Patrick Costello TD speaks on the Brexit bill going through the Dáil which is making provisions for a no deal scerario.
Whilst welcoming the preparations he warned of the danagers for the environment with 90% of the UK’s environmental legislation coming from the EU. Similarly data protection post Brexit and the ability of the Irish army to combat security threats remain a concern we need to make preparations for.
I wish to talk about the context of Brexit. We need to acknowledge that Brexit is a tragedy. It marks a breakdown of international co-operation, international law and the kinds of things we need to rely on in an ever more chaotic world. While there may be some people who revel in the opportunities to break these things up, our peace, security and prosperity will ultimately be guaranteed by working more closely together and resisting such international fragmentation.
This Bill is an incredibly important part of ensuring that we can protect ourselves in the face of the fragmentation that Brexit will cause. The Bill’s sheer volume and the breadth of the issues it seeks to take in show how important and how significant Brexit is. We are here trying to deal with many of the aspects of Brexit without yet having achieved a trade deal. Despite the hard work of this Government and of the European Union, there is still huge uncertainty as we take the steps needed with this Bill, which is very welcome. I wish to highlight a few of my concerns about this ongoing uncertainty, as other Deputies have done.
One of the important matters is environmental regulation. Some 70% of the environmental law of the United Kingdom came from the European Union. Very little of it has been transposed into domestic UK legislation. The challenge here is twofold. In the first instance, as we have all been saying in the context of fisheries, nature does not give a damn about a line on a map but will just do what it will. The reality is that any problems with environmental regulation in Northern Ireland will impact us down here, and we need to protect ourselves by ensuring high standards there. This also cuts to the core of the issue of the level playing field because if we are to lower environmental standards and sanitary and phytosanitary regulations as a result of this, it means that our farmers and our agribusiness will not be competing on the level playing field that is very much needed to ensure our stability and prosperity going forward.
One of the other issues yet to be resolved is of data protection. I heard Deputy Howlin refer to the Minister as an optimist by nature. When the Minister was before the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I raised this matter and he was confident a solution could be found. Unfortunately, and perhaps it is the cynic in me, I do not share that confidence and I have a deep concern about data protection and data exports to the UK and the huge consequences that will have after the UK’s withdrawal. The reality is that if we look at what has happened with the GDPR, America, safe harbour and the privacy shield, these have been thrown out because America does not meet the standards required for the European Union to allow data export. We are beginning to see the consequences of this in Facebook being prevented from exporting data. The same things that have made America miss the adequacy standard for data exports apply to the United Kingdom. Alongside this is a huge weakness within the UK’s data protection authority. It is quite simply not up to scratch. When these two things are combined, it makes it almost impossible for the UK in the short to medium term to really meet those adequacy standards, which leaves us in a situation where we will not be able to, or should not legally be able to, export data to the UK. This has major consequences for police co-operation, job protection co-operation and mutual social welfare payments. While we can agree some things in that regard, it will also affect business and financial services and will have far-reaching effects that we do not even realise yet. As a result, I remain deeply concerned and deeply cynical about this. These are two extremely important matters we need to pick up on.
One final matter I will try to squeeze in in the time I have left is that relating to policing. Obviously, we are all working to avoid a hard border. That should be stated as a given, but the Garda recently referred to needing the Army to support it in policing the Border, particularly if it is to be a hard border. If we look at what the Defence Forces have now compared with what they had at the height of the Troubles and before the Good Friday Agreement, we have lost several of the barracks and we do not have the same level of manpower, logistics support, vehicle support or air support in the relevant units.
Hopefully, the issue of providing aid to the civilian power as part of policing a hard border can, at the very least, be included within in scope of the commission on the future of the Defence Forces. It is certainly one aspect of Brexit we need to think about going forward.