Fine Gael MEP warns of potential disintegration of EU

SDLP leader says NI membership of European Union must not be altered

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness. File Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness. File Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times


Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness has warned a failure to make changes in Europe in the wake of Brexit could lead to the disintegration of the European Union.

Ms McGuinness told the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal there was a need for “revival and renewal” in Brussels and Strasbourg to prevent the break-up of the European project following the UK’s decision to quit EU.

“If we keep doing what we are doing we will get disintegration by accident and not design,” Ms McGuinness said on Wednesday during a debate on “whither now for the European Union - disintegration or revival?”

“Disintegration would be horrendous,” she added.

Ms McGuinness, a vice-president of the European Parliament who is viewed potentially as its next president, said that notwithstanding the great challenges posed by Brexit, she believed there was an “inner strength” within the EU that would keep it together.

Ms McGuinness noted Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke of a potential need for a Border poll sometime in the years to come. She said that due to Brexit, “something is happening in the mindset” about North-South and East-West relationships that could mean change in Northern Ireland. “And we don’t want that change to be for the worst.”

While one of Theresa May’s first acts after becoming British prime minister was to travel to Scotland, it was “hugely disappointing” that she did not also visit Northern Ireland, Ms McGuinness said.

She said Ireland could be a “strong voice” in helping to re-strengthen the EU. She said she could not understand how Britain could grow in strength by quitting Europe. She also queried how Britain could “square” the idea of being part of Europe but not of the EU.

‘Overly optimistic’

Ms McGuinness referred to the turmoil caused by slaughter in Nice and the failed coup in Turkey. She said it “beggars belief” that the British government could have a co-ordinated foreign affairs approach to such geopolitical matters when it was outside the council of EU ministers. Such problems had to be tackled “inter-governmentally”, she said.

She also expressed doubt Britain could take itself out of the EU within two years considering that after more than 43 years in the European community its “roots go very deep”.

Such an exit timescale seemed “overly optimistic”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party would “use every parliamentary, diplomatic and legal tool available to prevent Northern Ireland being dragged out of the EU against our will”, particularly after a majority in the North - 56 per cent - voted to remain.

“The future chosen by the English people is not the future chosen by the Irish people, North or South. We have democratically chosen to remain as part of the European Union.

“No matter how often Theresa May repeats the mantra that Brexit means Brexit, we must strongly reply that consent means consent,” he asserted.

“We have not given our consent to change the constitutional make-up of the North, therefore our membership of Europe should not be altered. That is the principle enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. It must be upheld and it must be respected.”

Mr Eastwood said that “in the North we opt to be part of the European revival, not part of its disintegration”.

On the issue of a Border poll, the SDLP leader continued to believe that the reunification of Ireland is the “biggest and the best idea” around.

“However as the Brexit result and the demise of David Cameron have also taught us, we should make sure to fight referenda that we are confident of winning,” he said.

“Unlike Sinn Féin we believe the cause of bringing about reunification will require more thought and commitment than simply issuing a press release at 5 am on the morning of the Brexit result calling for an immediate Border referendum.”

Mr Eastwood said that Scottish independence campaigners had produced a 670 page document outlining the path to independence and still lost the referendum. But the document was credible and detailed and “Irish nationalism now needs to start on its page one”.