Former minister Lucinda Creighton says Brexit is a ‘car crash’
British government not ‘emotionally committed’ to border backstop arrangement
Speaking at the Kennedy Summer School, Former minister for EU affairs, Lucinda Creighton said there was ‘very little sign’ of the key Brexit issues being resolved. File photograph: Cyril Byrne
Former Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton has described the Brexit process as a “car-crash” and said two years of “shadowboxing” since the Brexit referendum have not brought anyone closer to a resolution.
She also said although the British government may have “theoretically” signed up to the backstop arrangement to prevent a hard border on this island, they are not “emotionally committed” to this and don’t understand what it means to Ireland.
Ms Creighton, who was minister of state for EU affairs from 2011 until she lost the Fine Gael whip in 2013 for opposing the government’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, was speaking during a discussion on Brexit at the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross, Co Wexford.
She said there was “very little sign” of the key issues being resolved.
“The concept of a backstop, is something they [the British government] have theoretically signed up to, but certainly not something they have emotionally committed to or understand what it means.”
She also challenged fellow-panellist Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone, to take up her Westminster seat along with other Sinn Féin MPs, to vote against Brexit.
Ms Gildernew said her party’s abstentionist position is not for changing.
“Nationalists turned their back on Westminster and voted us in a very, very clear way to say we do not want you to take your seats in Westminster,” Ms Gildernew said.
“Anybody who would think that, if we were to go in and take an oath, and it would be hard to go in as an Irish republican to take an oath of allegiance to the queen and her successors, to go in there and vote, believe me any Tory that was thinking of defecting from the Tory whip and voting against Brexit would soon be brought back into line . . . All we would do would be consolidate people in favour of the government.”
The Sinn Féin MP, who was a former Minister for Agriculture in the northern assembly, said she is “very fearful” about what Brexit will mean for the border regions.
“I certainly don’t trust the British. I don’t trust Theresa May, the fact that they’re in this special relationship with the DUP makes them even less trustworthy.”
She also said: “We know better than anybody what the Brits are capable of. We know how they’re capable of reneging on agreements and showing bad faith. Nobody is going to be worse affected by Brexit than the people in the North, from right across the political divide.”
Former Fianna Fáil cabinet minister Mary O’Rourke said she felt a slight sense of optimism, drawing laughter with her explanation: “I do think the English, at the end of the day, can’t be that stupid.”
She added: “It’s all just awful, and for us it’s worse than anything. It affects us deeply. We were promised a frictionless border and there’s no sign of it.”
Also speaking at the event, former taoiseach Brian Cowen said he hopes “some sort of sense will prevail” and that Britain and the EU can come to an acceptable deal to prevent too much post-Brexit damage.
“It is not a good scenario in any event, hard or soft,” Mr Cowen said of the Brexit situation.
“I don’t see any great advantages, but we are where we are in terms of the British are determined to leave and all you can hope is that some sort of sense will prevail, and there will be some sort of planned exit with a transition period that will make sure we don’t go to a cliff edge sort of situation.”
However, he warned that “it’s not easy to see how it will emerge” that a deal can be negotiated in the coming weeks which won’t affect Ireland, or the rest of the EU, too badly.
Asked by reporters how the Fine Gael-led Government is handling the Brexit issue, he said they were “handling it as well as can be expected”.
“At the end of the day, it is for Commissioner Barnier on behalf of the [remaining] 27. There is no doubt everyone is aware of the particular problems it poses for Ireland.”
He also said that there is “always the worry” that a “fudge will emerge” as the negotiations near a deadline, with other countries anxious to tie up any sort of deal rather than allow Britain to exit the EU without any deal being agreed.
“You hope that they use the time that is left sufficiently productively to come up with a clear outcome, but the longer it’s left to the dateline, you’re always worried that it won’t be clear.”
In relation to the Irish border issue, Mr Cowen said: “The logic of the position is that when you have a border between a member state and a non-member state, that clearly there has to be arrangements in place that are sufficiently transparent for everyone to see that the rules are being applied.”
“The whole question is, is there a technical answer to that that allows for the flexibility we need?”
Prime Minister May’s Chequers proposal is “long on intent but the detail isn’t there as of yet anyway,” Mr Cowen said. “That’s the worry.”
The border issue could have “a major impact” on this country, he said, in terms of both commercial and human flow.
Mr Cowen also said he had no desire to return to politics. He said he is now involved with “a few business issues” and holds some non-executive directorships.
“It’s a question of acknowledging that the game [politics] has moved on and everything is under new management.”