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Our case for designated special status within EU striking a chord

By Martina Anderson

On Saturday, April 29, 2017, a special European Council meeting adopted the EU Council 'negotiating directives' for the upcoming first three phases of the Brexit negotiations.

I have worked directly with the Brexit Steering Group led by the Parliament's chief negotiator on Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt, and along with the other Sinn Fein MEPs have worked for months on a diplomatic offensive with hundreds of other MEPs from all 27 member states to influence these directives. We were successful in securing a commitment from the EU to seek to uphold the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, as well as strengthening references to the rights of people and transparency in the negotiations. We were also able to get assurances that Irish citizens in the north would continue to have full EU citizenship rights, and that in the event of a united Ireland, all of Ireland would be automatically in the EU.

Michel Barnier was in Ireland on Thursday and yesterday, which demonstrates that the EU negotiators have accepted and agreed that Ireland is a priority in the negotiations. No such priority has been declared by the British Government's negotiators. Instead, we have been listening to banal cliches like "no return to the borders of the past" for months. Our gallant friends and allies in Europe may never be more important to us than they are now.

It's important to understand that Article 50 only deals with the withdrawal of a member state from the EU and does not provide for the negotiation of an agreement on the future relationship between the EU and Britain, which can only come in a separate negotiation after the Article 50 negotiation has concluded.

The Tories and the DUP have fully explained that to the people.

In fact, following the Article 50 negotiation, Britain becomes a 'third country' (a non-EU country) and it is only then that issues such as the future trade arrangements between Britain and the EU can be negotiated.

The EU negotiators have laid out the issues to be dealt with in the first phase of the negotiations. They are: People - status of EU citizens. Money - financial Agreement for Britain leaving the EU, and Ireland.

I sit on the committee for constitutional affairs in the EU parliament, which has a central and overarching role in relation to the Brexit negotiations. This committee will be regularly briefed and consulted on the progress of the negotiations, as the EU parliament as a whole must approve any final deal. I, along with my fellow Sinn Fein MEPs who sit on other relevant committees, will ensure that the issues of importance to the north are front and centre in the EU negotiations and we have already witnessed growing support in Europe for our proposal of designated special status for the north of Ireland within the EU.

Also, the negotiating directives will regularly return to the EU parliament and council for amendments reflecting the progress or developments during the course of the two-year negotiation. I and the Sinn Fein MEP team in Europe will be ensuring, as we did with the current directive, that the strongest mandate possible is given to the negotiators to protect the interests of Ireland and as a whole.

In addition to our work in Europe, our TDs and Leinster House team in Dublin are ensuring that the Good Friday Agreement, our peace process and the issue of the border are central to the Irish Government's negotiating position as one of the 27 member states at the European Council. Sinn Fein also intends to continue with our diplomatic offensive throughout the negotiations to other member states to build support for our case for special designated status within the EU. Theresa May has already demonstrated quite clearly her lack of consideration for how this Brexit catastrophe will affect the people of the north. The Tories are seeking a mandate in this British general election to drive this hardest of hard Brexit processes forward, unhindered by Westminster.

The British Labour Party has also made it clear that it supports Brexit. It is clear that the battle over Brexit is finished in Westminster, however the strongest possible Sinn Fein vote in this election will demonstrate to the Tories and the DUP that the north wants designated special status within the EU.

Our MPs will work with us in the EU and with our TDs in Dublin, making a difference to Brexit where it matters.

  • Martina Anderson is a Sinn Fein Member of the European Parliament.

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