( A twenty-minute read)
This post is a follow on from my open letter to Mrs A Foster leader of the DUP.
No other country is going to feel the fallout from the UK’s vote to leave the European Union more than Ireland.
Every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland and Ireland will be affected by the outcome — jobs, the economy, the border, the rights of EU citizens, the rights of cross-border workers, research funding … trade, agriculture, energy, fisheries, aviation, EU funding, tourism, public services, the list goes on.
The border was first set up in 1921 following the Irish War of Independence. Customs controls were brought in three years later with a heavy military presence which remained pretty consistent for the next 70 years. It wasn’t until about 2005 until all the remaining controls were removed with a shared control of the British & Irish border between the two countries.
The question is how Ireland’s politicians and executives, react to what could be a foreign-policy crisis that eclipses the nation’s banking collapse and bailout.
It’s hard to prepare detailed plans before the exact nature of the UK’s new relationship with the EU becomes clear, BUT THE MOST OBVIOUS ISSUE is the 310-mile border between the north and the republic.
The Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian conflict, had no position on the vote.
The unfortunate reality is that Ireland remains at the mercy of the unfolding drama in its closest neighbor and the rest of the EU that will require Ireland to establish a hard border to protect the integrity of the Internal Market and the Customs Union irrelevant of the danger of a return to civil strife on the island.
“The consequences are mind-boggling.”
If this circle cannot be squared the Uk it will exit the EU without a deal. This will be the ‘ hardest’ of the ‘hard Brexit’ possibilities. A hard Brexit typically entails defaulting to World Trade Organisation rules, involving a very significant deterioration in trade relationship between the UK and the EU, and therefore between Ireland and Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.
Either the British deny the unionist community in Northern Ireland a veto, or the EU and the Irish government accept a land border on the island of Ireland.
A hard border would reintroduce that sense of divide again between the north and south which was nearing the point of becoming a thing of the past.
Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU Referendum by a majority of 56% to 44%. Overall, 440,437 people in Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU and 349,442 to Leave. Out of 18 constituencies, 11 voted to stay in the European Union.
Arlene Foster said that as a leader of unionism, she felt it was the right decision. “We are now entering a new era of an even stronger United Kingdom. ” Affirmation that she is void of any comprehension of what a majority means. The reality is that the people of the north of Ireland overwhelmingly voted in favor of Remain – both republican and unionist, Catholic and Protestant and those of no faith background.
From start to finish, she along with Conservative Brexiters have shown that they simply could not care less about Ireland.
In the referendum campaign, few gave even a passing thought to the impact of a leave vote on the relationship between Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and the republic. When the vote went their way – though they lost in Northern Ireland – the Brexiters then gave bland assurances that the decision would make absolutely no difference to the island’s soft border, the legacy of the peace process, or north-south and east-west cooperation.
This was and is nonsense.
Brexit is not occurring in a vacuum, bad blood engendered if the UK leaves the EU without a deal it will spill over into other areas.
Given the political debacle that’s being made of Brexit by a dysfunctional UK administration, opinion polls in Ireland reflect no enthusiasm for Ireland to join them in leaving the EU, short or long-term, and it is highly unlikely that the North will join the South.
Northern Ireland is not the only stumbling block in the negotiations of course.
There’s no going back to a condition of servile dependency.
I don’t want to be misinterpreted as not caring about threats to peace, but even if one solved the Irish Border problem by having Northern Ireland stay within the Customs Union and Single Market, the huge problem of access to the GB export market would remain, as would the disruption to hassle-free trade with Continental Europe.
There are other scenarios:
- the UK decides to leave the land border permeable and instead enforce border controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, effectively treating Ulster as some kind of lower-status buffer zone which EU residents can enter without (effective) restriction. Likely to be singularly unpopular with Ulster Unionists.
- The UK releases Northern Ireland as an independent or quasi-independent country, long the preferred option for saloon bar racists of the home counties (with or without the “tow the whole lot out into the middle of the Atlantic” option).
- Moving the international frontier into the Irish Sea between Britian and the island of Ireland. This proposal is anathema to both Northern unionists and the British Conservative party as it affects the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the Conservative government is dependent on the parliamentary support of Northern unionist parliamentarians for retaining its majority – giving it strong reason not to upset this part of its coalition which it bought at the cost of a billion.
- A so-called invisible border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland simply would not work. Camera recognition technology and preregistered cargo — will not be effective on a border that passes the front door and back doors of houses.
- The border has always had a modest amount of smuggling as local tax differentials lead to imbalances, but with full-on export tariffs there would be a very substantial motivation for routing goods from the UK mainland to the continent via Stranraer-Larne and Rosslare-Le Havre on an industrial scale. So there would at the very least be a need for border guards on or close to road border crossings to channel goods vehicles into customs clearance facilities. Assuming the UK were to apply the same tariffs on imports, then the same would also apply in reverse.For Ireland, the issue of preventing Bad Foreign People from entering via its unsecured border is less important (indeed, the need to allow people to maintain existing social and economic links across the border is very important, bearing in mind that a very substantial proportion of the population of the north are Irish citizens)I don’t think the 450 million or so remaining in the EU are going to allow this to happen and be dictated to by Britain. I also don’t think the British people appreciate how ‘locked in’ Britain is to international supply chains for all types of goods and services. However, businesses will adapt to the new arrangements, whatever they might be. The usual capitalist combination of greed and stupidity will prevail – Ireland has no option but to stick to its guns.
Theresa May can hope for no more than an “aspirational” and “purely political” agreement on free trade before Britain leaves the European Union.
“Political agreements, with highfalutin aspirational guff are one thing. Legally binding agreements, treaty changes and trade deal texts are another.
As with all things Brexit the only answer at the moment is we have no idea.
And this is a scary prospect.
It’s due to the EU and the UK and Ireland being part of this greater whole that the IRA and Ulster Unionists have largely given up their dumb assery.
While overt attacks have stopped, the animosity between the two sides persists to this day in some parts of both countries.
If we are to avoid “an enormous tragedy”
There can be no compromise to unblock any negotiations unless the rights of Europeans who will live in the UK after Brexit, the border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland and the never never payments are resolved.
No man has the right to fix a boundary to the march of a nation. No man has the right to say to his country: Thus far shalt thou go and no further.”
No Westminster politician can set a boundary on Ireland.
We can only hope that Theresa May government falls, resulting in a general election, with EU requesting a re vote.
All human comments appreciated. All like clicks chucked in the bin.