Act now to avoid no-deal Brexit chaos, urge EESC members

Written by Martin Banks on 20 February 2019 in News

A no-deal Brexit would be “madness” for the UK and the island of Ireland and it is crucial to act now to avoid chaos, according to representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

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This was the warning from two EESC members, Jane Morrice and Michael Smyth, both from Northern Ireland, following a fact-finding trip to Northern Ireland.

Further concern was voiced by Seamus Boland, vice president of the EESC’s Diversity Europe Group who is from the Republic of Ireland, who said that peace in Northern Ireland was “fragile.”

Boland urged the EU and the British and Irish governments to prevent the emergence of a hard border in Ireland “at all costs.”


The EESC, the Brussels-based EU body that represents organised civil society, held a meeting on Brexit at Queen's University in Belfast on 15 February to take stock of the Brexit process and focus on its consequences for the Northern Ireland peace process.

Guest speakers at the meeting included Brian Cowen, former Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and MLAs Caoimhe Archibald (Sinn Féin) and Mike Nesbitt, of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

Arno Metzler, President of the Diversity Europe Group, said they went to Belfast “to listen concerns, fears and hopes” and “to reach out a hand to civil society on both sides of the border.”

"Many in the EU were reluctant to accept the reality of Brexit. With less than 42 days to go, the EU must face up to the fact that the UK is leaving” Arno Metzler, President of the Diversity Europe Group

The message to the Irish, he said, was, “We will stand by you, whatever happens in the next ten weeks. Civil society knows no borders and we should already be thinking about how to continue to work together in the months and years to come.”

Pointing to the fears brought about by the Brexit process he said, "Although not everyone here agrees on what the impact of Brexit will be on the island of Ireland, there is no doubt that all of us, the other 27 EU Member States, European civil society and the European institutions, will do everything within our means to ensure that the spirit of cooperation enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement continues in your minds and in your daily lives.”

At the meeting European representatives from business, trades unions, farmers, consumer groups and others heard local politicians, academics and local voluntary organisations describe how the UK's withdrawal from the EU would affect their lives from a professional, political and personal point of view.

The meeting, said the EESC, comes “with less than two months to go before the Article 50 deadline for the UK-EU divorce and a settlement not yet agreed.”

The EESC spokesman said, “With the current stalemate created by the 'backstop' proposal, the fact-finding mission of EESC members aimed to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing the UK/Ireland border and find out more about the social, economic and political impact of the UK's withdrawal on Northern Ireland.”

"We will report back to Brussels," said Metzler, who also has some criticisms of the EU in the Brexit process, saying, "Many in the EU were reluctant to accept the reality of Brexit. With less than 42 days to go, the EU must face up to the fact that the UK is leaving, and it is urgent that we work out any possible new arrangement that can be put in place to ensure the close contact between UK and EU civil society is maintained."

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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