The border which nobody wants

Ar first glance, it seems utterly bizarre. We don’t want to build a hard border fence between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and neither do the Irish or the EU. No one wants it but it may nonetheless have to be erected.

The reasons lie with the UK’s change in status. If it leaves not only the EU but also the European Economic Area, it becomes a Third Country. The EU does not permit goods to be transferred across its borders without the necessary customs clearance and the fact that we are going to maintain regulatory convergence with the EU up to Brexit day makes not one iota of difference.

But couldn’t we just agree to treat Ireland differently? In this instance, the rules of the World Trade Organisation wouldn’t allow it. Discrimination in trading arrangements that favour one country over another without any formal trade deal is not permitted – and we can’t strike a bilateral trade deal with the Irish Republic as it has no freedom to negotiate such deals, being a member of the EU. After all, this desire to regain control of trade policy was one of the reasons why we voted to leave.

So it is no surprise that Mrs May came away empty handed from her meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday. It is hard to read between the lines and fathom out what really went on. Did she really consider a deal which would have seen Northern Ireland end up with separate trading arrangements from the rest of the UK?  Such an arrangement would compromise the constitutional integrity of the UK and thus was never going to be acceptable to the Unionist community in the Province. “Northern Ireland must leave the European Union on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom,” insisted Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

On the other hand, the Dublin government insists that EU regulations on issues such as food safety and animal welfare must be maintained in Northern Ireland, to avoid damaging cross-border trade once Britain leaves the EU’s single market and customs union.  However, to repeat, mutual recognition of standards cannot be agreed without a formal trade arrangement and that isn’t going to be on the table any time soon.

Parliament’s Exiting the European Union Committee published a report which  was decidedly pessimistic about the  prospects of a deal given Mrs May’s insistence that we will be leaving the Single Market. “The Committee does not see how it will be possible to reconcile there being no border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with the Government’s policy of leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union.”

Quite why the Customs Union has to be dragged into this debate is anyone’s guess. There are seamless borders between non-EU Norway and EU member states Sweden and Finland. This is everything to do with the Single Market but nothing at all to do with the Customs Union, of which Norway is not part.

There can be no doubt about the concern felt in the Irish Republic about the prospect of “no deal”. Comparing the UK to EU-27 as a whole, our country could well end up facing the greater problems in the short term. Some individual countries would not suffer that badly either. Germany, for example, would soon shrug off any decline in trade with one of its major export markets and find others. For the Irish Republic, however, the effect of “no deal” would be devastating. We are the second largest importer of Irish goods and services after the USA, receiving 13% of total Irish exports. We are also the biggest exporter to Ireland, with a 24% share of Irish imports.

Given these figures, you would expect the Irish government to be among the most dovish of EU27. Unfortunately, according to Anthony Coughlan, this is far from being the case. In an e-mail to Edward Spalton, our Chairman, he wrote:

The members of the political Establishment in the Republic of Ireland, dominated as they are by career Euro-federalists, hope fervently that the whole Brexit project can be aborted or made effectively meaningless by doing everything they can to obstruct the EU/UK negotiations and by interacting privately with those cross-party interests that are seeking to test Brexit to destruction in Parliament. Irish policy-makers are doing everything they can these days to encourage this end, egged on by the Brussels people –  while not saying so publicly of course.”

He went on to claim that there was some collusion between Irish Euro-federalists and UK remainiacs: “I have not the least doubt that  key Irish/EU grandees such as Peter Sutherland, John Bruton, Pat Cox  and Alan Dukes are interacting at present with the likes of  Peter Mandelson, Keir Starmer, Tom Tugendhat et al to do all they can to frustrate Brexit in Parliament and that they are being encouraged by Messrs Barnier, Juncker and the Brussels people to do this, with the full support of the Irish Government and Opposition behind the scenes.”

Some eagle-eyed readers will remember that Peter Sutherland, a former European Commissioner, was the person who told the House of Lords that the EU should do its best to undermine the ethnic homogeneity of individual nations by increasing mass immigration. Anyone in this country who is formally associated with this contemptible individual is truly beyond the pale.

Given these serious allegations of troublemaking by Irish politicians, it is unsurprising that Mrs May has been sent a letter signed by a number of Tory MPs, economists and business leaders urging her to take a tough line with the EU, insist on a trade deal and walk away if the EU will not play ball. Add into this potent brew the firm and perfectly understandable stance of the DUP that every part of the UK must leave the EU on the same terms and it is unsurprising that David Davis has found himself having to work hard to find a solution to the impasse. His latest suggestion is that that the whole of the UK, and not just Northern Ireland, should retain regulatory “alignment” – not “convergence”  -with the EU.

Even before any discussion has taken place on what this actually means, however, an un-named EU official has effectively torpedoed the whole idea:-  “The UK will not have any say on the decisions taken in Brussels and will basically implement them without having any influence over them… it makes the UK kind of a regulatory ‘protectorate” of Brussels.‘” Any suggestion that such an abject surrender would be acceptable to the signatories of the letter to Mrs May – or the DUP for that matter – is plainly ridiculous.

It isn’t easy to separate the wood from the trees in the current flurry of activity, but it is looking highly unlikely that the Brexit negotiations will be moving on to the next stage (i.e., trade talks) after the critical European Council meeting later this month. The deadlock over the Irish border issue is raising the stakes higher by the day and it would be a brave man who would place any money on what the eventual outcome is likely to be.

Photo by Michael 1952

Brexit – the Irish angle

Nigel Dodds, the Deputy  leader of the Democratic Unionist Party who leads the party’s MPs in Westminster, responded  to the recent Queen’s Speech by saying, “Let me make it very clear – I believe when people voted in the European Union referendum to leave the European Union that they voted to leave the single market and customs union. And I believe that Northern Ireland must, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, do likewise.” He added, “We must not get into a situation where we have borders erected between the island of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”

The status of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic – the only land border between a newly-independent UK and the EU – is  one of three issues which the EU wants to settle before trade talks can begin. Professor Anthony Coughlan, the veteran Irish Anti-EU campaigner, has proposed that the best way of resolving this problem is Irexit – in other words, the Republic of Ireland should leave the EU as well. He argues that is is logically the best thing to do, even though it is “unpalatable” for many in the Republic.  “If one quarter of the Irish people and one fifth of Ireland’s land area are going to leave the EU because they are part of the UK, has the rest of the country any real alternative but to follow, however reluctantly?” he asks.

It is the Republic, not the UK, which will be the big loser from Brexit if it stays in the EU, he argues. “Dublin and London want to maintain the common Anglo-Irish free travel and trade area. But if the Republic opts to stay in the EU when Northern Ireland and Britain leave it, it is the Republic of Ireland, not Britain, that will be putting the common area at risk. London has Dublin over the proverbial barrel on this.  It can bend Dublin to its will if it so wishes.  There is no international law or moral right to a free-movement facility like this between two different sovereign States.”

He also highlights the problems caused by the EU’s desire for closer military integration, a subject which Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, highlighted as a priority three days ago.  “If the Republic remains in the EU when the UK leaves, it means that it will become part of an EU military bloc under German hegemony.  That can hardly be in the security interests of the UK.

As an aside, it is interesting that Professor Coughlan, looking at our current situation from across the Irish Sea, takes a far more measured approach than some of the ridiculous headlines we have seen in the press recently. “The fundamental point to grasp about the post-UK-general-election situation is that Brexit is going to happen, whether under Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn or someone else. The UK is going to cease being an EU Member State.  The only issue still open is how long this will take.” Absolutely. What is more, a recent communication from the European Council on the subject of relocating the EU agencies currently based in the UK (the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA)) says the same thing:- “As the United Kingdom has notified the European Council under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union of its intention to leave the Union, it is necessary to move the two United Kingdom-based Agencies to other locations within the Union’s territory.” Whatever the rhetoric, the EU is gearing up for Brexit.

Yes, we are going to leave, even if the timescale and route of our exit are still uncertain. As far as the impact of Brexit on the Irish Republic is concerned, the next few years will be very interesting. The country has recovered from the Great Recession better than the other so-called “PIIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain). Unemployment stood at 6.4% and youth unemployment at 12% in April, compared with more than 20% and 45% respectively for Greece. Furthermore, the Irish housing market, which took a battering in the Recession, has recovered. Nonetheless, the country is one of few in the Eurozone which may return to deflation. Given that the €uro has been the  culprit for all of Ireland’s recent economic woes, the chance to escape its straitjacket may become more appealing as Brexit draws nearer.

 

 

Why Brexit should be followed by Irexit

By Anthony Coughlan

The Republic of Ireland joined the then European Economic Community in 1973 primarily because Britain and Northern Ireland did so. Now a group of Irish economists and lawyers of which I was rapporteur have produced a report advocating that Brexit should be accompanied by “Irexit” (Ireland Exit), for a number of decisive reasons.

If the UK leaves the EU customs union while the Republic stays in the EU, the North-South border within Ireland will become an EU land frontier, with customs controls being inevitable and possibly passport controls too. EU-based laws and standards, for example in relation to crime and justice, will prevail in the South and UK-based ones in the North. The only way for the Republic’s politicians to avoid adding new dimensions to the North-South border within Ireland is therefore for them to leave the EU along with the UK.

Since 2014, the Republic has become a net contributor to the EU Budget. This is a big change from the previous 40 years, during which it was a major recipient of EU money, mainly through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. In future, money from Brussels will be Irish taxpayers’ money recycled, as is already the case with the UK. This removes what up to now has been the principal basis of Irish Europhilia, official and unofficial – namely, easy EU cash, not any ideological enthusiasm for Eurofederalism or “the EU project”.

If the Republic seeks to remain in the EU when the UK leaves, it will henceforth have to pay more to the EU Budget as its proportionate contribution to help compensate for the loss of Britain’s contribution. On the other hand, a bonus for Ireland of leaving the EU along with the UK is that it would get its sea-fisheries back – the value of annual fish-catches by foreign boats in Irish waters being a several-times multiple of whatever money Ireland has got from the EU over the years.

As regards trade and investment, the Republic sends 61 per cent by value of its goods exports and 66 per cent of its services exports to countries that are outside the continental EU26, mostly English-speaking. It gets two-thirds of its imports from English-speaking countries. The USA is the most important market for the Republic’s foreign-owned firms and the UK for its Irish-owned ones – the latter being particularly important for employment. These two markets together are comparable in importance to that of the EU26 post-Brexit. Taking other English-speaking markets into account makes the English-speaking world much more important for the Republic than the EU minus Britain. This is also so for foreign investors coming to Ireland. Economically and psychologically, Ireland is closer to Boston than Berlin, and to Britain than Germany.

It is not of course a question of the Republic having to choose between one export market and another if it should decide to leave the EU along with the UK. If common sense prevails in the negotiations, there should be continuing free trade between the UK, Ireland and the EU in the context of Brexit and Irexit occurring simultaneously.

Without Britain as an ally beside her in the EU Council of Ministers, the Republic will be in a much weaker position to defend its low rate of company profits tax, which is the principal incentive that it uses to attract foreign capital investment to the country. Germany and the Brussels Commission are already gunning for this. It would also be in a weaker position to defend its fishery interests, its trade interests, its distinctive Anglo-Saxon-based traditions in the area of law and justice, which the EU aims to harmonise, and its military neutrality.

The main argument for the Republic staying in the EU when the UK leaves is the negative one that it is a member of the Eurozone while the UK is not. When the euro was established in 1999, Dublin’s ultra-europhile politicians were so foolish as to adopt the currency of an area with which Ireland does only one-third of its trade. They thought at the time that the UK would be bound to adopt the euro-currency too, and that Dublin would show how “communautaire” it was by going first! The Republic now desperately needs to get its own currency back so that it can devalue it along with sterling and the dollar, and not be stuck with an implicitly overvalued euro that is now crucifying its exports.

That is why Dublin should aim to leave the Eurozone in a planned, concerted manner, negotiating its departure with Germany, the ECB, the UK and the Bank of England in private behind the scenes as part of its move to leave the EU along with the UK, rather than be forced to abandon the euro anyhow in the next Eurozone financial crisis.

The EU plans closer military cooperation when the UK leaves. From Britain’s point of view, can it be be happy with the thought of the Republic participating in EU security and defence policy and implementing ever-closer integation with an EU/Eurozone that is likely to come under greater German hegemony following Brexit?

Germany, like the other 27 EU States, will seek to prevent Brexit if it can but, if it is unable to thwart it, it will accept it, as will the others. This and other considerations may possibly encourage Germany to support Irexit alongside Brexit if that should become Irish Government policy. Germany could more easily aspire to greater hegemony over the continental EU Member States if Ireland as well as Britain cease to be EU members. This should appeal to influential sections of Germany’s current political elite.

It is only since Theresa May’s speech in January that Ireland’s ultra-europhile political Establishment is beginning to realise that Brexit really does mean Brexit, and the case for it being accompanied by Irexit is starting to be heard in Irish business circles. Irish public opinion is in advance of élite opinion on this. An opinion poll last October showed that almost four in ten Irish people would choose open borders and free trade with the UK over the EU. This was before there was any realisation of the hugely adverse effects on the Republic if it is so foolish as to seek to remain in the EU when Britain and Northern Ireland leave it.

That realisation is now growing in Ireland. Both public and élite opinion is likely to move in the direction of Irexit over the coming two years, and UK policy-makers should do all they can to encourage it.

This article originally appeared on the Conservative Home website.