste any plans to meet the DUP to discuss its concerns over and approach to these issues and to reflect his concerns and the Government's input regarding these views? Is he concerned about the DUP position threatening a budget in the United Kingdom and how that position might affect the UK Government's approach to the last stages of these talks? Could he confirm that the reports on RTÉ this morning reflect the current status of the negotiations? What is his view on there being a conclusion to those negotiations next week?