Some Brexit insights from Ireland

Dr Anthony Coughlan, a leading supporter of  “Irexit” and long-term acquaintance of Edward Spalton, our Chairman, has recently forwarded some interesting insights into Brexit which come from a well-placed Irish friend of his.

“The editorial in today’s Irish Times and the article by Stephen Collins are saying – obliquely – what you … and others have been saying since the referendum, i.e. that the British and Irish Governments have to sit down and work out a post-Brexit border regime, which requires technical and pragmatic solutions according to Michel Barnier.

Indeed it does, but the European Commission was not saying that at first. It is doing so now, I suspect, because the continental Member States are getting fed up with the Irish Government and the European Commission, along with British Remainers, attempting to use the border to scupper Brexit. The Continentals just want the thing sorted.”

This is one glimmer of light in what has not been a happy time for negotiators as far as the Irish border issue has been concerned. Barnier’s “backstop” proposal of keeping Northern Ireland in the Customs Union was greeted with widespread anger among Unionists in Northern Ireland. It does not bring the issue any closer to resolution but does suggest that, not withstanding public shows of solidarity by the other 26 EU member states, the Irish government will not garner much support for being deliberately obstructive over the search for a resolution to the border issue.

On a less encouraging note, however, Dr Coughlan’s friend goes on to say:-

I suspect, incidentally, that if the West attacks Syria the British Government might use it as an opportunity to “suspend” Brexit. I have little doubt that the British Foreign Office is working up something along those lines to present to Theresa May. If there is a really serious war, i.e. WW3, it won’t matter, but a shooting war that is something less than WW3 would suit the Remainers down to the ground.

The latter are well capable of urging an attack on Syria for that purpose. I hope the Brexit community in the UK is alive to this possibility, particularly Tory MPs, some of whom might otherwise be expected to be gung-ho for war over Syria.”

Since Dr Coughlan sent us his friend’s comments,  a military force including the USA, the UK and France has bombed Syria. The first polls taken after this action suggests that there is strong opposition from the UK public to these actions, with supporters outnumbered by two to one. Furthermore, Mrs May faces strong opposition from Parliament, annoyed at not being given a vote. So while an escalation of the conflict may be in the remainiacs’ interests, it does not look particularly likely at the moment.

Even so, this bunch of bad losers needs careful monitoring. A meeting of remoaners took place yesterday (Sunday 15th April ) in London, with the hope of launching a major drive to stop Brexit. Our friends from Leavers from London turned out in some force with a counter-demonstration, holding placards yet being polite and friendly.

It remains our opinion that a badly- executed Brexit remains a far greater concern than the activities of disgruntled, incorrigible remoaners,  but they must not be underestimated.

An Irish view on the current state of Brexit

By Anthony Coughlan


Dear British Friends,

May I send you for your information a consensus assessment on the current EU/UK negotiations by a group of Irish lawyers and economists who are sympathetic to Brexit that has been convened by the undersigned.

We can now begin to see the outline of what might happen in the UK/EU negotiations. We see events unfolding broadly as follows:-

(a) The UK and the EU reach an agreement (including about the divorce bill) that gives the UK access to the single market while allowing the UK to leave the customs union and the jurisdiction of the ECJ and to control its borders regarding free movement of people… NO CHANCE.

(b) The talks break down and are abandoned with the UK and the EU going their separate ways next March … UNLIKELY

(c) Agreement is reached at a Heads of Government summit in early 2019 that meets the UK’s basic requirements, including about the divorce bill and access to the single market but involves free movement of people continuing in practice if not in theory … UNLIKELY

(d) The House of  Commons overrules the Brexit vote and the UK abandons Brexit … UNLIKELY BUT POSSIBLE 

(e) – (1) Following the refusal  of the House of  Commons to overturn the Brexit vote, there is a second summit in Brussels and agreement is reached broadly along the lines of (c )… UNLIKELY

(e) – (2) Following the refusal of  the House of Commons to overturn the Brexit vote, the UK accepts tough terms in a  bitter summit that restores the UK’s independence but on economic terms that are difficult and that will require the British to dig deep to swallow …. LIKELY

We do not believe that (c) will be the outcome as the EU is banking on (d), as is Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Irish Establishment generally, so it would be irrational of them to make any concessions ahead of (e) night.

It is not in the interest of the EU Commission negotiating team to concede anything until (d) is tested to destruction in the House of Commons and elsewhere.  If (d) is indeed the outcome it will be a great victory for the Euro-federalists/career federalists but the political situation in Britain will become highly unstable.

Scenario (d) has become more likely as Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues have sniffed the possibility that Labour might get into office following a general election if Mrs May’s Government can be defeated on Brexit in the House of Commons

The Remainer interest in the UK is increasingly determined to reverse Brexit. Tony Blair’s involvement was to be expected but one would have expected John Major,  as someone who said “No” to the euro, to support an agreed UK position based on the democratic decision of the British people in the 2016 referendum.  One would have expected him to recognize that the EU is not as strong as it believes itself, and portrays itself, to be and that a united United Kingdom could secure an adequate deal. However, for whatever reason (perhaps City pressure) he has joined the Remainer interest.

Clearly, behind the scenes, the British Establishment, notably the City but also the media, has been bringing very, very heavy pressure to bear on decision-makers to abandon Brexit. The British Government is reluctant to have a second referendum – such a proposal might get through Parliament but would split the Tory party probably permanently, but that is less important to the Remainer interest than reversing Brexit.

They are reluctant not only because they might lose a second referendum but because it would put Britain into the same category as Ireland so far as EU bullying is concerned.

Their second option would be a general election but that could  return Corbyn. So every effort will be made to reverse Brexit through the House of Commons. That makes Corbyn the pivotal figure in the coming period. It is also the reason why in Ireland Sinn Féin is coming under pressure from the Irish Establishment to reverse its abstentionist policy and attend at Westminster and vote against Mrs May and the DUP on Brexit.

UK democrats who accept the British people’s referendum vote need to know who the key players are in the drive to reverse Brexit. They are the European Commission, the Irish Government and Establishment, and the British Remainers.

The Commission opposes Brexit because it could well mean the end of the … EU Commission. The Irish Government and Establishment oppose it because it throws into sharp relief the decision of the Irish State to reject two solemn constitutional referenda on EU issues and Irish policy at present is being made entirely by career federalists.  And the British Remainers oppose Brexit because some of them have lost their nerve while others have contempt for democracy.

Brexiteers  need to be clear and blunt about who is trying to reverse Brexit and why. It may get rough and nasty but they have no other choice. They need to ask why people like John Major have failed to see how weak the EU is and why some Remainers, who are democrats but who have lost their nerve, have failed to see that, other than the three groups trying to reverse Brexit, the rest of the EU – namely the Governments of the Member States apart than Ireland and the media and opinion formers in those Member States – have accepted Brexit and would be quite happy to see a reasonable deal being done.

It is our view that it will only be after D-Day has passed next March and Brexit has legally proceeded – unless is has been reversed by the House of Common before then – that a  UK/EU deal will be done.

At some point, the Member States on the Continent are bound to call time on the Ireland issue, whose significance has been grossly exaggerated. Their embassies in Dublin will be telling them that North/South trade within Ireland is tiny by comparison with Republic/British trade and minute in comparison with EU trade as a whole.

Their Dublin embassies will also be telling them that the UK’s proposal to treat most Irish cross-border North-South trade, which is small and local, as something essentially to be finessed by trusted-trader and associated arrangements, makes every sense.

Their embassies will also be telling them that the British and Irish Governments should do a deal on cross-border trade so that it is taken off the table as a problem. Such a deal could be done.

Their embassies will be telling them that the Northern Ireland is, increasingly obviously, being used in an attempt to reverse Brexit and that the Continental Member States should not stand for that any longer.

All the weeping and gnashing of teeth by the Irish Establishment about how incompetent the British supposedly are in the negotiations is just another way of saying, as Peter Sutherland said the day after the UK referendum, that Brexit must be overturned.

The Irish Establishment is so saturated in europhilia that it refuses  to face up to the fact that the  Republic and its people would be much better off if they left the EU along with the UK  – thereby  instantly removing any North-South Border problems.  While numerous studies have been commissioned on the bad effects of Brexit on Ireland if the UK leaves the EU while the Republic remains in it, it is a startling fact that not a single study has been made of the pros and cons of the Republic leaving the EU alongside the UK, apart from that mentioned below.

What matters now is that Brexit goes ahead legally next March, and not the detailed terms for the post-Brexit period, which will be open to evolution anyway.  One might recall the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which was regarded as quite limited at the time but which the Irish Free State built on and went on to establish complete Irish independence.

Once the UK is out of the EU, trade will continue as traders like to trade, have always traded and always will. Far too much emphasis is being placed on the details of the post-Brexit trade agreement because that is what bureaucrats and journalists know about. They know very little about trade.

Although the EU is much weaker as an entity than most people believe it to be , or portray it as –  a weakness which the European Commission has been exploiting in the negotiations so far – the Continental Member States  are more than strong enough collectively to assert themselves and overrule the Commission/Irish Government Axis that has been running the show, on the EU side, since the negotiations began – if and when they come to a realization that THEIR interests require them to do that.

N.B.  The group of Irish lawyers and economists who are responsible for this statement produced a Private Study Paper last year, “Why Brexit should be accompanied by Irexit (Ireland Exit)”, drafted by the undersigned, which is available on request at a cost of £10/€15.

Anthony Coughlan


(Associate Professor Emeritus in Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin)

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

Irexit – no longer totally pie-in-the sky

Professor Anthony Coughlan, the veteran Irish pro-withdrawalist, was invited to make a submission to the Irish Senate’s Special Select Committee on Brexit on 1st June.

Professor Coughlan explained that, in his opinion, the most rational and sensible course for the Irish Government to follow in relation to Brexit is that it should activate the East-West strand of the Good Friday Agreement to concert a joint approach with the UK Government aimed at  Ireland leaving the European Union at or around the same time as the UK and that it should work towards an Ireland/UK agreement and an Ireland/EU agreement oriented to that end.

He also made the point that there are no significant advantages for the Irish republic remaining in the EU when the UK leaves, but rather major disadvantages. He also addressed the implications of Brexit on the border with Northern Ireland and claimed that, in his view, prospects for the eventual reunification of the island of Ireland* would be greatly diminished if Ireland remains in the EU.

Professor Coughlan expects that support for Irexit is likely to grow in the coming two years. Mind you, he may revise his opinion if Brexit goes badly!  We pointed out a couple of months ago that he is no longer the lone voice he appeared to be a few years back. The Irish Republic, formerly a net recipient of EU funding, is now a net donor, while its trade with the UK was the main reason for it joining the EEC together with us in 1973. The EU, in other words, is no longer so attractive as it once was.

The submission can be downloaded here and the second annex (which is longer than the submission)  can be downloaded here.

* It should be pointed out that support for Irish reunification is not confined to Sinn Féin and hard line Republicans. In 1999, the former Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland were replaced Article 3.1 which “recognises that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island” – in other words, an united Ireland still remains a legitimate aspiration for many peace-loving Irishmen, even if we may disagree with them on this, – unless, of course, it was in the context of an application by the Irish Republic to re-join the UK!