9 March 2017 – Exiting the European Union (Topical Questions)

Alasdair McDonnell MP  “The Secretary of State will be aware that theAlasdair in Westminter - 9 March 2017 (1) principle of consent was the cornerstone of our Good Friday agreement and settlement in Northern Ireland. What assessment has he made of the Taoiseach’s comments recently in Brussels when he said that that consent principle would have to be embedded in any future agreement between the UK and the EU?”



Robin Walker MP (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State of State for Exiting the ERobin Walker MPuropean Union) “I thank the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to speak to the London Irish Construction Network, which is an opportunity to stand alongside a Republic of Ireland Minister and show the commitment from both sides to the Belfast agreement and the common travel area. We remain absolutely committed to the Belfast agreement and all its successors, including the principle of consent.”



Thursday 9 March 2017 – House of Commons Debate on Exiting the European Union

Alasdair McDonnell MP  “Could the Minister perhaps tell us what discussions he has had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland  on the free movement of Alasdair in Westminter - 9 March 2017 (1)goods, this is particularly important in the agricultural sector after the United Kingdom exit of the European Union because many of our farms in Northern Ireland straddle the border number 1, but number 2 many of the produce of those farms transit the border a number of times milk sometimes crosses it five times”.


David Jones MP, Minister for Exiting the European Union “The Honourable gentleman raises an extremely important point which is at the forefront of the mind of Government, David Jones - Westminster 9 March 2017in fact the Prime Minister has discussed this very issue with the Taoiseach and indeed all the Ministers in the Department of Exiting the European Union team have had similar discussions and I have had very recent discussions with representatives of the Irish Government as well”.


On the 27 February 2017 I wrote to the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer lending my support to the campaign of establishing a Children’s Funeral Fund being led by Carolyn Harris MP alongside CLIC Sargent.

I have urged the Chancellor to support the campaign and find the necessary funds.

I sincerely hope the Chancellor will make the right decision and support parents at a time of profound grief and shock.



On Monday 13 February I travelled to Cork for the latest in a series of Brexit Response meetings held by Fine Gael. I shared a panel with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Dr. Mary Murphy from University College Cork. brexit-public-meeting-1-cork-12-04-2017

Over 500 people packed into the Clayton Silversprings Hotel in Cork to hear how the Irish Government intends to tackle the significant challenges that Brexit presents. I delivered a speech which touched on the issues for Northern Ireland-implications of Brexit for the border, business and the need to safeguard the principle of consent enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. 

There was an in-depth question and answer session during which the audience put their questions to the panel. Many people were concerned at what Brexit might mean for their jobs and the future opportunities of their children. 

It is clear that Ireland’s place in the European Union is more important now than it ever brexit-public-meeting-4-cork-12-04-2017-jpgwas. The EU Referendum vote in Britain will pose significant challenges for the entire Island of Ireland and we must tackle these challenges together. 

Please find below the speech I made on Monday night. 

Cork, Speech on Brexit, Monday 13 February, 7pm

I strongly advocated and campaigned for a vote to remain within the EU. Long before the 23 June 2016 I had a nightmare that we would sleep walk out of Europe. Unfortunately my worst fears came true and we have been dealing with the fallout and uncertainty of the outcome ever since.

All-Island Dialogue

I salute the Taoiseach and many of his colleagues for attempting to unpick much of the uncertainty through the excellent and engaging All-Island Dialogue which took place on November 2 last year. I look forward to attending the upcoming session on Friday (17 February) as we continue to find a way to navigate through the choppy seas of Brexit. 

Europe and Peace

In the aftermath of last June’s result I led a delegation to Brussels to meet with a range of MEPs and key thinkers in Brussels. Many were depressed, in shock, despairing and uncertain about the future.

The one time I saw a spark of interest was when I mentioned the unique and outstanding contribution the EU had made to securing and sustaining peace in Northern Ireland. People lit up when I referenced just what some of the EU peace monies did to transform our region. It is clear that Northern Ireland is seen as the Jewel in the crown of the EU and we must invoke that special relationship in these perilous times.

I have never pretended that the European Union was perfect or that it does not need reform—even radical reform—but the EU has delivered for Northern Ireland. It helped to deliver parity of esteem and prosperity for all sides of our community, and it has helped to bring peace in difficult times.

European investment and access to the single market has done so much in the past 25 years to remake my city, Belfast. It is a world-leading city that faces the 21st century, having had a difficult 20th century, not least because of the hard work of hundreds of people who came to Belfast from across Europe to work and contribute positively to our society, and to help to build a better economy, in the process building prosperity. In my South Belfast Constituency I was proud that 70% of my constituents voted to remain in the EU, with a 70% turnout.


Belfast Agreement

Peace in Northern Ireland culminated in the Belfast Agreement, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Ireland, North and South, had at its heart the principle of consent and was underpinned by a presumption of membership of the EU by Ireland and Britain. The EU is also referenced in the agreement in relation to the competence of the North South Ministerial Council.

Last week in the House of Commons my SDLP colleagues and I strongly advocated that there should be a commitment by Parliament that Brexit should not be allowed to undermine the Belfast Agreement or its provisions. Just as those who would argue that the EU referendum result needs to be respected, those same people need to respect the fact that the people of Ireland overwhelmingly endorsed the Belfast Agreement and its terms.


Our fears will not be alleviated by clichéd platitudes from the Prime Minister and Secretary of State that there will be no return to the borders of the past-we need much more certainty than that, particularly when our peace and security is in the balance. With 30,000 people crossing the Irish border every day for work we need effective coordination between Dublin, London, Belfast and Brussels to sustain reasonable access to their livelihoods.


Leaving the Customs Union would necessitate customs checks and therefore restrictions on travel at the Irish border. We need to look at an option of Northern Ireland having a “Special Customs” status whereby it is treated as within the Customs Union for goods/services travelling solely within the island of Ireland. There is a precedent for this in the German town of Büsingen which is treated as part of Switzerland for customs purposes. It is essential to our small businesses trading across the border that we remain within the Customs Union and to our exporters that we remain within the Single Market. 


Any future British-EU treaty must uphold the principle of consent inherent in the Belfast Agreement, which allows a democratic route to a United Ireland if the majority of people in Northern Ireland desire it. In the case of such a referendum taking place, there must be no uncertainty around Northern Ireland’s direct admission to the EU as a consequence of a vote for a United Ireland. 

Role of Europe

My SDLP colleagues were proud to vote against the triggering of Article 50 in the commons two weeks ago and we are determined to fight for the best deal for Northern Ireland. With the current imbalance in the Conservative Party and the continuing turmoil in the Labour Party we will be looking to you, our neighbours in the South to support us. Europe also has a crucial role to play.


Our relationship with our neighbours in Europe is more important now than it ever was. In August of this year I was invited to speak at the ‘Digital Day’ of the Inter-Celtic Festival in Lorient, France. I was struck by the French people’s interest in the unique circumstances of people living in Northern Ireland and had an insight into just how much Europe values one of the jewels in its crown-peace in Northern Ireland.  


At the festival I met the French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain and other French Assembly members who were very concerned about the impact a British withdrawal from Europe will mean for the wider European family. Off the back of these conversations Paul Molac, a French Assembly member invited me to address the French Assembly on 8 November for a debate on Brexit. This debate was packed and again underlined the intense interest in the predicament of Ireland, both North and South in light of Brexit.  


Looking Ahead


Two crucial dates loom large on the horizon. In June 2019 we have the European Election and July 2020 sees the end of the current budget and the start of the new budget. So realistically we are facing three to four years of uncertainty and instability. 


So what is the role for the European Union during this period of uncertainty? Europe needs to reassure many people who are feeling insecure and frightened about their future prospects. The EU must address;


  1. The disentangling of Britain from the EU
  2. Negotiating a new relationship between Britain and the EU
  3. Re-working a new Europe which is in sync with people’s needs and expectations 

What I am doing


The Independent Council on Europe has been meeting over the last couple of months. I was keen to set up such a body in the aftermath of the EU Referendum result. I did so because of the amount of anger and anxiety constituents displayed at a number of public meetings I hosted in South Belfast and beyond. The Council is made up of people from the business, voluntary, community and political world who are determined to get the best deal for Northern Ireland following the EU Referendum result on 23 June of this year.

Steve Aiken MLA, former CEO of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Chairs the Council, Ian Parsley, Head of the European Movement NI is Vice-Chair and I hold the position of the other Vice-Chair. In 2017 the Council intends to hold a number of seminars on the sectors that will be impacted most by Brexit and try to identify what we can do to mitigate the worst aspects of Brexit for people living in Northern Ireland. We also intend to visit Brussels shortly.


We will continue to do all we can to promote special recognition for Northern Ireland as a European Place of Global Peace-Building. From Brussels, London, Dublin and Belfast there is a duty of care to protect and safeguard the Northern Irish Peace Process, to ensure good relations between the UK, Ireland and the EU and to promote international peace-building in these extremely challenging times.    




Article by Andrew Fanning, Business Post (Dublin)

5 February 2016

SDLP MP for South Belfast Alasdair McDonnell has told The Business Post he is “deeply despondent” about Brexit and the prospect of retaining a seamless border between the Republic and Northern Ireland after Britain leaves the EU.

Dr McDonnell is a member of the British parliament’s Northern Ireland Select Committee, which heard evidence on Wednesday about the future of the border from Michael Lux and Eric Pickett, two customs experts and international trade lawyers.

Lux told the MPs that British prime minister Theresa May’s declaration in Dublin on Monday that she wanted a “seamless, frictionless border” after Brexit amounted to no more than “nice words”.

May said earlier this month that Britain would not be a full member of the EU customs union – in which goods can cross the border without tariffs – after Brexit.

Lux said that although Britain could choose not to have customs controls if it left the EU customs union, the Irish government would have no such choice under EU law.

The SDLP MP described Lux’s evidence as “stimulating”, but added that “the more he talked, the scarier it became”.

“Whatever happens, we’re going to have a border. You cannot control the movement of people or goods without having a checkpoint of some sort,” McDonnell said.

He said Lux made clear that even if this is as seamless as possible, there will be transaction costs for people moving goods across the border.

Concerns about impact on food industry

Lux told the MPs that customs checks would hit the food processing and dairy industries in particular, as the administration involved in transporting ingredients and products across the border would lead to extra costs.

Dr McDonnell has particular concerns about this aspect, saying the island of Ireland has effectively become a single market in this area in the past 25 years. He cited the example of milk, which in some cases crosses the border five times in the course of processing.

“Each one of those crossings entails a customs check and an expense. That’s the worry,” he said. “I don’t want there to be delays, but it is not possible for us not to have some sort of border, and some sort of control, of goods moving up and down,” the SDLP MP said. “Even the perfect solution will require documents to be prepared, which will take up companies’ administrative time,” he added.

“the arrogance of the Brexit wing of the Tory party is frightening”.

The South Belfast MP said he and many other people have been aware that this type of scenario was inevitable, despite others including Theresa May trying to talk it down. He said the Irish Government was aware and had done “a massive amount of work behind the scenes” trying to minimise the effects. But he urged the government in Dublin now to redouble its efforts to minimise the effects of Brexit on the border.

“Europe has very clear guidelines, with all sorts of waivers and special adjustments around the edges, but these can only be worked if both sides want to work them, and the arrogance of the Brexit wing of the Tory party is frightening,” McDonnell said.

“Ultimately, the easy way to deal with this is to retain the island of Ireland as a customs union,” he said. Lux said at the hearing that it may be possible for Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union for a transitional period after Brexit, but then there would have to be controls between the North and the rest of the UK.

Speaking about the House of Commons vote in favour of the bill enabling the British government to trigger Article 50, Dr McDonnell said the debate against the bill had been driven by the Scottish Nationalists.

And he predicted that Brexit could have longer-term consequences, due to what he called the “delusional” anti-European wing of the Conservative Party.

“Effectively, what they have done is started a process that will only be complete when Scotland is independent and Ireland is united. That’s the only solution. Any other solution will be temporary and dysfunctional,” the SDLP MP said.


01 February 2017

Alasdair McDonnell MP “May I agree with the Secretary of State in that we are very impressed with the strength of the Union, too––that is, the European Union? Beyond theAlasdairNIQJune112014 common travel area, there appears to be a significant gap between the wishful thinking and the reality of movement of goods. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effect of exiting the customs union on the movement of goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic?”

James Brokenshire MP “As the hon. Gentleman will have seen, the Prime Minister’s james-brokenshire-mpspeech underlined the clear desire of the Government in the negotiations ahead to get the best possible trading arrangements with the European Union and therefore we are reflecting on how we do that, whether that is some form of membership of a customs union or a bespoke customs agreement. He should be intent on our desire to get that deal and to see a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”.


31 January 2017 – House of Commons


I am unable to support this Bill and the triggering of article 50. Like Mr Clarke, I think that the whole operation is a bit like following a rabbit into the hole and hoping to emerge in Wonderland, with or without Alice.NIQJuly16thB2014PNG

Like my colleagues and many other Members, I do not seek to deny England or Wales their right to exit the European Union, if that is what the people of those nations have decided. I might disagree with the wisdom of that view, but that is not why I oppose the Bill. I have never pretended that the European Union was perfect or that it does not need reform—even radical reform—but the EU has delivered for Northern Ireland. It helped to deliver parity of esteem and prosperity for all sides of our community, and it has helped to bring peace in difficult times. European investment and access to the single market has done so much in the past 25 years to remake my city, Belfast. It is a world-leading city that faces the 21st century, having had a difficult 20th century, not least because of the hard work of hundreds of people who came to Belfast from across Europe to work and contribute positively to our society, and to help to build a better economy, in the process building prosperity.

I am here today on behalf of the people of South Belfast, where 70% voted to remain on a 70% turnout, so the result is without doubt. I ask the Government not to take away unnecessarily our membership of the EU, which has already done so much for my constituency and has the potential to do more. Queen’s University Belfast in the heart of my constituency is highly dependent on EU funding for its research and development, but I have received no guarantees—in fact, I have little expectation—that the Government will match that funding post-Brexit.

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have already said, both here and elsewhere, that they have no desire to return to the borders of the past. I am glad to hear that, and so are the 30,000 people who cross the Irish border every day for work, but they need a bit more than warm words of comfort. They need a concrete arrangement between Dublin, London, Belfast and Brussels to sustain reasonable access to their livelihoods, but the Government seem to have missed the fact that our concerns in Northern Ireland go much deeper than just avoiding border posts. Our membership of the EU is written throughout the fabric of the Good Friday agreement, or the Belfast agreement as some prefer to call it. Our political settlement in 1998 keeps all our parties at the table and sustains a peace process, and hopefully a better prosperity process to follow. The EU values and rules that are written into the fabric of that agreement have helped to maintain stability. Without the EU, that stability would not have been obtained and maintained. Maintaining that stability and the settlement requires the principles of the Good Friday agreement to be underpinned in law throughout the exit process, both at the outset and in the final exit deal, and that is without even touching on the wider concerns that hon. Members have raised about the impact of Brexit on our universities, the rights of European citizens already living here and the rights of our own citizens who wish to study or work across the European Union.

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on the role of the devolved Administrations, which I beg to differ from, it is in the Government’s interest to get this process right for Northern Ireland and to maintain the political stability that has been achieved. Indeed, as a co-guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, the Government are obliged to sustain that stability.

It will be much harder to get things right and to restore stability in Northern Ireland if we rush to meet an artificial timetable that has been imposed unnecessarily by the Government. That is why I call on them, even at this late stage, not to rush now and regret later. I beg them to take the time to get this right for all of us. Earlier today the Secretary of State told us to trust the wisdom of the people. Well, there is no one I trust more with the future of Northern Ireland than the people of Northern Ireland, and the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain. I remind the House that people in Belfast South voted by 70%, on a 70% turnout, to stay in Europe. I hope that I am representing them and their views here today. With no answers—or, at the very best, foggy answers—about the border, our economy and protecting parity of esteem, my colleagues and I cannot vote to support the triggering of article 50.


holocaust-memorial-day-27-jan-2017This week Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.

Friday 27th January will mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

In the lead up to and on Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. The theme for this year’s commemorations is ‘How can life go on?’

After signing the Book of Commitment, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP commented:

“Holocaust Memorial Day is an important opportunity for people from South Belfast to reflect on the tragic events of the Holocaust. As the Holocaust moves from living history, to just history, it becomes ever more important that we take the time to remember the victims and also pay tribute to the survivors. I would encourage my constituents to show their support for such an important day.

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:

Our mission is to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance. We are very grateful to Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP for signing the Book of Commitment, signalling a continued commitment to remembering the victims of the Holocaust as well as challenging antisemitism, prejudice and bigotry in all its forms.