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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

Vol. 998 No. 1

EU-UK Negotiations on Brexit: Statements

I am grateful for the opportunity to update the House on developments in recent months with respect to Brexit. As I have said previously in this House, despite the continued focus of the Government, and the country, on the unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit also poses an unprecedented challenge for Ireland.

The Government’s focus and strategy, with regard to the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, the future of the relationship between the EU and the UK and the future of our bilateral relationship with the UK, has not wavered.

In the past two weeks, there has been much attention on the publication of the UK Government's internal market Bill. Its publication caused grave concern, as I will discuss in more detail later. Time is short now, as we all know, and serious issues remain outstanding. Despite noise, and despite setbacks, this Government’s focus remains on the implementation, in full and in good faith, of the withdrawal agreement and the protocol, and on achieving a successful conclusion to the future relationship negotiations.

I will now seek to address in more detail the state of play with regard to EU-UK negotiations, implementation of the withdrawal agreement, including the Government’s discussions with UK and EU interlocutors in recent days, the readiness in Ireland for the end of the transition, and Ireland’s bilateral relationship with the UK, on which we must always focus.

On negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship, the EU has been engaged in intensive negotiations with the UK over recent months to try to agree a broad and comprehensive future partnership agreement. This remains the goal. Ireland supports the closest possible relationship between the EU and UK. However, what can be achieved will also be determined by the scope of the UK’s ambition in this area and its willingness to engage seriously with the EU's red lines. We want an agreement, but it must be one that respects the EU's long-term economic interests.

Eight formal negotiating rounds have now taken place, with additional informal contacts between the chief negotiators and their teams outside the formal setting. These talks continue to address a broad range of issues, from trade in goods and services to transport and energy, from law enforcement to mobility, and so on. The ninth round is due to take place next week. Unfortunately, nowhere near sufficient progress has been made.

Significant gaps remain on key issues, in particular on the level playing field, governance and fisheries. These fundamental issues must be addressed to secure an overall agreement. As set out in the political declaration agreed in October of last year, the EU-UK future relationship must encompass "robust commitments to prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages". We want this commitment followed through. Level playing field provisions must reflect the proximity and depth of the trading relationship between the EU and the UK. These are necessary to protect fair and open competition and to prevent diverging standards in areas such as environmental protections and workers' rights

State aid is a key consideration in the EU-UK future relationship talks. The political declaration agreed by the EU and UK clearly sets out state aid as one of the critical areas to ensure a level playing field and open and fair competition between both parties. Progress on fisheries has also been disappointing so far. The original intention was to resolve the area of fisheries by midsummer. Fisheries is an important priority for Ireland. We are seeking to protect the interests of the Irish fleet in terms of both access and the quota share it currently enjoys in British waters. From the outset of the negotiations, Ireland and our EU partners have been clear on our level of ambition in this area and on the fact that progress on an overall trade deal is linked to progress on fisheries. This is reflected in the EU mandate and the draft EU legal text. The two sides are still very far apart, however. The task force is continuing to push for increased UK engagement on this area, and affected member states, including Ireland, are continuing our very close engagement with the task force on the EU approach. I spent some time speaking to Michel Barnier on this issue this week.

The next negotiating round will begin next week, on 28 September. Time is growing very short, but we should not forget that it is in everyone’s interests for a deal to be reached. Michel Barnier and his team have done enormous work representing the interests of all member states. They have our full and unequivocal support. For our part, Ireland will continue to work as part of the EU27 to ensure that our collective approach to these negotiations reflects our values and interests.

The withdrawal agreement, of which the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is an integral part, was agreed by the EU and the UK, just less than one year ago, in October 2019. It was approved by all EU Heads of Government and received the assent of the European Parliament. It was signed and ratified by the UK Government. Legislation implementing it was passed by the UK Parliament at the beginning of this year. It is a legally binding international agreement.

From the beginning, Ireland's approach has been guided by the principle of securing a deal that worked for Northern Ireland and the island as a whole. The protocol includes provisions that avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, that recognise the common travel area, protect continued North-South co-operation and protect the integrity of the Single Market and, as important, Ireland's place in it.

It also affirms that Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the UK and its place in the UK's internal market. It maintains commitments to ensure no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It maintains the single electricity market and reaffirms the commitment of the EU and the UK to the PEACE PLUS programme.

The protocol is designed to operate in all circumstances, including the absence of an agreement on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. Some commentators forget that. The negotiation of the withdrawal agreement and the protocol was lengthy and detailed and the protocol represents a fair and balanced outcome for all parties, with compromises on all sides. It is specifically designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process, including avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Clarity on and stability in all aspects of the protocol are vital for businesses and people in Northern Ireland. The protocol allows them to be fully assured that the peace and prosperity delivered through the Good Friday Agreement will be protected in all circumstances. A vital component of this is protection of the all-island economy, which is important to businesses across the island of Ireland, now perhaps even more than ever. We have always been clear on the need for the protocol to work for the people of Northern Ireland and for the business community there. Throughout the Brexit process, I have maintained close contacts with leaders in Northern Ireland, including contacts today and yesterday. I have also continued to engage intensively with its farming and business representatives and other key stakeholders. I recognise the importance of east-west trade for Northern Ireland businesses. I welcome that the EU is already engaging closely with the UK to find appropriate and agreed solutions, but they must fall within the framework of the agreed protocol.

The withdrawal agreement affirms in black and white the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. This is set out in the very first operative article of the protocol. It is vital that the protocol be implemented now in full and in good faith.

The UK published the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill on Wednesday, 9 September. The British Government's approach in this legislation is deeply concerning. The Bill, if it were implemented in its current form, would undermine the withdrawal agreement and the certainty and stability that is so vital to protecting the Good Friday Agreement. It would seriously erode and damage trust in Northern Ireland and between the EU and the UK. Injecting uncertainty and confusion at this point of the process is not helpful on any level.

The Taoiseach raised our concerns directly with the British Prime Minister on the day the Bill was published. He also discussed these issues with the EU's chief negotiator, Mr. Michel Barnier, and Commission President von der Leyen. We raised the same points during the extraordinary meeting of the joint committee on the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, which met on Thursday, 10 September. At that meeting, Commission Vice President Sefcovic urged the British Government to remove the problematic measures from the Bill by the end of this month.

I attended the General Affairs Council in Brussels on Tuesday of this week, where the state of play on Brexit was discussed and the full unity of the EU in support of Mr. Barnier, our chief negotiator, was expressed strongly. I also had a range of meetings and contacts while there on Brexit-related issues. I met Vice President Šefovi, the co-chair of the EU-UK joint committee, and Mr. Barnier. We agreed that our collective focus should continue to be on achieving a successful conclusion to the future relationship negotiations and continued engagement through the mechanisms provided for under the withdrawal agreement to resolve outstanding issues. Let us see what progress can be made in the coming short weeks, but in any final trade deal, we will have to be clear and fully certain that the withdrawal agreement will be implemented in full.

Even if we get an agreement on a future relationship, I do not believe it will be ratified if there is still a threat by the UK to legislate to undermine the withdrawal agreement and break international law. Why would the EU ratify a new agreement with a country that is threatening to break an agreement that is not even 12 months old? As with everything in politics, trust and relationships are what matter in this context. I continue to try to remind the British Government in particular that, when all of this is done and we are on the other side of the transition at the end of this year, the relationship between the EU and the UK will be important for many of the global challenges that we face together and many of the mutual interests that we have and on which we need partnership. As we try to close out a future relationship agreement that puts in place a basic trade agreement and makes the end of the transition as acceptable and implementable as possible in terms of the change and disruption that are coming, we must bear in mind that, after all of this, the relationships between the EU and the UK need to be protected so that, for many reasons, we remain close in future.

The next meeting of the joint committee will take place on 28 September and Ireland will participate as part of the EU delegation, as always.

As Members of the House know, we have urged the British Government to step back from its deeply concerning approach in terms of legislation and to work to repair the trust that has been damaged and implement successfully and faithfully the withdrawal agreement and protocol that we agreed together. A positive resolution to this issue is in all of our interests in the short and medium terms. We remain in close contact with all of our EU and UK colleagues.

This Tuesday marked 100 days until the transition period ends on 31 December. Irrespective of the outcome of the ongoing EU-UK negotiations, there will be substantial and lasting change for citizens and businesses from that date. The Irish Government has been planning for Brexit since the UK's referendum. We had made significant progress as we faced no-deal cliff edges in March and October 2019 and again in January 2020. While this earlier work stood to us as we moved into the transition period, we were also conscious that the end of the transition period was a different proposition from a no-deal scenario. It was necessary to recalibrate our work to address the immediate challenges and the long-term permanent changes that would arise on 1 January. As with every other sector of the economy, we had to do this while responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ireland has always supported the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK, but the limited progress we are seeing in the negotiations requires us to plan for a less ambitious outcome than that. In May, the Government agreed to intensify its readiness planning on the basis of two possible scenarios: a limited free trade agreement with a fisheries agreement and with level playing field and governance arrangements intact; and a hard Brexit with the EU and UK trading on WTO terms after being unable to agree a future relationship and trade deal.

In the first scenario, the EU and UK would agree a limited free trade agreement with level playing field provisions, providing for zero tariffs and zero quotas, and finalise a fisheries agreement in parallel. This outcome would bring substantial challenges for supply chains and trade flows and would require checks and controls in both directions on EU-UK trade. In practice, this will mean that every time Irish companies or individuals import from or export to Great Britain, they will need at least to complete a customs declaration. A limited free trade agreement would not address the full range of the EU's relations with the UK. Far from it, unfortunately.

In the second scenario, if the EU and UK fail to reach an agreement, we will be faced with a hard Brexit and an immediate and disorderly change in the way the EU and UK trade and engage with each other.

In such a scenario, from 1 January 2021, the EU and UK will trade on WTO rules. In addition to the implications for traders in terms of the added administrative burden, this outcome will also see the introduction of tariffs and quotas on trade, in both directions, with significant impacts on Irish trade. The effects of this will be particularly acute in the agri-food sector, where we could see an estimated tariff cost in the region of €1.35 billion to €1.5 billion per year. When one considers that we export some €5.5 billion worth of food and drink to the UK each year and import some €4.5 billion worth of food and drink from there, one sees just how significant that tariff would be in term of the cost competitiveness of that market for Irish products, particularly dairy products and beef. Either scenario will be highly disruptive and will have profound political, economic and legal implications, first and foremost for the UK but also bringing significant and lasting impacts for Ireland and the rest of the EU.

The Government published its Brexit Readiness Action Plan on 9 September. The plan focuses on preparing for the change we know will arise at the end of the transition period. For each challenge arising, the action plan sets out the concrete actions Government, business and individuals must take now to address the changes and mitigate the risks that will arise regardless of the outcome of the negotiations between the EU and the UK in the weeks ahead. While Brexit will bring many changes, one of the greatest will be that, from 1 January 2021, the UK will no longer be part of the EU's Single Market or customs union. This will happen regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. Any businesses that move goods from, to or through Great Britain need to be ready for the range of new procedures and paperwork that simply do not apply today to such trade. These include customs, VAT and excise duties and rules of origin requirements. These processes have consequent cash flow implications and logistics considerations. Consideration needs to be given to certifications, authorisations and accreditations as well as specific issues relating to importing or exporting animals, plants, and products of animal and plant origin.

Every business owner who trades with Great Britain, no matter how small the operation, needs to understand the impacts any new rules or processes will have on his or her operations and supply chains Failure to implement these new requirements will prevent businesses from trading with the UK or could lead to significant delays in moving goods. It is important to note that these changes will not apply to trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland will apply from the end of the transition period, ensuring Northern Ireland will have full access to the EU Single Market in goods.

The Brexit Readiness Action Plan is the platform from which we will deliver concrete supports to businesses and citizens in the coming weeks. We are taking this work forward in three distinct but overlapping streams. The first involves work on which the Government can lead directly, such as infrastructure at ports and airports, introducing new legislation, which will come before the House in the coming weeks, and engaging with the European Commission on contingency planning and much else. The second concerns communicating with and supporting sectors and businesses most directly impacted. We are doing that every day. The third stream will involve helping to prepare for wider societal and citizen-focused impacts.

Supporting supply chains and trade flows remains a key priority. We are carrying out this work with the twin aim of ensuring trade can flow as smoothly as possible while also maintaining food safety and public health. The infrastructure required at Dublin Airport is now in place, while work continues at Dublin Port and at Rosslare. We will certainly be ready on 1 January for the challenges that lie ahead. Provision has been made to facilitate the deployment of some 1,000 staff to ensure compliance with import and export customs and sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, regulations. The capacity of ICT systems has been significantly increased to deal with the expected growth in transactions post Brexit. Revenue estimates that as many as 20 million declarations could be lodged per annum, compared with a current figure of some 1.7 million.

Ensuring the efficient and effective functioning of the UK land bridge is also a key priority. Ireland has been working closely with our EU partners and the European Commission to ensure Irish and EU traders can continue to use this vital route between Ireland and the rest of the Single Market. The UK has acceded to the Convention on Common Transit, which is an important facilitating step. However, new procedures will apply. These will include a requirement for new paperwork as well as the need for each consignment to have a financial guarantee in place to cover the potential customs duties and other taxes at risk during the movement. Traders and hauliers will have to prepare for these changes if they wish to continue to use the land bridge.

We must expect delays at key ports immediately after the end of the transition period. The Dover-Calais route has been identified as a particularly likely bottleneck. That was confirmed yesterday in the House of Commons by what Michael Gove had to say. Of course, goods that are moved directly between Ireland and elsewhere in the EU will not be subject to any of these new procedures. Traders moving across the UK land bridge might consider direct maritime services as an alternative route to market, particularly in the short term. Operators have indicated that capacity is available on direct routes. I encourage early engagement between all parties, including traders, hauliers and ferry companies, to discuss needs and options. The Government will be part of that discussion.

We have put in place a range of financial supports such as the Brexit loan scheme and the future growth loan scheme. We will all hear a lot of marketing and advertising information on radio and elsewhere in regard to these supports. As part of the July jobs stimulus, we rolled out the €20 million Ready for Customs package. This allows businesses to claim grants of up to €9,000 per employee hired or redeployed to a dedicated customs role. Skillnet Ireland's free customs training programme, Clear Customs Online 2020, is open for applications. Both these programmes are a response to a need identified by the business sector. We continue to provide upskilling and advisory supports through Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices, LEOs. A wide range of webinars are being hosted by Departments and agencies for affected sectors. Revenue has written to 90,000 businesses to advise them on the steps required and has followed up with 14,000 telephone calls to provide further advice. We continue to host a range of sectoral stakeholder events for the transport, retail, construction and agri-food sectors, among others. As Minister, I chair the Brexit stakeholder forum, which brings together a number of business and NGO groups as well as political parties. At the last couple of meetings, the Opposition parties were not represented. I understand why that is the case in the current Covid environment but it would be good to have their input at the upcoming meetings. Such engagement contributes significantly to a sense of togetherness in respect of the political effort. Further targeted measures to support business and affected sectors to prepare and adapt will be considered in the context of budget 2021.

The Government is also working to pursue supports at EU level. I met Commissioner Hahn in Brussels earlier this week to discuss the special Brexit adjustment reserve, which provides funding of up to €5 billion aimed at countering the adverse consequences of Brexit in the member states and sectors worst affected by it. I highlighted to the Commissioner that economic studies have consistently shown that Ireland and, in particular, certain sectors of the Irish economy will be disproportionately affected by Brexit. We will continue to engage with the Commission as its thinking on the reserve develops in the weeks ahead.

To underpin the required readiness measures at the end of the transition period, further legislation is required. On 29 May, the Government approved the preparation of a scheme for a new Brexit omnibus Bill. Some Deputies will remember the previous Bill we introduced. The overarching aim of this legislation is to address the wide range of issues that could arise post transition, seek to protect citizens and consumers, facilitate the functioning of key sectors and ensure our businesses are not disadvantaged.

The Bill will also support aspects of the common travel area and North-South co-operation. I expect to bring the Bill before the Oireachtas later in the autumn, probably in three weeks.

The launch of the readiness action plan is accompanied by a whole-of-government communications campaign under the Getting Ireland Brexit Ready banner. The campaign includes advertisements in national and local media, social media outreach and direct outreach by Ministers to stakeholders. I would welcome the assistance of Members in getting the key messages out to their networks to reinforce the message that action is required now to address the profound and immediate changes that are on the way. The Government will assist Oireachtas Members in playing any supportive part in giving information and timelines around what we want to do, including any technical assistance that Members may want.

It is fundamentally important for Ireland, and in our interests, to work to maintain a strong and constructive bilateral relationship with the UK. We want to strengthen this relationship, which is one between neighbours, trading partners and co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. Our bilateral trade with Britain is worth over €1 billion per week and our people-to-people relationships are close to being unique in international terms. Close co-operation into the future remains clearly in the interest of all our citizens.

Just as the future shape of the relationship between the UK and the EU will be decided in the coming months, we need to continue to develop Ireland’s bilateral engagement with the UK now that they are outside the EU. We need to develop a new framework for British-Irish engagement for the coming years. A new framework may include developing structures for regular meetings at heads of Government, ministerial and senior official levels. It will be important to enhance the role of the British-Irish Council and British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Working through these institutions will help to ensure that our interests are protected and advanced. In this regard, the continued effective operation of the common travel area and the safeguarding of reciprocal rights in social protection, education and healthcare will remain high on the agenda. Ongoing contact across Government with the UK on our responses to Covid-19 will continue to be essential over the coming months.

We are investing in the British-Irish relationship and specifically our presence in the UK. The Government is committed to opening a new consulate in the north of England, a region linked to Ireland by history and our diaspora and which offers significant commercial opportunities. Ireland will work also to ensure the closest possible future relationship between the EU and the UK in the time remaining. Ireland’s place remains at the heart of the European Union. I will continue to inform the House on developments in the weeks ahead.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle was right about the time.

Just five seconds over time.

Ag bogadh ar aghaidh go Sinn Féin.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I will share time with three of my colleagues-----

Is there a script available?

There is. I will get it circulated.

The course that has emerged in the last month around Brexit has been dominated by the intent of the British Government literally to tear up the international treaty that is the withdrawal agreement. That this is a legally binding treaty, endorsed by the EU Parliament and the House of Commons matters nothing to the high Tories of the Johnson Government. The agreement, drawn up between the EU and the British Government, represented a compromise on both sides. No matter how he chooses to describe it now, make no mistake, this is Boris Johnson's agreement. The signing of the agreement was described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a "fantastic" moment, he boasted that it was "oven-ready", and he said that he believed it was an agreement that formed the basis for a future trade deal. Should we be surprised? One Minister of this British Government previously stated, in quite an appalling manner during earlier negotiations on Brexit, that she believed the British could starve the Irish people into submission with food shortages. Obviously, the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, did not get the memo on the perfidious nature of British negotiating tactics on Brexit when he tweeted as recently as 7 September that "Ireland has always accepted the good faith of Britain in #Brexit negotiations." Meanwhile, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, told the House of Commons that the internal markets Bill would break international law but in "a very specific and limited way". Our Government colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, has claimed that "I believe Britain will comply with its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement in the same way it has always respected its international Treaty obligations". The British Government and Boris Johnson could not be more explicit about their intent. The international community is very clear in its understanding of British intent and the potential disaster it threatens. The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, took the opportunity of the visit of British Government Minister Dominic Raab to the United States of America on 16 September, to school the British on the implications of their actions, when she told Mr. Raab that "If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress." The chairman of the powerful ways and means committee, Congressman Richard Neal, has echoed these concerns. A bipartisan letter was also sent to Boris Johnson ruling out a post-Brexit trade deal if the Good Friday Agreement is in any way undermined.

The EU negotiating team, led by Michel Barnier, and the EU Parliament, have been steadfast in their support for the Irish protocol. The Vice President of the EU Commission has said "if the Bill were to be adopted, it would constitute an extremely serious violation of the Withdrawal Agreement and of international law." In comparison, I believe the response of the Irish Government has been weak and wanting. This was illustrated by the Taoiseach's equivocation over whether or not to pick up the phone to Boris Johnson to tell him, in no uncertain terms, the Irish position on his disregard for the Irish protocol and the utter contempt he has shown towards the Good Friday Agreement. I put it to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that the Government needs to be stronger in defence of the Good Friday Agreement.

There are major concerns over the preparedness of the Irish economy for a potential no-deal Brexit. British MP Michael Gove has claimed in the last few days that there is potential for huge delays at ports across Britain. He has claimed that in a "reasonable worst-case scenario" between 30% and 50% of trucks crossing the English Channel will not be ready. This would lead to potentially more than 7,000 trucks backed up, bumper to bumper. RTÉ previously illustrated the potential for a traffic jam at Dover that would represent the equivalent of traffic being backed up from Dublin all the way to Waterford. Mr. Gove has further claimed that imports and exports could be affected for up to three months as the situation could worsen considerably if there are any Covid-19 outbreaks among customs staff. All of this is bad enough, but if Michael Gove describes it as a "reasonable worst-case scenario", then God help us when it becomes a reality.

In Ireland we face the potential of increased costs in supermarkets and the potential of Irish goods being supplanted in Britain by cheaper, inferior imports. I put it to the Minister that we need to prepare Irish businesses and we need to be on an emergency footing. The combined effects of Brexit and the Covid crisis represent unprecedented challenges and they demand unprecedented action. Brexit will come into being on 1 January 2021 at the end of the transition period, with or without a deal between Britain and the EU. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is on record as recently as last week stating, alone amongst his EU counterparts, that the British want to do a deal.

We can only hope that he is right on that one. Regardless of whether a deal is struck, this will come to be seen as an horrific and misguided political decision that will haunt the British political classes into the future. It is the democratic right of the people of England to make that choice but what the British Government does not have is the right to impose that decision on the people of Scotland and the people in the North of Ireland who voted to reject Brexit in its entirety. The internal market Bill, which has been condemned by five former British Prime Ministers, including Theresa May who said that she will vote against it, bestows upon the British Government the unilateral power to impose its own rules on the devolved assemblies in Stormont and in Scotland. It gives the British Government the power to force the Northern Ireland Assembly to accept lower environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards. The Bill will also undermine the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and sideline areas of North-South co-operation and co-ordination.

A no-deal Brexit, which, despite the Minister's opinion, is looking more likely, raises the spectre of a hard border in Ireland. What the British want to achieve is a situation where having left the EU, they continue to enjoy all of the advantages that membership brings while positioning themselves to reap an unfair trading advantage over EU states through unfettered access to EU markets without any cost or responsibility. However, it is the assault on the Irish protocol that is the most worrying issue. The Irish protocol, which the British Government signed up to in the withdrawal agreement, despite its grievances, is designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the all-island economy, prevent a hard border and preserve the integrity of the Single Market. The protocol is part of an international agreement and is not dependent on any future agreement that may be reached between the EU and the Johnson government. It places the North under EU law regarding state aid which has the potential to reach across to Britain in given circumstances. This is anathema to the Tories and they are determined to get rid of it. To do this, they are prepared to wreck internationally binding agreements, to deliberately and provocatively break the rule of law and recklessly endanger peace and stability on the island of Ireland. Conversely, the EU wants to protect the Good Friday Agreement through the Irish protocol and to protect member states from British predatory trading practices by insisting on the creation of a level playing field.

The British have also signalled their intention to reduce the influence and authority of the Human Rights Act, which became British law in 1998 and underpins the human rights components of the Good Friday Agreement. The Act has long been a target of the Conservatives who, under Theresa May, planned to scrap it entirely. The British have failed to honour other areas of the Agreement. There is no civic forum in the North, no all-Ireland civic forum, no bill of rights for the North, no joint North-South committee of the two human rights commissions and no all-Ireland charter of rights.

The only long-term solution to the problem of Brexit and British misrule in Ireland is Irish unity. A united Ireland is the only viable and logical solution. Ireland needs to start planning now for that eventuality. We need cross-party consensus in this Dáil on the Irish stance on Brexit. Time must be set aside by the Government next week to bring forward a cross-party motion on Brexit. The Seanad and the Assembly in the North have both passed motions and it is imperative that the Dáil does so too. Ireland needs to send a strong message to Boris Johnson. A message needs to come from this Dáil to the British Government and the international community that the island of Ireland is united. This island is absolutely and unequivocally opposed to Brexit, to the United Kingdom internal market Bill and the serious economic, social and political implications for the citizens of Ireland, North and South. Let us bring forward a motion that enjoys the support of all parties in Leinster House and all Deputies in this Dáil. Let us stand together and send a clear message to Boris Johnson that we as a people will not stand for the duplicity, folly and disregard shown by the British Government to the island of Ireland, the EU and the international community who stand in support of the Irish peace process. I urge the Minister to set aside time in the next week so that we can work together, set aside our political differences, unite on this and agree a cross-party motion that sends a clear, united message to Boris Johnson and the British Government on Brexit and the defence of the Good Friday Agreement.

In my previous life not so long ago, although it seems like an awfully long time, I was in the European Parliament where the issue of Brexit and the concerns around a no-deal Brexit took up significant amount of our time and deliberations. During all those debates, I could not think of a worse prospect for our country than a no-deal Brexit scenario. Little could I have imagined that we could be faced with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit scenario coupled with a global pandemic but that is the reality that is facing us, head on.

A number of issues struck me in my conversations with many European colleagues in the European Parliament, in various embassies and within the European institutions throughout the Brexit talks process. One was their disbelief at the often duplicitous nature of the British stance in negotiations. They would tell me of their astonishment at situations where British ministers entered a room and negotiated a position but immediately on walking outside would start to unravel what they had just agreed. That was a source of astonishment but I consistently reminded them that nobody in my constituency would have been one bit surprised that the British Government would try to renege on agreements. Indeed, very few people in my constituency would be surprised that the British Government is intent on breaching international law. What we would all be surprised at, however, my European colleagues included, is that a British Minister would stand up in the House of Commons and acknowledge that it is the intention of the government to breach international law.

We need to stand firm because cannot rely on the British Government to protect Irish interests, stand up for the Good Friday Agreement or protect the objectives of the Irish protocol. My main concern with the Minister's statement is that it is predicated on a belief that the British Government is going to adhere to the withdrawal agreement even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I have a real concern that in that scenario; the British will not do so. That creates huge challenges because then the responsibility lies with the Irish Government and the European Union to determine what we do with that thing that we call the Border in our country which, from my perspective, is far too hard already.

The second thing that struck me when talking to my European colleagues was that they were always willing and eager to talk about the issue of the reunification of our country in the context of Brexit because they saw it as a logical mitigation of the worst excesses of Brexit. A number of them said that among their number, the people most resistant to even having that conversation were Irish Government officials. That conversation needs to be had. If we are in a situation where it is a choice between putting in place barriers between my county and our neighbours in counties Fermanagh, Armagh or Tyrone or having a conversation about how we can make this country a better and fairer place, a united Ireland for all of our citizens, then we have to go with the latter. We have to have that conversation and the Government needs to step up to the plate.

The Minister will be very familiar with the issue of jurisdiction over Lough Foyle. In November 2016, the then British Secretary of State, Mr. James Brokenshire, declared that the whole of Lough Foyle was within the UK.

That has always historically been rejected, not just by the Irish Government, but by the Irish people. The facts are that the British Government and the Crown Estate claim jurisdiction over all of Lough Foyle. One of the outworkings of the failure to resolve this issue is that we now have large numbers of unregulated oyster trestles along the western shore of Lough Foyle. Can we think of anywhere else around the coast of this State where we would tolerate a huge proliferation of aquaculture that is unregulated? Because of the failure to resolve the jurisdiction issues, we are left with this scenario.

I appeal to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and to the Minister, Deputy Charlie McConalogue, to engage urgently with the British Government to draft joint legislation. These are disputed waters and we accept that they are disputed. However, we need to have joint legislation that gives bodies like the Loughs Agency increased powers to regulate aquaculture. It goes further than that, however. We now have the issue of Brexit, the withdrawal from the London fisheries agreement of the British Government and the fact access to their waters is front and centre of these trade negotiations. We are left with a sense that the failure to resolve this issue puts the fishing community in the Inishowen peninsula in serious peril. We need to get clarity from the British Government on its intentions, particularly in regard to the fishing waters in Lough Foyle and north of our island. I was speaking to a very prominent representative of the fishing industry in Ireland just this morning and his words were that the biggest threat to the industry in 100 years is Brexit. I ask for reassurance from the Minister on what he is doing about that issue and what he is doing to resolve the huge problems around Lough Foyle.

I thank the Minister for his statement. While I do not wish to go over what has already been said, regardless of the outcome of the internal market Bill, and whether it is passed or not, the whole process involved has demonstrated very clearly to us what we would have already known, which is that we cannot trust the British. It should put us on a whole different level because, while east-west relationships are crucial, we have learned we cannot trust the British establishment.

I commend the Minister for the stance he has taken. I watched his appearances on the Andrew Marr programme and other programmes, where he was very forthright in dealing with this and letting them know exactly how we felt about it. I also want to commend US Congressman Richard Neal, chairman of the ways and means committee, whose input has been crucial in all of this, as has that of Congressman Brendan Boyle and House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. The Taoiseach's attitude on Irish unity is a mistake, with him not even able to mention a united Ireland in his contributions. We need to learn from Scotland and how it is looking towards Scottish independence, and Wales as well. There has never been more need for us to progress a united Ireland and unity across our island. We should constantly remind the British of that and what they have done in terms of the break-up of their precious union.

I welcome the Minister's intention to provide supports for business. I speak to businesses every day of the week which are very fearful of the impact on them. This support will need to be in the form of direct aid and simply providing advice through the local employment offices and other agencies will not be sufficient to do the job we need done. The CAP negotiations are crucial in terms of the deal we get for farmers and agri-industry and the investment in key infrastructure projects is urgent and necessary. We spoke earlier about Knock Airport and the western rail corridor. These are the things that are going to sustain us. We cannot look at Brexit in isolation and we have to look at it in terms of the long-term investment in infrastructure projects. I welcome the Minister's highlighting of the reciprocal arrangements on education because the issue of third level exchange students travelling between North and South and between Ireland and Britain is extremely important.

I ask the Minister to work with us. We commend our MEPs and others who, right from the beginning of Brexit, have sought to get support from member states and to get them to recognise the vulnerability of our island to Brexit and what the British might do, particularly in the case of a hard Brexit. I ask the Minister to work with us and we will work constructively with him. We have to put the Irish nation and businesses front and centre of all of this. We will certainly hold him to account on what he has said but we will work with him in every way we can. We need unity across this island.

The introduction by the UK of the internal market Bill seems, to most sensible observers, the final act of madness in the bizarre handling of the withdrawal negotiations by the Johnson Government. To admit openly the intention of a sovereign government to break an international agreement in the midst of trying to negotiate a new agreement, for most of us, simply beggars belief. The unified reaction from the European Union, together with the very strong, sane voices that emerged from within the British political system, not only from the opposition benches but from distinguished former Prime Ministers in the UK, coupled with the clear warnings from Washington, at least from the non-Trump political part of Washington, seems to have somewhat halted the incredible gallop of the Johnson Government to the unthinkable.

I used to watch Fox News to get a glimpse of alternative America. It used to rise my blood pressure but I thought it was a good learning curve. I also, in similar fashion, occasionally read some of the Tory newspapers to have some understanding of the parallel universe inhabited by the most fervent Brexit cultists. I have to say the commentary is as depressing there as it is unreal and disconnected from any sense of reality. Some of the headlines read, “The EU is about to collapse”, or “Barnier is instructed by Germany to yield”. It is an incredible parallel world, but we have to understand it. Who knows what the next stage will be for the madness of King Boris? He may well cut a fair deal yet and abandon all that has gone before: that is not unthinkable. However, from our perspective, we must prepare for the inevitable, in my judgment. Maybe it is not inevitable, but I think we have to prepare for a hard Brexit.

I know significant preparations have been undertaken and that real work has been done across government in a way that is not paralleled in Britain and I absolutely acknowledge that. However, there is one area which is of deep concern to me and that is our ability to export and import to continental Europe in the immediate aftermath of 1 January. There is a significant irony that the focus of the British Government is on potential checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain while, now, it has said goods entering the county of Kent will require a special permit to avoid the expected chaos. Last week, the UK Road Haulage Association met with Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove, and his team.

After that meeting, the CEO of the UK Road Haulage Association said that it "fell far short of our expectations." He continued:

The mutually effective co-operation we wanted to ensure seamless border crossings just didn't happen and there is still no clarity over the questions that we have raised. Although I don’t think we are quite back to square one, we are certainly not much further along.

After the same meeting, the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation of the United Kingdom said, "There is no point pretending it’s going to be smooth – we are heading for major delays and disruption – systems are not ready, processes are unclear". Last week the BBC described the same meeting between the UK Road Haulage Association and the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Mr. Gove, as a "washout". The Road Haulage Association said that it got no clarity from the minister on how border checks would operate after the transition period. Amazingly, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said the same meeting had been constructive.

British hauliers believe there will be long tailbacks at ports and significant disruption to supply chains. Other Members have already referenced the leaked letter from Mr. Gove in which he acknowledged that there will be monumental disruption to the exit of goods from Britain into continental Europe from 1 January.

What are we to do? I have been saying for a very long time that we need to be proactive in this regard. I have had many discussions with the former Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and with officials in the Department. Some €240 million remains in our connectivity fund from the €335 million originally included in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. The land bridge is a very important link for our exports and imports. Some 150,000 Irish trucks use the UK land bridge to export 3 million tonnes of goods to the European Union. That is an enormously exit and entry point for goods. The Irish Road Haulage Association has urged Government to help set up a fast direct daily ferry service to continental Europe for lorries in order to avoid that chaos. The land bridge currently carries 40% of Irish exports and 13% of imports, both in terms of value and volume. That represents €18 billion worth of exports and €3 billion worth of imports.

We need to use the resources in the connectivity fund to prepare, just as we did when the Covid pandemic started. We asked what was the most urgent issue to address, which was, at the time, the preparation of intensive care units and the expansion of intensive care capacity. We should be thankful this capacity was not utilised but it would have been absolutely unconscionable not to prepare for what potentially could have happened when we saw what was happening in other jurisdictions at that stage. Similarly, we need to provide direct links. We are too dependent on the British land bridge.

We are also too dependent on Dublin Port. This week, we saw rationing, or metering as it is called, of trucks into Dublin Port. I obviously have a bias in favour of Rosslare Europort but it is an underutilised resource. There is a very good road network leading to it and, in very recent times, the State has invested significantly in expanding its potential and more investment is ongoing. We need to proactively talk to shipping companies rather than take their word for it that something is going to happen. We need to proactively ensure that there is real competition and real capacity. We need to give an equity stake in new companies or service provision supports for new companies so that, although we will not be able to obviate all the impact of the chaos I believe we will see on 1 January if a deal is not secured, we can mitigate it.

We can mitigate this chaos if we have more direct links, thereby taking trucks off the UK land bridge. We must sign up and support additional ferries and nail down the exact number of vessels existing companies will have available on 1 January, where they will berth, what kind of vessels they are, what capacity they have and at what times they sail. Bluntly, there is currently too cosy a relationship in Rosslare Europort in my home county of Wexford. There are two very important operators there but they sail for the Continent on the same three days of the week. It suits them to do that but we need much more competition. We need to open up those markets. I want the Government to be proactive in this respect because the very first test of the success of our Brexit preparations after 1 January will be our capacity to continue to import and to export goods from this island directly to continental Europe.

I have one clear message for the Government today. I hope the Minister is listening and will take careful note of it. We need to have a very clear understanding of the number of vessels that will be sailing directly from Irish seaports, including what I hope will be a greatly increased number from Rosslare Europort in addition to those leaving the Port of Cork and Dublin Port. These will be direct links to a variety of ports across continental Europe from Spain as far as the Netherlands. I look forward to a comprehensive reply in that regard.

I will be sharing time with Deputy O'Connor. We will take six and a half minutes each. We are repeating our combination of last night.

The Minister and I have been following Brexit at a level far beyond anything I ever could have dreamed of for quite some time. It is not an understatement to say that the past fortnight has been the worst period of this process, even including the period prior to the referendum. The tabling of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill 2019-21 and the specific amendments thereto that run a cart and horses through the Irish protocol of the withdrawal agreement were extremely disappointing and soured the mood for a period. I know the Minister has engaged with his counterparts in the UK and, more importantly, across the EU, including the former Commissioner, Mr. Barnier, who is the EU's negotiator.

It needs to be repeated that this Bill, in its current form, remains completely unacceptable. It violates a binding international agreement and the responsibilities of the British and Irish Governments and of the entire EU remain clear under that withdrawal agreement. When we talk about that withdrawal agreement and this Internal Market Bill, what does all this say about the UK and the world and about the ability of a great country like the UK to honour its agreements and to meet the rule of law internationally? I do not say that glibly. The UK has just negotiated a trade agreement with Japan modelled on the world's largest existing trade agreement, the European partnership agreement between Japan and the EU. This agreement has been negotiated and agreed but has it been ratified? Why ratify an agreement with a country if that country is prepared to break that agreement only months later?

If I have said it once, I have said it a million times; there is no such thing as a good Brexit. There is no good Brexit for Ireland, for the EU or, particularly, for the UK. That is why it behoves everyone, including our negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Lord Frost, to negotiate to the very last minute and to continue to negotiate. A deal is absolutely vital for all concerned. A no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating for Ireland and for the UK.

We need to salvage our relationship with the UK from this process. I have no problem castigating the British Government when it has gone wrong. I sometimes get in a little bit of trouble for doing so. I also have no problem making sure it is held to account and nor does the Minister. We cannot, however, burn bridges. It is disappointing to hear people in this Chamber say this afternoon that one cannot touch or trust the British. They may have been talking specifically about the occurrences-----

One can work with them but one should not trust them.

Let me finish. Deputy Conway-Walsh may have been talking specifically about the current British Government. I accept that but we have to remember that not every single person in the UK necessarily holds the same opinions as Boris Johnson or Dominic Cummings. We need that relationship and we need to work for it, regardless of the form Brexit takes, in order to ensure a warm and close relationship with everyone in the United Kingdom, whether in Scotland, England or Wales. I welcome the new British ambassador to Ireland and look forward to meeting him when he finishes his period of self-isolation.

I wish to pay credit to the outgoing British ambassador, Robin Barnett, and wish him well on his retirement. He was a good friend of Ireland and the EU at a difficult time.

I wish to finish my contribution by looking about our role and place within the European Union in the context of the weeks just gone and the weeks to come. The whole process in recent years has reinforced the importance of Ireland's place within the European Union. We negotiate this process not as a small island nation but as part of a union of almost 500 million people. It is the world's largest economic block. It is a union founded first and foremost on the preservation of peace. Let us not get lost talking about directives, trade negotiations, straight bananas and blue passports. Let us bring it back to what the European project is about. It is about peace. The withdrawal agreement is about protecting peace too. We may look about our role within the EU and recovery from Covid-19.

I wish to endorse every word Deputy Howlin said relating to connectivity to the Continent. I welcome the fact that operators have said there is capacity. It is no longer about simply going from Rosslare to Cherbourg or Le Harve. It is now about Santander, Portugal, Ostende, Zeebrugge and, maybe in due course, it will be Duisburg. It is about opening up to aspects of what is Ireland's largest export market. This is not the UK; it is the EU. That is where our future must be. The more we can convince companies and entities to ship direct to the Continent, the better.

Will the Minister outline what exact efforts are being made in this regard? How do we bring on board companies to show that there is a comparable alternative to the land bridge? How can we show that cost and pace can be worked on? How do we convince operators, as Deputy Howlin has said so eloquently, of the commercial viability of continuing with shipping, whether from Dublin or Cork? I agree with Deputy Howlin, as a proud Dubliner, that the future is in Rosslare. Rosslare Europort has a direct link to the train line. It has the capacity to open up the entire island.

Of course, we have to work out our interests within the EU. This is the key point. Last week or a fortnight previous when the UK Internal Market Bill was presented, we all got push notifications on a Sunday night. The British media became obsessed with this issue and it was headline and breaking news. We were told about the important compromise in Westminster between the Conservative UK Government and the rebel backbenchers. The compromise is worth absolutely nothing. The former UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said as much. There seems to be a belief that what happens in Westminster is the only important thing in the Brexit debate. It is not. This is a conversation between the EU and the UK. It needs to be a conversation between sovereign equals. It needs to be realised that the negotiations are between Michel Barnier and Lord Frost, not within Westminster. The difficulty for us is how we keep the interest of our colleagues in the other 26 EU member states. Brexit may be headline news in London. It may be the third item on the news here. However, the Minister and I know that our colleagues are barely paying attention any more on the Continent.

I thank the Minister for being here. I am conscious that I am probably one of the first Deputies elected to Dáil Éireann who grew up with the Good Friday Agreement in place. I am part of a generation that saw peace come to this island and violence eventually come to an end.

This peace is now being threatened by the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the UK Internal Market Bill. It is welcomed that the EU will not allow the UK Internal Market Bill or any other legislation that would undermine the protocol in Northern Ireland to be used as a negotiating tactic by the United Kingdom. We cannot and must not allow peace on this island to be undermined or an international treaty obligation to be broken. I support the Minister, the Government and the EU in ensuring that these laws are upheld.

However, we must recognise that from 1 January 2021, the way we trade with the United Kingdom will be dramatically different. We must prepare accordingly and ensure a smooth transition occurs. I am keen to take the opportunity today specifically to speak about the needs of our agricultural sector, with a focus on protecting family farms. I live on a family dairy farm. I am acutely aware of the potential harm that could be done to this sector by a disorderly Brexit. Brexit will change the way the Irish agrifood business trades with the UK, its customers and suppliers. The United Kingdom will become a third country at the end of the transition period. This will see the introduction of new customs formalities, including import and export declarations, prenotifications for certain products and produce, licence requirements and other regulatory requirements. I wish to highlight the issues faced by the dairy industry. I do so because thousands of families in my constituency of Cork East rely on the agrifood sector for their income.

While I am the first to recognise that Ireland's dependence on the UK market has fundamentally changed since Ireland and the UK first joined what was then the European Economic Community, it is clear that the Irish dairy industry is highly reliant on exports to the UK market. The UK is Ireland's largest market for food and drink, with 40% of our food exports destined to the United Kingdom. In 2016, 34% of Ireland's dairy exports went to the UK, representing 53% of our cheese exports, 29% of our butter and 12% of our skim milk powder, SMP. Exports of cheddar cheese were 78,000 tonnes, representing 82% of all cheddar imported by the UK in 2016. Ireland is the only significant exporter of cheddar to the UK market and the UK is the only market of significance for Irish cheddar. We must ensure this market is protected and a sensible agreement must be reached to ensure that such markets stay open.

We face two major issues with the dairy industry. The first is an over-reliance on a single market and the potential disruption of a vital supply chain. While I welcome the supports that the Government is proposing in its Brexit readiness action plan, including a €2 billion credit guarantee scheme, we need to think more broadly about market diversification of this industry. Major capital investment has been made across the country by family farms in recent years since the abolition of the quotas. There is a real fear that this will potentially all go to waste. Irish farm output has jumped by almost 50% since 2010, predominantly because of the lifting of the milk quotas. Frankly, there needs to be more focus on a transition out of the UK market. We cannot act within the reality of what we want but must act on the reality that is. It is growing every more likely that we will find it difficult to have any sort of comparable access to the UK market that we previously enjoyed. We must act accordingly.

I know great work has been done by the likes of Bord Bia and other semi-State bodies to promote market diversification. However, it is critical that supports are put in place at local level to ensure small family farms are supported in this market transition. We should not be seen to be simply plastering over the cracks and hope that the house will not collapse when we should have been looking for a new house to start afresh.

The second issue I mentioned was the need to ensure that the Northern Ireland protocol is upheld. We must ensure the Union customs code and other EU provisions necessary to preserve the integrity of the Single Market are upheld and ensure that they continue to apply to and in Northern Ireland. The current highly integrated all-Ireland milk processing structures will not survive if these are not upheld. It is true that were we able to reconfigure our supply chain in the wake of Covid-19, and many efforts have been made to do so, it could do much to protect the sector. However, in terms of viability, the dairy sectors of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be dramatically and negatively impacted if a configuration away from Northern Ireland was to arise. We must have all-Ireland approaches when it comes to managing our resources. Any negative blockade to this would be unwise for the maintenance of peace. It would be unjustified economically and not in the best interests of family farms across the country. I know the Minister is committed to ensuring the Northern Ireland protocol stays in place. We need to do all we can to protect our agrifood connections with the United Kingdom.

I wish to echo Deputy Richmond's comments welcoming the new British ambassador to Ireland. I know he arrived in the past week. I also wish the former ambassador the best of luck in his future career.

Copies of the Minister's contribution are available.

The Irish Government is co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. The full implementation and effective operation of the Good Friday Agreement and all subsequent agreements should be the utmost priority of this Government. We have all benefited from the peaceful solution offered by the Good Friday Agreement. This needs to be protected.

Customs infrastructure on the island of Ireland will jeopardise this peace. Peace needs to be protected at all costs. I am asking that this Government does precisely that.

The Irish protocol reflects in a small way the wishes of the majority in the Six Counties to remain part of the EU. We need to ensure that all people on this island have the option of availing of benefits of EU membership. The ultimate solution to a no-deal Brexit is to start a conversation of uniting Ireland. We need the Government to convey the wishes of the people to the British Secretary of State to the effect it is time to start the process of preparing for a unity referendum. There needs to be informed discussions on how reunification will affect the lives of all citizens on this island.

Irish unity makes sense not only from an economic point of view but also from an agricultural one, by treating the island of Ireland as one market. It certainly makes sense from a biosecurity point of view, particularly in light of the recent emergence of Covid-19.

Britain has left the European Union, as is its right. We need to defend the rights of Irish citizens living in the North, who have nobody to advocate for them. The Government needs to ensure their voice is heard at the highest level. We also need to ensure that a fair deal is agreed to between Britain and the EU so that farming families have unimpeded access to larger markets. I ask the Minister to look after this.

As we are all aware, in the past few weeks the British have done a U-turn on the withdrawal agreement. Businesses throughout our island have already been brought to their knees due to the pandemic and now they again have to contend with the shock of a potential no-deal Brexit. The British are clearly not prepared for this eventuality and their chaotic approach will affect Irish businesses on both sides of the Border.

We heard this week about the latest problems affecting hauliers due to delays and queues at Dover. It is a farce. If the British proceed with their plan to break international law, it will have a detrimental effect on everybody on this island. Workers in the North could be affected by weaker labour and environmental standards to cut production costs in Britain. In this State, we face the potential for price increases in shops and the possibility of exports to Britain being replaced with cheap imports. I represent a Border community and constituency, and I reiterate there will be no hard border here. It will not happen. We fought hard for the Irish protocol to protect us from all this and to protect the Good Friday Agreement, and the British now want to destroy all that with their no-deal Brexit. The Government has to step up and fight for the rights of all Irish citizens on this island and to protect communities and businesses. We cannot expect the EU to fight this on its own. The Government needs to take a much stronger approach to this.

I could not understand why Government Deputies were so surprised that the British would break the agreement. Anyone who watched the documentary "Unquiet Graves" last week will have been given a stark reminder of the British attitude towards Ireland and the Irish people. The British have never done right by the people in the North and, in fairness, nor have successive Governments down here either. We have to step up now and fight against the outrageous and arrogant behaviour of the Tories and protect our island, our peace and our communities.

We all know, of course, that the only logical solution to this mess is the reunification of our country. This very real conversation needs to start at Government level here and it needs to do so urgently.

There is now no doubt as to how serious the circumstances are in which we find ourselves with respect to Brexit and the prospect of Brexit without a trade deal. The so-called bulletproof backstop - the guarantee that no matter what, there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland as a result of the UK's departure from the EU - was traded in by the previous Government for a withdrawal agreement the UK Government is now violating. We have heard media reports of the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade saying the avoidance of a hard border after Brexit is now not guaranteed, while Donald Trump's special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mick Mulvaney, has warned against the dangers of creating a hard border.

With respect to the UK's Internal Market Bill, which seeks to allow the UK to break the agreement it has made, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, confirmed in the House of Commons that the Bill will break international law. There has been significant reaction and fallout from this, not least from within the UK itself, where some of the strongest opposition to this has emerged. We should differentiate, when we are talking about the actions of the UK Government, between the UK Government and the British people. They are not the same and, in fact, some of the people who will pay the greatest price for Brexit are the British people.

We should also recognise there has been strong opposition from within the UK. Jonathan Jones, the Treasury Solicitor, resigned from his position in protest; Richard Keen, the Advocate General for Scotland, resigned in protest; Amal Clooney resigned her position as the UK's special envoy on media freedom in protest at the legislation; Theresa May, the former Prime Minister, said it would cause untold damage to Britain's standing in the world; Tony Blair and John Major, in a joint article, described the legislation as shameful; while outside of the UK, too, there has been strong opposition.

The US presidential candidate, Joe Biden, has spoken out against it strongly and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, said there would be no chance of a US-UK trade deal going ahead if the UK altered its withdrawal agreement with the EU. There is a decent prospect that Joe Biden will be elected in the presidential election and his priorities for concluding trade deals are likely to be quite different from those of the incumbent. He may well value a trade deal with the EU over and above one with the UK. In addition, the Northern Ireland Assembly has passed a motion opposing the Internal Market Bill and the Scottish Government has threatened to fight the Bill's provisions in the courts. Maroš Šefovi, the EU Commissioner in charge of the implementation of the agreement, has confirmed that the Commission is studying all legal options on the table in case the UK fails to back down on passing the Bill, and national governments throughout the EU have stated they increasingly believe that the UK Government does not want to reach a deal with the EU.

While the prospects of a zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade agreement, which is strongly in the interests of Ireland, the EU and the UK, are not looking as positive as we would all have hoped, it would still be a mistake to conclude, based on the previous erratic behaviour of the UK Administration, that a deal will definitely, or will definitely not, be done. We simply do not know at this point. There is, of course, every prospect that the latest negotiating tactics by the UK Government are part of a strategy to run down the clock to secure a bare-bones, zero-quota, zero-tariff agreement, with minimal commitments on the part of the UK. That is what it has always sought. What is happening at this stage is having a considerable impact on the UK. Research from the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy shows that the areas that voted for Brexit in the largest numbers are the areas with the greatest poverty in the UK. The former industrial areas are already being hit hardest by Brexit, and worse, unfortunately, will follow. The City of London also has the potential to lose a significant amount if its access to the EU for its financial services market is hit. We also know that investment in the retail section of UK equity has hit an historic record low due to Covid-19 and Brexit. Some €15 billion worth of costs will apply to UK businesses due to the bureaucracy of the customs declarations that will have to be done, and that is before any tariffs are applied. There will be significant economic fallout for the UK and it is the British people, and in particular those in the midlands and the north of England, who will pay the heaviest price for this. In that regard, I welcome the comments from the Minister about the establishment of a consulate in northern England.

In respect of the arguments about state aid, it is worth remembering that the Tory Party has, historically and especially in recent decades, been dead against state aid or any government support or intervention. It is quite a recent argument, therefore, that it is making. In fact, the EU state aid rules, if they were adopted and adhered to by the UK, would be quite beneficial for the UK. They are really about channelling subsidies into productive areas such as research, decarbonisation and the training and upskilling of workers. It is very much, therefore, in the interests of the UK to agree to a set of principles that would mirror those of the EU. The EU state aid rules are also very much about preventing governments, local or national, from embarking on a race to the bottom by competing for investors through subsidies. They also impose transparency and reduce cronyism. They are absolutely in the UK's interests. In these negotiations, we must not lose sight, as the Minister noted, of the importance of a level playing field in other areas, including workers' rights and responding to climate change.

That is especially important in the context of continued reports we get from the UK of sweatshop labour conditions in some areas, with clothes manufacturers paying as little as £3.50 per hour due to the lax enforcement of employment laws and the minimum wage.

If one was to take a cynical view of the negotiating tactic being adopted by the UK Government, one might think that it is seeking the frictionless entry of goods from the UK to the European Single Market on a zero tariff and zero quota basis, without a level playing field on workers' rights and environmental protections and that the strategy of the UK Government to put the focus on the UK Internal Market Bill and state aid is a distraction from that. That said, at this point we must do everything in our power to prepare and step up preparations, as I know the Department is doing, for a no trade deal Brexit. It is good that there has been engagement from the Department with transporters and ferry companies but I strongly urge the Minister and the Department to take as much of a hands-on approach on that as possible and to really get into the detail of that. For the first few months, regardless of whether there is a deal or no deal, and especially if there is no deal, it is of crucial national importance to our economy, businesses and exporters, particularly in the context of Covid-19, that everything is done to ensure strong alternative direct routes are in place.

It is welcome that the research done by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, shows that the parts of the Irish economy that are most exposed to Covid-19 do not correspond directly to the parts of the economy that are most exposed to Brexit. Nonetheless, we are facing a double shock and hit on this. It is imperative that all the work that can be done on that is completed.

My party, the Social Democrats, supports the efforts of the Irish Government and the European Union negotiating team to secure a trade deal. That has to remain the objective. It is of key national strategic importance to us, the entire European Union and the people of the UK. With that said, we must be prepared for all possible outcomes in the coming weeks. The preparations for a no trade deal Brexit must be stepped up and I know work is ongoing on that, which I welcome and support.

I am sharing time with my long time constituency colleague, Deputy Bruton.

With two of them.

All of the Dublin Bay North Deputies are on their feet today. On 1 January 2021, the UK will be outside the EU's Single Market and the customs union. This has huge implications for our SMEs, our agricultural sector and our economy generally. Already, our businesses are suffering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit is a double-whammy for them. We must do everything we can to achieve the best possible outcome for Ireland in the short time left to us, given these adverse circumstances.

Negotiations between the EU and the UK are continuing but we need real engagement from both sides. As we know, however, the time is short. We need a free trade agreement and a sane and sensible outcome for all of us. A no deal Brexit would be bad for the UK, Ireland, a number of EU states and the EU generally. The withdrawal agreement and the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol protects the peace process and avoids a hard Border on the island of Ireland. It must be implemented.

I also want to put on the record my concern in respect of the UK Internal Market Bill. This gives British ministers the power to override the withdrawal agreement and the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol. This Bill breaches international law and must not be implemented. For many democrats, the introduction of this Bill by the UK Government and the blatant attempt to break international law that it represents is truly shocking. The former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, when speaking in the House of Commons, hit the nail on the head when she stated that the Internal Market Bill is reckless and damaging to Britain's standing in the eyes of the world. Who would have thought that such a thing could happen? We live in strange times. Trust between the EU and the UK has been damaged and this must be repaired as a matter of urgency.

In this context, I welcome the support given in recent days for the Irish position by the Democratic Party Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Speaker Pelosi addressed this House during the last Dáil and all of us are in indebted to her for her unfailing help on this issue. When she spoke in the Dáil, Democratic Party Congressman Richard Neal was also present and he too has been a constant champion of the Irish position. We can hope that the recent comments by US presidential Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden on this issue also bode well for the future.

I would also like to draw attention to the remarks of the President of the European Commission, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, when she said in her state of the union address earlier this month that the EU would never backtrack on the withdrawal agreement and that it was the best and only way for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland. In passing, I also agree with everything the President of the European Commission said about the late John Hume. He was one of the great Europeans, who understood that difference is the essence of humanity. I wanted to put that on the record and convey my sympathy to the Hume family on the passing of John Hume, who did so much to bring about peace and stability on the island of Ireland.

Specifically, I want to raise the concerns articulated by the Irish Road Haulage Association following the statement by Michael Gove in the House of Commons yesterday. Michael Gove warned about possible queues of 7,000 trucks in the port of Dover and two-day delays to cross over to the European mainland. It raises the question as to how stands the agreement reached with the UK to the effect that Irish lorries will be fast-tracked through customs, if such lorries are held up in these queues. What can the Government do to assist the transport of goods by Irish companies using the UK land bridge? When the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, is summing up he might address that issue because it seems to be a real issue for the Irish road hauliers, as articulated in the press today.

Time is short, as the Minister said earlier. I appreciated the update he gave to the House on the negotiations and on the issues of the level playing field, governance and fisheries, which are all extremely important and much work needs to be done in those areas. I would also like to reiterate what the Minister said about the need to develop relationships between the EU and the UK going forward, when all this has been sorted out one way or the other. More specifically, we need to develop relationships between Ireland and the UK in the future. I know this came up in the discussions on the programme for Government and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, had some ideas on that but work will need to be done there as well to see how we can foster those relationships when the UK finally leaves the European Union. We are in the transition period and a lot of discussions are taking place but we need to put work into that area and examine what institutions or organisations can be established to facilitate that.

We need a future relationship and a free trade agreement, even a bare bones agreement. Time is running out and I wish the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade well in the coming weeks in their endeavours to bring this about.

I thank Deputy Haughey for sharing time on this issue. It is always said that the darkest hour is before the dawn.

It certainly seems dark from this vantage point. In the UK the political "remainers" have effectively folded their cards and given up on that path.

I saw reports in the newspapers that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade detected that fellow member states felt "gamed" and impatient about the British position of deciding that, effectively, it does not want a deal. We have seen the binary type of politics emanating from 10 Downing Street and it has become a feature that has cowed much debate in the UK, which is really unfortunate. We have also seen the UK Internal Market Bill that seeks to design an escape clause from a formal international agreement. These are indeed dark moments.

Nevertheless, this is the time for cool heads and if it is not indulgent to say so, we are very fortunate to have the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, at the helm as he has just that capacity for staying cool in the face of enormous provocation. This is not a time for revisiting popular theses about postcolonial delusion, although I see much commentary on this in the Irish media, nor is it the time for raising the rhetoric around the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, which I have heard repeated in this House. This is a time when we must recognise that there are major economic, social and political implications at stake. We must play a game that is not provocative but which is deliberate and determined. In the Minister we have somebody who will do that.

Those who are interested in game theory will recognise some of the aggressive negotiating tactics being used. It is important to remember that the UK sends 45% of goods and services to EU markets. We are very dependent on the UK as 18% of our goods and services go there but that is nothing compared with the UK dependency on EU markets. The stakes for Britain are enormously high in this debate and we must think about how we can start to orchestrate those interests that may be damaged enormously in order to change the current views.

We must also show some level of understanding of what is going on. The UK Internal Market Bill has been staggering for lawyers as it raises the spectre of an international agreement being torn up. We need to be a little more forensic in some of consideration of the content. The UK feels it should escape the export declarations from Northern Ireland but there are such exemptions in Norway and Switzerland, so that matter may not be entirely insurmountable. In deciding the categories for onward transmission to the Republic of Ireland and thereby the EU market, the joint committee may be able to work out some resolutions. If there are genuine concerns, there may be a way forward. As well as raising our justified concern about reneging on an international agreement, we must consider the concerns that may be expressed beneath and whether they can be resolved.

On state aid, I served my term early on the European Council when Lord Cockfield, that great Tory spokesman, was the determined promoter of the Single Market and the need to move away from petty obstructions from those on the Continent in the entry to the market, including narrow-gauge wheels or 13 oz bottles of jam. He was the great advocate of harmonisation and the Single Market and he was very disparaging of those who would seek to use state aid to promote their national champions. It is a cruel irony that the UK has completely turned tail in that regard.

The British Government is currently in the dock in its own country for its competence. As the day gets nearer and the tangible economic damage that this will do to Britain gets closer, our diplomats should work slowly to probe the vulnerability in the British stance, including the risk to the financial sector and data recognition. The silence of British enterprise is remarkable even still at this late hour and we must explain in a calm way the advantages of this deal, using the voices in Scotland, Wales and the dependent territories, as they are called. We must flex the muscle of other countries, such as the US in particular, as well as others where Britain is seeking an international trade agreement after Brexit. It should be clear that the British action now jeopardises such deals.

I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on his work and ask him to persist in the determined way he has exhibited to date. There will be no vaccine for a no-deal Brexit if that virus is released. We need to do everything in our power to prevent that outcome.

Today we saw the leaders of the pro-Remain parties in the North travel to Dublin to raise their concerns about the impact of the UK Internal Market Bill on the North. This Bill flies in the face of strands one, two and three of the Good Friday Agreement. It allows the British Government to remove powers that were devolved to the Executive in the North, which is in complete disregard to strand one of the agreement. We now see the Assembly has voted to oppose this UK Internal Market Bill.

The word "precedents" was used by Mr. Brandon Lewis, MP, when he advised Westminster that the British Government would be breaking an international agreement. He said there were precedents for the British Government needing to consider its international obligations. This should not be a shock to any of us and I am surprised by some of the contributions I listened to earlier. This should come as no surprise to us in Ireland as we are fully aware of Britain's attitude to international obligations. One stark example personal to me was when, in 1995, the European Court of Human Rights found that the British Government had violated Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life, when it murdered three people in Gibraltar. We cannot allow any British Government to ever again disregard international laws or obligations in this way.

There is a solution provided in the Good Friday Agreement and we are obliged to consider it now. It is the holding of a referendum on Irish unity. I have heard some politicians saying today that such a suggestion is provocative but at a time when British politicians have admitted in their Parliament that they are willing to break an international agreement by publishing this Bill, with the people of the North simply collateral damage to the plan, the mind boggles that the suggestion of a referendum could be provocative.

I appeal especially to Deputies from the Government parties who consider themselves advocates for a united Ireland not to be part of another Government in a long history of Governments that stands idly by while the liberties of the people of the North are trampled. It is absolutely now time for Irish unity.

I will use this time to address the issues caused by Brexit here and across the world. In June 2016, England and Wales voted to leave the European Union and this vote would change the landscape of the EU, the UK and Ireland for years to come. In effect, the North of Ireland and Scotland were forced out of the EU against the will of their people. Four years on, we are still talking about Brexit. The referendum took place long before I was elected to the House, yet here I am addressing the Dáil on the matter. It is madness.

The British Prime Minister and his Cabinet have long claimed they are Brexit-ready but the reality is the complete opposite. They have no plan and they are not ready for 1 January next year. Leaked documents in the past number of days indicate that internal government notes have warned about delays at the port of Dover if there is a no-deal Brexit. Regardless of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's views on Brexit, it is time that we on this side of the water put down our foot and got tough on the matters at hand. We must show leadership here and right across the world, indicating that we will not agree to anything less than full acceptance of the withdrawal agreement, including the full protection of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Six Counties cannot and must not be used as a bargaining chip in all this. In a week when we saw two documentaries on RTÉ, "Unquiet Graves" and a programme on the Holy Cross schoolgirls, we know we cannot allow any agreement that would see the return of any hard border on this island.

The Good Friday Agreement has been hailed throughout the world as an agreement that was well ahead of its time. However, the stories told in these documentaries and countless others show there are still unresolved grievances. The lack of discussion of these issues in any public forum in the past several years, particularly following the airing of these documentaries, has been deafening. Politicians in the Twenty-six Counties have engaged in scaremongering, arguing that a united Ireland is something to shy away from. This is not the case. Brexit has clearly shown why we need to start discussing a united Ireland. Provision was made in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 to eventually pave the way to this discussion. Now it is time to start it. We cannot allow more than 20 years of peace to be unravelled by more British political incompetence.

I cannot see into the mind of Boris Johnson, MP, and I am not sure I would want to, because I would say it is a pretty scary place but what we can say about him is that one of his biggest international backers is President Donald Trump, another man whose mind I would not like to see into, as it would be even scarier. As we speak, Donald Trump is willing to incite civil war in the United States if he does not win a general election. If Trump is the more extreme version of a certain type of political madness that is unfortunately taking off around the world at the moment, Boris Johnson is his Mini-Me. I would, therefore, not be so complacent as to suggest that reason will prevail. Rationality is not a characteristic of extreme right wing, imperially minded, hard nationalist politics. It is not reasonable. If one looked at this reasonably, one would conclude that the British Government wants to do a deal and these are just negotiating tactics. However, looking at the records of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and where the sort of politics they are propounding have historically led, one sees that acting reasonably is not a feature. These people are quite capable of going on wrecking missions. Trump has done that in the United States. Boris Johnson has treated his own people with utter recklessness during the Covid-19. He is threatening the health and welfare of ordinary working-class British people. That is the record of the Tory party, particularly the rotten wing that Johnson represents, which is given to nostalgia for the glory days of empire. We have to understand that we are in a serious and dangerous situation

. Being complacent and hoping that reason will prevail is not a strategy. That means we have to defeat what Boris Johnson represents. We have to be very tough and say that peace and security on this island will not be a pawn in the dangerous game he is playing. Under no circumstances can we allow his wrecking agenda to lead to the erection of a border on this island, which would threaten the peace and stability we have achieved. We also need to say to the EU that we will not be a pawn in any game it is playing with Boris Johnson. We must be clear that we will not be anybody's pawn and that we will not accept a hard border in any circumstances or for any reason, or the question of the re-establishment of a board being a bargaining chip in the game and the negotiations. We cannot allow that to happen.

In that context, it is not dangerous or a mistake to put forward the argument for ending partition and bringing about the unification of this country. The people of Britain, the North and Scotland are not stupid. They understand how dangerous Boris Johnson is. His agenda is revealing itself to huge numbers of people, who perhaps would not have questioned certain allegiances previously but who can see the irrationality, recklessness and danger of what he is pursuing. The Government appears to think this is a no-go area and that it is somehow threatening to talk about ending partition and uniting this island. Now is the time that putting that argument forward makes sense.

In doing so, we have to make it clear that uniting this island is about making a better country than either of the ones that exist at the moment, North or South. Unionism maintaining its grip in the North has a lot to do with pointing at deficiencies in the South such as the control of the Catholic Church, the conservative nature of the State and, once upon a time, economic backwardness. Even now the lack of a national health service is an issue. There is a strong argument for taking an all-Ireland approach to dealing with the mortal threat of Covid-19. We need an integrated national health service across the island. If we champion issues such as the separation of church and State, a national health service and a sane, all-Ireland approach to tackling Covid-19, we can open the door to challenging the rotten nationalism of Boris Johnson and the rotten politics of the DUP and Orangeism. That is the approach we have to take. It is not about saying how superior we are to Boris Johnson; it is about showing in practice that we have an agenda for a changed Ireland. Historically, big shifts in allegiances have taken place at critical moments. Under particular circumstances of economic or political crisis, people who thought they had certain religious or cultural allegiances have begun to question them. That is a time when that is happening.

It is time to start talking about ending partition on the basis of uniting Catholic and Protestant working people in the fight for a different republic, the sort of republic James Connolly fought for. That is not just idle rhetoric. This is a truly opportune moment. We are at an historic crossroads for all sorts of reasons. We have to radically change the sort of republic we are fighting for down here to make unification a seriously attractive option for people from all backgrounds, North and South.

I would like to raise the issue of connectivity. Yesterday, I raised the aviation sector with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton. There are very particular challenges there, as the Minister will be well aware. This morning, we heard from Mr. Eugene Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, and Mr. John Martin, the policy manager for haulage association in the North.

They share the same concerns, albeit from geographically different perspectives. They stated that trade will be severely upset because of Brexit and the price of some goods could double. They stated the impact will be significant and that they have been warning about it for two years. Systems that were promised and planned are not in place either here or in Britain. On the British side, customs agents have not been recruited and the goods vehicle management system, GVMS, and Smart Freight IT system are not in place. There is a threat - it is to be hoped that is all it is - that there could be queues of up to 7,000 vehicles at ports in Britain. Our own systems are not up and running. There is no contingency planning. There are approximately 800,000 to 1 million movements of units annually between Ireland and Britain alone. It is a massive challenge.

I am sure I do not have to tell the Minister about the strategic importance of connectivity for us as an island nation. This morning, the two spokespersons to whom I referred addressed the issues of surety of service, timelines, just-in-time delivery and the whole logistics operation on which so much of our economy and livelihoods depend. They spoke of the need for an alternative route bypassing Britain and going straight to the Continent. What I wish to emphasise is that we have only a few months to prepare and, as the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. The window of opportunity is very limited. Every effort must be made to put the required systems in place. I refer to the three-step system that has been promised on this side because the obvious consequences on 1 January and thereafter are spectacular and need to be avoided at all costs.

The internal market Bill which is currently before the House of Commons has demonstrated and categorically defined the British Prime Minister's stance and his dismissive attitude towards the Good Friday Agreement, Ireland and, indeed, international law. I welcome the support from the EU 27 and the USA, particularly Nancy Pelosi, in coming out strongly in defence of the Good Friday Agreement, the people of the North and the Border counties. The catchphrase that we are all in this together could not be more aptly used than during the current impasse.

We must now deal with the fallout from Brexit and its repercussions for the beef industry, agrifood exports, the fishing industry, hauliers, retailers, tourism and ports, all of which are major active economic players in the commerce of our nation, including in my county of Wexford. We must be geared up and tooled up to face the inevitable challenges of bureaucratic tax regulations and the reams of paperwork that will follow, not to mention the impending long delays for businesses and industries that will add crippling costs to doing business. I am sure that, even at this late stage, the Minister will move to protect, without prejudice, the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish protocol. We must also protect the fishing industry and coastal communities. The answer is not to tie up boats at piers or to park tractors on beef farms, which would result in the loss of thousands of jobs, including in County Wexford.

I conclude by asking the Minister about Rosslare Europort and the preparations there. Has the Government prepared a traffic impact management plan for Rosslare Europort as it did for Dublin Port? If not, when will that be done? There are many risks to be considered for every constituency on this island when it comes to Brexit. We must act now to deal with the fallout and to protect the Good Friday Agreement and all Ireland's communities.

I should mention that there was a slight mistake as that should have been a Government slot, so I will have to backtrack. To add to the confusion, the next slot is to be shared by Deputies Cahill and Jim O'Callaghan, unless they have made a different arrangement. That creates a problem because Deputy Cahill is due to share another slot with Deputy O'Dowd. Another Member may wish to come in for that slot. We will proceed with Deputies O'Callaghan and Cahill. Who wishes to go first?

How long do we have?

The Deputies have 13 minutes between them.

Fair enough. As the Acting Chairman is aware, the history of this island is, to a large extent, dominated by our relationship with the neighbouring island and history always concentrates on moments of strife and turmoil. However, it is important to state that there have been many positive consequences of the relationship between this island and the neighbouring larger island. In the areas of entertainment, the arts, sport, business and trade unionism there is a significant level of co-operation and connectivity between the two islands and that has been mutually beneficial for all the people who live on them. Our joint membership of the European Union since the early 1970s has assisted that co-operation and connectivity. We have become closer as a result of that joint membership.

It is unquestionably the case that the relationship, connectivity and co-operation between the two islands and, indeed, the two Governments, will be damaged as a result of Brexit. Nonetheless, the people of Britain voted for Brexit and their Government has entered into a withdrawal agreement with the European Union which we, as a Parliament, have ratified and to which we also agreed as a member of the European Union. However, it is important to point out that those who promoted Brexit in the debate on it in Britain, both before and immediately after the vote, stated there would be no difficulty agreeing a trade deal with the European Union. What really happened is that the people who advanced Brexit did not think about it or think of the consequences before they put that important issue to a vote of the people of the United Kingdom.

Let us recall what happened and how we got into this current crisis. The former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, entered into a withdrawal agreement with the European Union in November 2018. She brought it back to her Parliament and was heavily criticised there. On four occasions between January and March she tried to get it through her Parliament but she failed on each occasion. She did the only thing she could and resigned in June 2019.

The current Prime Minister took over in July 2019. What did he do? He stated that the withdrawal agreement Mrs. May had entered into with the European Union had to be changed and that he could not tolerate it. We sort of sneered at him and stated that he would not be able to change it but, in fairness, he managed to change it in a minor way. A meeting between him and the then Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, on the Wirral in October 2019 laid the pathway to a change to the withdrawal agreement. However, let us be clear as to what that change was because we all recognised it at the time. He got rid of what he referred to as the dreaded backstop but, in effect, he replaced the backstop which applied to all of the United Kingdom with a backstop that applied to Northern Ireland. We all saw that for what it was and unionist politicians in Northern Ireland were outraged that it had happened.

Let there be no ambiguity as to what the British Government knew they were doing in October 2019. They knew the deal into which they were entering. Subsequently, the new Prime Minister tried to get his deal through the House of Commons, but failed to so do. He sought to call a general election, did so, and succeeded in it. In January of this year, he ratified that deal before the House of Commons. However, before it was ratified, he launched an election manifesto on behalf of the Conservative Party, stating that it was a great deal, the only deal, a deal that would lead to a trade deal with the European Union. That is how the Conservatives sold it to the British public in the election in December 2019. The British public went along with it and voted for the Tories and their representation of that withdrawal agreement. He signed up to that withdrawal agreement in January 2019.

On 8 September this year, out of the blue, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland stated in the House of Commons that the British Government was introducing legislation that will breach the withdrawal agreement. It was extraordinary. Not only did he state that the British Government would breach the agreement, he brazenly stated in the House of Commons that the Bill was a breach of international law. There are many decent people in the United Kingdom, including many former Prime Ministers, who are outraged by this action. In fact, I think five former Prime Ministers came out to assert their disgust that the good name of the United Kingdom was being traduced as a result of this brazen and reckless act by the British Government. That is the reason we are where we are. What message does that send out? I regret to say that the message it sends to this House and, indeed, all of Europe and the rest of the world is that this is not a trustworthy British Government. That is a very serious statement for any politician to make but, I regret to say, it is true. We need to recognise that that is the case during the ongoing negotiations between the British Government and the European Union.

We also need to ask ourselves how we will proceed with this breach of international law. The argument is made by some of the politicians in the United Kingdom that this is not yet a breach of international law because the UK Internal Market Bill has not been enacted. That is not much of a point in their defence because even the publication of that Bill, in my assessment, is a breach of the provisions of Article 12 of the Northern Ireland protocol. There are measures within Article 12 which allow the European Union to vindicate its rights under the agreement that was entered into with the United Kingdom. We will need to do that. However, let us be clear that one thing we as a country and the European Union as a union cannot do is appease lawlessness on the part of a state, irrespective of how important that state is to the European Union or how distinguished it is in its involvement with the European Union. We cannot appease lawlessness because, as I stated previously, if one appeases lawlessness, one will only encourage the lawbreaker.

Many Deputies have spoken about reunification in this House and the end of partition. That is a valid point but let us not make the same mistake about ending partition that the British made when it came to Brexit. We need to prepare for it. We need to get a team of academics together who can put forward a constitution for a new Ireland. We need to ensure we do not make the same mistakes as were made in Britain.

In less than 100 days, the UK will be outside the EU's Single Market and customs union. From 1 January next, how we trade with the UK will be dramatically different. Even if a free trade agreement is concluded between the EU and UK, there will be significant and enduring change. Being prepared for customs formalities and a new trading relationship is critical, especially in the area of agriculture. The value of Irish agrifood products is strong and they are central to our export industry. In 2019, the sector represented approximately 10% of the value of our overall exports, at €13 billion. One third of those food exports goes to the UK. To put that in context, Irish agrifood exports to the UK in 2019 amounted to €4.4 billion. For all of mainland Europe combined, we exported another €4.5 billion. For the rest of the world, the value was just over €4 billion.

The UK market for agrifood exports is enormous. Barriers to trade between the island of Ireland and Great Britain will be detrimental to Irish agriculture. I fear to think what a hard Brexit would do to the industry based on those numbers.

The UK has opened trade talks with the US, and with this comes the increased threat that the US will seek lower tariffs and increased access to the UK market, including the accommodation of US production standards in areas of food safety, animal health and the environment, in other words, a Mercosur-type deal magnified many times over. The last thing Irish farmers want is a race to the bottom. A no-deal Brexit combined with these talks is a further threat in this area. Irish farmers must not be expected to reduce standards in order to gain access to a lower quality UK market. We must maintain the standards that we, as a top-quality food producing nation, are known for and proud of. Quality assurance and protected geographical indication, PGI, status are promoted by Bord Bia to highlight our top-class standards.

Exports of beef amount to €2.3 billion, of which half, or 211,000 tonnes, go to the UK. Beef farmers have been hard hit by Brexit, and we now have Covid on top of it. Since the beef exceptional aid measure, BEAM, scheme was introduced, it has been calculated that Brexit-related losses between May and December 2019 amounted to €160 million. The impact of Brexit and Covid losses between January and July of this year cost beef farmers a further €163 million. When one takes the Government's pandemic payment of €50 million for beef finishers into account, the total net loss incurred by beef farmers is €273 million.

Last week, I met members of the north and south Tipperary Irish Farmers Association. I welcome the €5 billion Brexit adjustment reserve fund. However, this will have to be greatly scaled up to take into account the growing threat of a no-deal outcome. Other countries, such as Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland, also have considerable dependency on the UK market and they will be looking for a significant share of that fund. We need to ensure the closest possible trading relationship that maintains the value of the UK market for Irish farmers and, in turn, ensures the stability of the EU food market. Tariff and quota free access to the UK market is essential to ensuring this, as is a level playing field where the UK maintains current standards so that we avoid a race to the bottom.

Some 34% of Ireland's dairy exports go to the UK, representing 53% of cheese exports, 29% of butter and 12% of skim milk powder. Exports of cheddar cheese amounted to 78,000 tonnes, representing 82% of all cheddar imported by the UK. Ireland is the only significant exporter of cheddar to Britain and the UK market is the only market of significance for Irish cheddar. Without continued access to the cheddar market in the UK, the industry would no longer be viable here.

For milk and cream, the UK is a significant net exporter. Ireland imported over 800 million l of milk from Northern Ireland for processing. Of this amount, approximately 120 million l were sold as fresh milk, accounting for 25% of Ireland's fresh milk market.

Retention of tariff-free access to the UK market is critically important, particularly for Irish cheddar exports. Overall, the loss of access to the UK market could have a serious destabilising impact on the value of the Irish dairy sector. In addition, the uncertainty surrounding the future trading relationship between the UK and EU presents a particular threat to the current highly integrated all-Ireland milk processing structures.

The UK is a key market. There are other potential markets that we must gain access to, such as China, which will allow for the continued, sustainable future production of high-quality produce. The development of the independent-owned meat plant in Banagher could help make this a reality. If we let independently owned factories into the market and grow our agricultural business links with the Chinese market, we will benefit Irish beef farmers on a number of fronts while offsetting some of the negative impacts of Brexit. A new player with access to the Chinese market must be fully supported by all State agencies.

This morning, I organised a Zoom meeting with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and representatives of Bulmers in Clonmel. Bulmers, with its plant in Clonmel town, is a large employer in my constituency. There are also apple farms and transportation services associated with this business. The company adds enormous value to the local community annually, employs large numbers of people and pays €1.6 million in rates to the county council. Brexit is a massive threat to this business. Approximately 50% of the Clonmel plant's output is exported to the UK. Beer is facing a 0% tariff in the event of a no-deal Brexit, whereas cider faces the equivalent of 10p per pint. This is unequal competition.

A no-deal Brexit would be detrimental to the work of the Clonmel plant and could well result in its relocation to the UK. Bulmers parent company C&C already has a significant plant in the UK and a no-deal Brexit with high tariffs could see this business move out of Tipperary and Ireland to the UK. We cannot afford to let this happen to industries such as Bulmers and others which would be similarly affected.

We must protect Irish agrifood standards, prevent a race to the bottom, ensure tariff and quota-free trading with the UK and protect our place in the market. We must look to other high-quality, well-paying markets such as China to offset the negative impacts of Brexit. Businesses such as Bulmers are too large to lose. These businesses need assistance.