19/01/2018 Politics Europe


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19/01/2018

Jo Coburn with a monthly catch-up of European politics. She speaks to Mairead McGuinness, after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke in Strasbourg about Brexit.


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Now on BBC News,

it's Politics Europe.

0:00:000:00:03

Hello and welcome to politics

Europe, your regular guide to the

0:00:430:00:46

top stories in Brussels and

Strasbourg. Ensay's programme senior

0:00:460:00:50

figures in the EU say Britain can

always change its mind about Brexit.

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The UK government said it isn't

going to happen. So what is the EU

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playing at? Irish Prime Minister Leo

Varadkar throws his weight behind

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deeper EU integration after Brexit

and spells out his vision for the

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future of the block. We speak to one

of his key allies. And the EU gets

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tough on plastic but it shies away

from the plastics tax, so will its

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strategy work? All that to come, and

more in the next 30 minutes since

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joining me for all of it is Kate

Andrews of the London-based

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Institute of economic affairs and

Alex Barker, Brussels bureau chief

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of the Financial Times. Welcome.

First it is our guide to the latest

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from Europe in just 60 seconds. Big

news this week as the EU declared

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war on plastic. The commission's new

strategy aims to outlaw the use

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plastic by 2030 but there was no

mention of a previous tax. The

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Bulgarian Prime Minister has entered

his plan to presidency to MEPs in

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Strasbourg, if he is the first time

Bulgarian has joined the EU has

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taken charge of the rotating post.

The EU Council President Donald Tusk

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tweeted about Brexit, a harbour

still open for you. Let's face it,

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we have all sent a text like that

late at night. Jean-Claude Junker

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wondered if Brexit would be

reversed, using article 40 nine.

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Romania has a new Prime Minister.

The third in seven months. He will

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become the country's first female PM

if her nomination is approved. And

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after marathon talks, a breakthrough

German coalition negotiations at the

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Barton shall call the initial deal

an excellent result. We will see.

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But let's talk about Donald Tusk,

Jean-Claude Junker, in their minds,

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do they think Brexit is reversible

then?

Donald was definitely does,

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and he wants to make that clear to

the British public. I don't think he

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thinks it will happen but it is

important that he says it could

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happen.

Why? What is he getting at?

The ideal outcome of these is to

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Donald Tusk, I would say, is that

the UK to stay in the model that

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they built over 50 years to the

continent to co-operate so that

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quite happy for it to happen and

they see a small window where it

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could happen easily.

Between now and

October? Yes. What about Jean-Claude

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Junker are true? Is he talking about

the UK changing the Pyrmont once

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they have left and then rejoining?

He mentioned articles 49, the

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process that Moldova would be...

Indeed. And it is a pretty rough

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road. You are looking at except in

the euro, accept in things like not

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having a rebate, I don't think it is

necessarily the past that the

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British public would want to go

down.

What is your reaction hearing

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these two important people within

the EU, the commission president,

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saying that yes, our hearts are

still open and Council President,

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you can come back, or not sleep at

all?

A few things are going on and

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Alex is right that it isn't in their

interest to see the system they have

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built and have invested in so very

much to lose one of their most

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important members and so I think

there is still the sense that they

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don't want to give other countries

the assumption that it is an easy

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process and something they could do

but to the sweet talk, I think this

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is getting closer to when the

negotiations are really going to get

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nitty-gritty and both sides want to

be seen to play nice. It was a

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hardball game in the beginning but

now I think you want to paint

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yourself as if he were open-minded

to getting a deal because you don't,

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it will be catastrophic for many

countries involved.

As a sound as

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though they are not accepting the

decision by the Briton made with the

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referendum?

No, I don't think so,

certainly some people you could talk

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to in Brussels who think the idea of

reversing shouldn't happen and hope

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it doesn't. But if it came to it,

and the UK for whatever kind of

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circumstances and the changing its

mind, 27 would think what better

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validation for a project in the

country trying to live and then

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deciding it cannot, so I think the

road back would probably be quite

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smooth.

Also the person saying this

and where you are saying it from

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matters and the second referendum in

the UK, it could have pumped more

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political weight because politicians

in Westminster have been instructed

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by their people and the public to

carry forth something and when

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people from other countries to which

it has a slightly different angle,

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you can say they are not respecting

the result of the referendum are

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actually I think we should be

slightly more generous as they are

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saying we are here, let's get the

conversation going.

To do that. Leo

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Varadkar leather debate on the

future of Europe with MEPs in

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Strasbourg this week. That is the

future of calls without the UK. So

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were there any shots across the bow

regarding Brexit? Adam Fleming gives

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us his take on the Irish PM's

speech. The new year means new

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thinking and the European Parliament

is holding a series of debates about

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the future of the EU with EU

leaders. First up is the Taoiseach,

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Leo Varadkar. He went to the

Parliament with references to your's

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big figures past and present and

threw his support behind a pet

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project of many MEPs - European

white candidates for the

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parliamentary elections.

I support a

Europewide list of the European

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Parliament. I would like to get

people in cafes in Naples and

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restaurants in Galway talking about

the same election choices. Perhaps

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that is an ambitious idea but I

think it is one we should strive

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for.

The EU needed to be ambitious

too about security, cutting the cost

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of medicine, helping the rest of the

world.

But there were limits to

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integration. All future holds,

Europe needs to be competitive

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economically. And one of the ways to

ensure this is by allowing

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competition among member states. And

I think this is particularly

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important for peripheral and less

developed countries. Whose domestic

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market are small and need

investment. My strong view is that

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national taxes that fund national

budget should be determined by

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national parliament and government.

That led to raised eyebrows because

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Ireland is notorious for low rates

of corporation tax. And it has been

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taken to court over a deal with

apple.

As you would say that Ireland

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should be allowed to find ways to

make geographical advantage, I

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agree, but surely the alternative

cannot be between a one size fits

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all taxation system, but would work

through the central, big, core

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countries to the detriment of

everyone else and a no holds barred

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tax competition that we have right

now.

Of course, there was an

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enormous elephant in the room.

Brexit. As the negotiations move

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forward into phase two, we will

continue to rely on your support and

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solidarity as we work to ensure that

what has been promised in theory is

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delivered in practice. And there can

be no backsliding on this. So it is

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important that these commitments are

fully reflected in the legal text of

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the withdrawal agreement and firmly

embedded in the UK's future

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relationship with the EU, whatever

shape is ultimately takes. And from

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my part, I hope that the

relationship that exists between the

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UK and the EU is as close and as

deep as is possible.

But how closer

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relationship with the UK?

When you

think that nearly 50% of exports

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from Irish owned companies go to the

United Kingdom within agriculture in

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some sectors is as high as 90%, you

potentially have quite a lot to

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lose. And yet, and yet, despite the

fact that no one should be fighting

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hard for a genuine branded trade

deal they knew, that doesn't appear

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to be the case.

His name in the

visitors book, Leo Varadkar's

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Eurovision on the record. The other

leaders who have signed up to give

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fares include the Prime ministers of

Portugal and Croatia and the BD,

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President Macron of France, chew

here in April. Adam Fleming. I

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joined by the Irish MP Mairead

McGuinness. Welcome. The DUP MP

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Sammy Wilson said Leo Varadkar was

naive, arrogant and inexperienced

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for siding with the EU over the UK

and the Brexit negotiations. What do

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you say?

Indeed, he gives another

term which he apologised for later

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on, but I disagree with all of that

because I think the performance of

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the Teesside's speech which was

about the future of Europe, he was

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anything but, he was clear, focused

on and he didn't dodge the hard

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questions. You play the piece around

taxation, he was able to respond by

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saying the other member states who

perhaps have a prop to go for higher

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rate of tax but when it comes to

exemptions are actually collect less

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tax and the effective rate is lower

so he delved very comprehensively

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with a range of issues I'm not sure

how Mr Wilson came to the viewpoint

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but perhaps he had it anyway and

just felt he had to reflect it but I

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think the word has moved on from the

type of politics I would hope

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because what happened this week in

Strasbourg was very significant and

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hugely important for Europe. Leo

Varadkar was the first leader of the

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country of the EU 27 to put his case

forward and he had a set piece of a

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speech which was well-received but I

think more importantly his responses

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and the humanity of his responses

and in particular how he articulated

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to the special relationship between

the UK and Ireland where as he said

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his mother and father met in the UK,

fell in love, got married and indeed

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one of his sisters lives there and

her children are UK citizens but

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clearly, Irish as well, they have

that pirate go for possibility,

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though I think that many reasons his

speech was profound and their

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reaction has been positive.

Except

Samuelson was pointing to the fact

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that in his mind, Ireland was used

by the EU as a stick to beat the UK

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in phase one of the negotiations.

The issue of the Irish border was a

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red line during the first phase. And

for a moment it looked as though the

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EU was going to play hardball on it

but was the financial offer was

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made, upped by the UK government, it

seemed the EU settled the matter

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very quickly so were you really used

in the first phase?

Gosh, I think

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that is a very cynical and incorrect

interpretation of the work we all

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did going up to the end of last

year.

But it wasn't resolved, the

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Irish border issue wasn't resolved,

that was the point.

Well actually, I

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think you're wrong in that. What was

agreed is very clear that there will

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be no return to a heart border and,

look, I spent all his light with the

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Irish medical Organisation talking

about cross-border health

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collaboration post-Brexit. It is a

really serious issue not the

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politics but the people on the

ground. And when we come to look for

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the future, it is around issues like

healthcare, access to medicine,

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medical devices, which UK citizens

should be really concerned about

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because it has been quite

astonishing the number of

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pharmaceutical companies that have

been in my office in Brussels

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pleading with me to understand their

situation and they are worried about

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being able to continue if there is a

clean or rather, not clean is the

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wrong word, a severe deal and no

good relationship at the end of all

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of this process.

Right.

And if we

bear in mind the consequences of

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that, the politics has to work so

absolutely disagree with your

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interpretation. Except it wasn't

resolved. I must finish this point.

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Anyone who uses the border in island

politically acting correctly would

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certainly be no friend of Ireland

and we had enormous support in the

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European Parliament and elsewhere

around the border question because

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Europe is that this project.

Sure,

and I said there was a lot of

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support from the EU but it seemed to

dissolve in terms of it in issue and

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you see it has been dissolved, in

what way have the Irish border issue

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being resolved? Yes, there is a

guarantee of a heart border, let me

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finish the question, because the

questions about what will happen in

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terms of the trade deal and in terms

of public relations and customs are

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going to be looked at in the future.

Because in the draft agreement it

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says the UK will propose specific

solutions to address the unique

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circumstances of the island of

Ireland so it wasn't resolved, it

0:14:040:14:07

was kicked down the road.

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Well, I would interpret it very

differently and I would disagree,

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absolutely and vigorously

with your interpretation that once

0:14:120:14:14

the money was sorted

that the Irish question

0:14:150:14:17

was practically dismissed.

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I think that is an

appalling interpretation

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of what happened.

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The text of what is agreed,

the bottomline in the text

0:14:200:14:23

and we will not return

to a hard border on Ireland,

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arrangements will have to be made.

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We don't know how to trade

relationship talks will develop.

0:14:310:14:34

There is no transition

agreement reached yet,

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that is the next phase,

in order that there

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is none of that difficulty

around the border.

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If the United Kingdom continues

on the path of wanting divergence

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then the United Kingdom has

a problem in meeting its commitment

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which it made in the withdrawal

agreement which must be written

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into legal text.

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So you do want a written legal

text...

May I finish? I must go to

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my other guest as well, map one

Mack.

Briefly, you were right in

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saying that it is written and sealed

but the context and the support and

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the commitment is there.

Many people

would disagree with the A2 that it

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has been completely resolved. Alex,

do you think the issue has been

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resolved? In many peoples mind that

the UK and are on a collision

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course. Ireland's place in the

customs union and market.

Can it

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happen? There are all sorts of

contradictions in the paper. It must

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be read quite carefully. There is no

solution at the moment but they have

0:15:460:15:50

set out a framework of the steps we

need to go through in trying to find

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a solution. The parts that are

contradictory promises that the UK

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was making to itself about the

integrity of the UK. The parts that

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Ireland is interested in were

bilateral promises about what

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happens in the circumstances were

you cannot find a solution. There we

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have alignment, it will be in an

mortify.

Is whether battleline will

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be drawn because if these solutions

that have been written into this

0:16:200:16:24

agreement and even Kabul says we are

not at the final end point of

0:16:240:16:29

disagreement Patches Mairead says we

are not at the final point. -- Kabul

0:16:290:16:35

says.

Mairead says. Nobody has

agreed on the definition so it is

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impossible to know if it has been

agreed or in many peoples minds,

0:16:470:16:51

that is not what the term was meant

to be used for. The idea that there

0:16:510:16:55

would be no higher border means that

it has been sold, that is not the

0:16:550:16:59

case. Neither side wanted a hard

border. That is not new information.

0:16:590:17:04

I think it was also used as a

scaremongering tactic. That was

0:17:040:17:08

always ridiculous to think that the

issue could be solved.

Well,

0:17:080:17:16

Mairead, on that basis, if

everything related to the Irish

0:17:160:17:21

border was in full alignment, would

you agree to the UK diverging in

0:17:210:17:25

other areas?

It depends on what you

mean by divergences and there is

0:17:250:17:31

dispute about that. And what other

areas you are talking about. I

0:17:310:17:35

mentioned health. This has not been

discussed in the UK because there is

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a lack of awareness around

pharmaceuticals and the fact that

0:17:400:17:44

the European success story around

registration and control and

0:17:440:17:47

management of drugs and supply of

these things. If the UK were to

0:17:470:17:51

divert on those issues they would be

real problems. I think the UK, when

0:17:510:17:55

it looks at certain sectors and

perhaps all sectors will understand

0:17:550:17:59

better the divergences does not mean

something is improved. In fact it

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means it is much more difficult for

us to continue. Remember, we are

0:18:040:18:09

close neighbours. We do not want

divergences of the relationship, we

0:18:090:18:13

want that to be strong. We are in a

difficult position that the United

0:18:130:18:18

Kingdom decision is being respected

and with our E U colleagues and our

0:18:180:18:25

leadership said that the support of

our colleagues will be required as

0:18:250:18:28

we move into more difficult phases.

So we are a lot more to do?

There is

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an enormous amount. Work we did last

year was the toughest part. The

0:18:340:18:39

hardest stuff is yet to come. The

transition arrangement, I think

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politically in the UK this may be

problematic because after March

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2019, as I see it, the UK will leave

yet remain until 2020 were at that

0:18:500:18:55

point there will be the shape of the

new relationship. Last year was

0:18:550:18:59

passed, batten down the hatches,

this year will be far more

0:18:590:19:03

difficult.

Thank you for that happy

new Year message.

It is not

0:19:030:19:08

something that I want to say that

sometimes you do need to speak the

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truth.

This week, the European

Commission declared itself a leader

0:19:120:19:17

on the war on plastic by launching a

drive to clean up the plastic

0:19:170:19:22

choking oceans and filling landfill.

What is in their self described

0:19:220:19:26

holistic plastic strategy? The EU

wants to ensure that every piece of

0:19:260:19:30

packaging on the continent is

reusable or recyclable by 2030. That

0:19:300:19:34

is also the target for their aim of

recycling half of all plastic waste

0:19:340:19:39

generated in Europe. To do this,

£881,000 will be invested every year

0:19:390:19:45

until 2020 in the search to

modernise production and make

0:19:450:19:50

recycling processes more efficient.

The commission Vice President said

0:19:500:19:57

the strategy hopes to eliminate

nondegradable single use items such

0:19:570:20:00

as coffee cups, cutlery, stir is and

drinking straws. One commissioner

0:20:000:20:05

last week floated the idea of a tax

on single use plastic to fill Brexit

0:20:050:20:10

shaped holes in the EU budget after

2020. While the plastic strategy

0:20:100:20:17

does not commit to a plastic packs

it says it will explore the

0:20:170:20:21

feasibility of introducing measures

of a fiscal nature at the EU level.

0:20:210:20:27

I'm joined now by an environmental

lawyer. welcome.

Do you welcome this

0:20:270:20:31

strategy? It is a landmark moment in

tackling plastic pollution. What we

0:20:310:20:38

think is also that may be it did not

go far enough. Plastic is a

0:20:380:20:45

pollutant. It is a pollutant for the

environment and also for health.

0:20:450:20:50

Many people understood the

seriousness of the pollution of

0:20:500:20:55

plastic and what it has called for

the planet.

Everybody has watched

0:20:550:21:04

blue planet, it seems to think but

the visible aspect of the pollution.

0:21:040:21:13

How far should they have gone with

their strategy. What would you to

0:21:130:21:16

have been. They did quite well and

they did a good job to do today, it

0:21:160:21:24

is not tomorrow and they did promise

that something we are big or from

0:21:240:21:30

other sorts of plastic may need to

be banned. The commission promised

0:21:300:21:33

that micro- plastic will be banned

and also other sorts. That is good

0:21:330:21:37

news and we look forward to that. We

think that more could be done to

0:21:370:21:41

phase out single use plastic. We all

need to take responsibility for

0:21:410:21:44

single use plastic.

Less than £1

million a year or roundabout that

0:21:440:21:48

for improving the recyclability of

plastic. In the scheme of things it

0:21:480:21:52

is not that big a figure. Is this

virtue signalling or will it achieve

0:21:520:21:58

something?

Often they can be a level

of virtue signalling that given the

0:21:580:22:03

fact that comprehensive strategy is

to tackle recycling and make

0:22:030:22:06

recycling easier and plastic easier

to recycle, this is quite a good

0:22:060:22:10

step. I am happy that they have not

gone straight for attacks because

0:22:100:22:16

once that happens, people are going

to feel the brunt. What they are

0:22:160:22:20

doing is being practical. Likely,

and I don't know how soon, in our

0:22:200:22:25

future plastic will be phased out

anyway. To tackle it now and to look

0:22:250:22:30

at how to make it more easily

recyclable is a good thing.

Should

0:22:300:22:35

there be a Europe wide plastics tax

on single use items.

Tax has an

0:22:350:22:39

advantage. It is quite good. What

you need to understand with tax if

0:22:390:22:48

that it focuses on the consumer. We

all have to take responsibility for

0:22:480:22:52

plastic pollution. For example, if

you want to cook with some

0:22:520:23:00

courgette, you need to buy them free

by free and you need to buy them

0:23:000:23:06

wrapped in plastic. Why is that?

Supermarkets have a responsibility

0:23:060:23:11

on the tax will not impact that.

So

you do not promote the idea of

0:23:110:23:15

attacks at this stage?

I think it

can be useful but I think would be

0:23:150:23:19

better to at the industry.

One

commissioner thought it might feel

0:23:190:23:23

the whole, the money raised from a

plastic tax Europe wide could fill

0:23:230:23:29

the hole that Britain will leave

when it leaves -- leaves the EU.

The

0:23:290:23:34

commission... They are just

endlessly creative about trying to

0:23:340:23:41

find new ways to raise money and it

is normally knocked back by member

0:23:410:23:47

states. You pick on things that are

not popular, plastic, pollution,

0:23:470:23:52

bankers, foreigners... Ultimately,

something like plastic taxation, I

0:23:520:23:58

think it needs to be done

nationally. It is a political

0:23:580:24:02

sensitivity and it will work in some

countries but in others, no.

No, not

0:24:020:24:08

across the 27, or the 28. Briefly,

on the target that you mentioned,

0:24:080:24:14

Kate, is that achievable by 2030?

For all plastic to be recyclable?

I

0:24:140:24:21

don't know if it is achievable, I

don't know enough about the industry

0:24:210:24:24

to say so. We talk about going to

supermarkets. If you force them to

0:24:240:24:28

use something that will be more

expensive than plastic, that will

0:24:280:24:31

again be pushed to consumers. Doing

this at a national level was more

0:24:310:24:36

helpful because they can gauge what

the response will be. Much will

0:24:360:24:40

happen in the next ten years, in the

next decade and who knows?

If that

0:24:400:24:46

target achievable? The first step

would be to ban dangerous plastics

0:24:460:24:57

from Cannock -- dangerous chemicals

from plastic in order to make them

0:24:570:25:01

recyclable. That is the first step.

The commission is aware of that and

0:25:010:25:05

the strategy shows the quick action

is needed.

At this point do you

0:25:050:25:09

think the EU will push ahead all

drop the idea?

Sometimes

0:25:090:25:15

policymakers are leading the public

in an area. Here I think they have

0:25:150:25:20

teenage gap open in public opinion

and think they need to fill it.

0:25:200:25:24

China made an important decision

about not buying in foreign plastic

0:25:240:25:30

and taking the plastic we were

sending for recycling. That will

0:25:300:25:34

change things and in terms of policy

making they will need to move fast.

0:25:340:25:38

Thank you very much for coming in.

That is all for now. Thank you to my

0:25:380:25:43

guess.

0:25:430:25:48

Jo Coburn with a monthly catch-up of European politics. She speaks to vice president of the European Parliament and Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness, after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke in Strasbourg about Brexit.