Time for the Irish government to lay out their ideas on a “special status” for Northern Ireland

The chronic weaknesses of both governments hardly assists clear thinking over Brexit. On the other hand there seems to be a general willingness to minimise the damage e.g. over a hard border and trade.

Whoever is the new British PM we cannot expect much departure from Theresa Villiers’s minimalist approach to coordination with the Republic. On the other hand the British-Irish relationship and the North-South bodies are adequate in themselves without the minor splash of an all-Ireland forum at this stage.

Even though the fragile Irish government may be approaching a new crisis over the position of the Taoiseach, Irish planning for Brexit seems ahead of the British.

The Irish Times reports that Irish Brexit plans will “ move up a gear” in the coming weeks, “outlining the need to protect Northern Ireland peace process through recognising the special status of the North- South relationship in all of these talks. This may be the precursor to a bid for special arrangements in any future UK- EU treaty”

There are economic factors too;  a likely increase in competition for FDI between London and Dublin, lower corporation tax in GB, a lower level of sterling which hits Irish competitiveness, and the impact of potential  British recession on trade with Ireland and therefore Irish prosperity.

If it’s about  more than rhetoric, while there may be some diplomatic hesitation in Dublin over spelling out what these special arrangements   might be, they can hardly wait until a new British government is formed and settled after 5 September.

It is surely time now to start laying ideas out on the table in a forum which all parties  including the DUP will respect. Another reason  to avoid undue delay is to minimise the trend to split within the NI Executive  when Sinn Fein ministers talk to southern counterparts and DUP ministers insist on following a purely British route which has not  emerged and will not, for at least a couple of months.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Nevin

    Brian, Rathlin’s possible secession is the big story.

  • Roger

    “surely time”….when the UK hasn’t yet submitted an art. 50 notice or indicated what sort of out it wants….Ireland would look pretty silly making plans in that context.

  • cu chulainn

    I think the real problem is that Britain hasn’t a clue in which way to go, so it is hard to put forward proposals to reduce the damage.

    The basic principles though are
    – cross border trade in Ireland should not involve any additional hassle or paperwork whatsoever for all class of products.
    – new cross border arrangements are needed for any practical measures that were formerly the domain of the EU, it is ridiculous that things like mobile phone roaming weren’t dealt with on this island without the EU anyway.
    – all persons legally in the ROI can visit NI without visas etc (not work there directly, but can work on behalf of their ROI employer without hassle)
    – NI companies can continue to bid on an equal basis for public tenders in the south and vice versa.

  • Roger

    Do you mean continued access to the single market? That’s what it sounded like to me.

  • Obelisk

    I’m not certain how to respond. Surely the southern government should make plans to deal with what is coming? That is prudent after all.

    I don’t think anyone is going to mock the Republic for working on it’s response to the biggest geopolitical shift of recent years.

  • Roger

    By southern, I presume you mean Irish. They should certainly make plans of their own. Promote FDI into Ireland etc. But, obviously, they can’t know what the UK wants at this point. They can hardly start negotiating an arrangement for UKNI like Mr Walker suggested. They’d need to know what the UK wishes before they could say anything useful about arrangements for UKNI.

  • cu chulainn

    Yes, but the the all products is important. The British will want access to the Single Market but may be tempted to exclude agriculture. This could easily create a strong incentive to smuggle pigs or whatever with consequent difficulties for traceability etc.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    As a continuing EU member in good standing with Brussels how unfettered is Dublin in making plans for a post-Brexit relationship with what will be a non-EU member* state?

    *apolgies to nationalist readers who subscribe to the fiction that NI is not in actual fact part of the U.K.

  • Obelisk

    Dublin clearly has plenty of freedom, it’s a sovereign state that understands that when you join large international organizations there are some instances where sovereignty must be pooled in order to reap the benefits of that organization. Needless to say, I am sure the EU will be sensitive to the specific requests Dublin makes to ‘secure the peace’.

    Of course some nations find any sharing of sovereignty objectionable. I look forward to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from NATO on the grounds it hampers their military sovereignty.

    As for your apology, I accept it. I don’t subscribe to that particular fiction that the North is not presently a part of the United Kingdom. I can hardly argue to leave somewhere if I am not presently there after all. Although if you could inform some of the senior leaders of the British government that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, it could prove helpful. They might spare us the odd thought now and again.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Perhaps the beginning of Dál Riata Nua?

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Perhaps you misunderstand the obligations that come with EU membership?

    You appear to be suggesting that Ireland (the state) has total freedom to form relationships touching on trade and macro cross-border relationships with a non-member state without approval from the other EU members.

    Are you confident that you’ve got that right?

    I’m surprised that you think that “senior leaders of the British government” are unaware that NI is part of the U.K. I wonder what they think when they note the frontispiece of their passports; or even more pertinently, what goes through their minds do you surmise when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland rocks up at Cabinet meetings?

    In your rather odd worldview they must be completely discombobulated by such occurrences.

  • Anglo-Irish

    What the Irish government should do is work out exactly how they intend to take advantage of the situation for the benefit of Ireland .

    As Lord Palmerston so succinctly put it ” We have no eternal allies, and no eternal enemies only our interests are eternal. ”

    That is as true today as it was then and applies to every country.

    In today’s newspaper there is a report that the French are offering tax breaks to lure business away from the City.

    Ireland should consider the same type of move and also start approaching every business that they think may be receptive to a move to Ireland when Brexit becomes inevitable.

    As for the border problem it should be explained to the EU that the entangled history of these islands predates the EU and even the existence of a number of countries that make up the EU.

    An arrangement between the two parts of the country that causes the least damage to the economy of both should not be beyond the wit of man to devise.

  • Abucs

    Perhaps if the parliament were more in tune with the people they would have more of a clue.

    I think it is in everyone’s interest to accept your stated principles with regards to UK arrangements with Ireland.

  • JohnTheOptimist

    Brian Walker’s forebodings about the outlook for the Irish economy don’t seem to be shared by David McWilliams (for one). The UK has just shot itself in both feet, so its likely that the UK will be the one walking with a limp in the next few years, not Ireland.

    The effect on politics here is likely to be determined by the relative growth rates of the two countries, rather than their absolute growth rates. I don’t know of any economist who predicts that Ireland’s growth rate will worsen relative to that of the UK as a result of Brexit. It may well be that Brexit reduces both countries’ growth rates, but the UK’s by more than Ireland’s (probably much more). While a recession in Britain would clearly not be good for Ireland, its much worse for Britain itself. And Ireland has very little to fear from the UK’s stated intention to reduce Corporation Tax or the fall in sterling.

    The reality is that the UK is in no position to engage in a competitive tax war with Ireland (or any other country). The UK’s budget deficit is stuck at £74 billion (4% of GDP) and showing no sign of falling. Most economists predict it will rise sharply in the next couple of years as a result of the Brexit-induced slowdown and a new populist-right government abandoning deficit reduction. As if this wasn’t deficit enough, the UK’s balance-of-payments deficit is an astronomical 7% of GDP, which is putting it in Greek territory. In contrast, Ireland is heading for a 0% budget deficit this year and predicted to move into budget surplus next year. It already has a 4% balance-of-payments surplus. Ireland is now in a far better financial position than the UK and can easily match any business tax cuts the UK makes. The Irish government should immediately declare its intention to do so. Far from reducing taxes, if orthodox economic rules were applied, the UK would need to increase taxes in the next few years to reduce its twin deficits. And, indeed, George Osborne was saying exactly this pre-Brexit. If the UK now goes against these rules and cuts taxes despite its huge and worsening deficits, it will be seen as a desperate measure to counter the bad economic effects of Brexit and its most likely outcome is horrendous budget and balance-of-payments deficits in coming years.

    Re the fall in sterling, while in the short-term this will provide good tv footage of shoppers crossing the border into Newry, past experience shows the effect is very temporary. The medium-to-long-term effect is much higher UK inflation. The last time sterling fell sharply was 2008-10. For a while Newry was a boom town. By 2012-13 the effects were cancelled out by much higher UK inflation. Since 2008 inflation in Ireland has amounted to 1% – in the UK over 20%, completely cancelling out the 2008-2010 sterling depreciation.

    Thus, withiin a few years, on all measures of financial health (budget deficit, balance-of-payments deficit and inflation), Ireland is likely to be in a much better position than the UK. Financial health isn’t the same as economic growth, of course. But, countries that pursue sound financial policies, keeping deficits low (or running surpluses), and keeping inflation low, these countries usually achieve higher economic growth than countries that run large deficits and debase their currency.

    Since 1958 Ireland’s average annual growth has been 4.5%, while the UK’s has been 2.3%. This despite the fact that the period saw the rise from nothing of North Sea oil (now in sharp decline). This was enough to push Ireland’s per capita national income from about half the UK level to roughly parity (or above parity in the past couple of years). Even without Brexit there was little prospect of this growth gap closing. With Brexit the prospect is that it will widen. This should be enough to push Ireland’s per capita national income well above the UK (i’d guess 30%-40% above by 2025). I have no idea if this will have any effect on politics in N. Ireland, but it certainly will in Scotland.

  • Roger

    Well. Access to single market will be negotiated on a whole of UK basis. It’s not a UKNI specific issue. Access like that would require an EEA type arrangement. As Brexit was mostly about immigration, EEA would be a big U turn for UK but who knows…

  • Obelisk

    Not at all. I know that the EU acts collectively. It was just I found your implication, that Ireland is at best a hostage to the whims of the commission, a tad patronising.

    The British seem to have taken a view of sovereignty ill at ease with the modern world where collective action and shared responsibilities result in dividends for the whole group. In fact they are, in some circles, seen as dirty words.

    The misunderstanding on the part of the United Kingdom as how sovereignty works within the EU…that pooling is actually a good thing that magnifies clout in an increasingly hostile world, bleeds into discussions between eurosceptics on what smaller EU states such as Ireland or Belgium or Luxembourg can do. It manifests itself as other countries being portrayed servile or subservient to the big bad commission.

    I expect quite a few Brexiters are going to express such sentiments in the coming years, alongside an inevitable and almost patrician sneer of self-satisfaction that England (née the United Kingdom) broke free whereas others don’t have the…I’ll use the phrase ‘strength of character’… to ‘break free’.

    As for what happens when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland turns up or they look at their passports, I reckon that it is almost like a shaft of sunshine bursting through a fog. A fact half-remembered is suddenly illuminated, ‘Oh right! Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.’ And then the Secretary of States finishes their speech or the passport is put away and that important fact drifts back into the recesses of their mind, ready to surprise them again at a moment’s notice.

  • Declan Doyle

    Thanks for posting this.

  • cu chulainn

    Some sort of EEA is need for all the UK. When they join a differential arrangement between GB and NI is possible. NI cannot remain in the EU, but it can aspire to a distinct category in the EEA arrangements.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    You managed to contradict yourself in your first paragraph, and all in the space of three sentences. Well done!

    The answer to the question I posed, the one you actually got around to supplying (eventually), “I know that the EU acts collectively.”, set amongst the yaada-yaada about “senior leaders of the British government” that you introduced for reasons God only knows, you find “patronising”.

    No worries, as I’ve found out in the last couple of days, you’re not the only one inhabiting this site who’s so quick to imagine offence that they go off on one just to be sure.

    And while I’m at it, let’s hope that the EU Commission does not operate on “whims” (surely an idea that only exists in the fevered imaginations of the most extreme Brexiteers).

    As I noted before, a rather odd worldview.

  • Roger

    Well, they can certainly aspire to anything. No argument. Realistically, UKNI will get the same arrangement as the rest of the UK. Its one country. Whatever is agreed, say on customs, necessarily must apply to all of the UK. That’s my opinion, though naturally time will tell what happens.

  • Obelisk

    There is no contradiction once you accept that acting in concert and reaping the benefits of acting in concert in no way implies a loss of sovereignty. That is the logic Brexiters ultimately failed to grasp.

    If Ireland truly objected to any decision made by the commission, objected so strenuously that they would under no circumstances carry it out, they could also hold a vote to withdraw from the European Union. Sovereignty is only truly abridged when there is no ultimate capacity to refuse.

    Instead, like all other EU members, Ireland can choose to acquiesce with decisions it doesn’t agree with. This is what pooling of sovereignty means, sometimes you don’t get your way but you along with it anyway as it is beneficial to the group to go that way, and membership of that group is ultimately beneficial. Sovereignty is not lost because a state decides to compromise in accordance with the rules of the institution they willingly joined.

    As for what I found ‘patronising’, it is the barely veiled contempt we can see among some Brexiters in regards to smaller countries that are not, as they predicted, rushing to break up the European Union. Britain maybe leaving the EU but unless the organization collapses, Britain will always be caught in it’s gravity. Hence Farage’s commitment to help parties similar to UKIP with their ‘struggles’. The contempt stems from the belief that, if the EU is a tyranny (and rejecting the EU therefore equivalent to an ‘independence day’), then states that willingly remain are basically lackies…unlike the proud English who had the self confidence to break free.

  • Nevin

    The 2008 ferry contract machinations probably put paid to such an option!

  • Declan Doyle

    Actually, what is the best site/magazine for into on economic stats explained in context?

  • cu chulainn

    NI already has a different rate of corporation tax. Places likes Greenland and the Canary Isles already have different arrangements, as does the Isle of Man and Channel Islands. The EU will not want the UK as a whole to get away with a soft deal, they will tolerate almost any soft deal confined to NI.

    Such a deal is only pragmatism, if legal trade is easy then there will be no smuggling etc and the legal traders will pay more taxes generally. That’s why there is a common market in the first place.

    The only question is whether some of the more backward elements in the NI can manage to support this.

  • Roger

    Well I think each Land in Germany has different taxes, so there’s nothing unusual about that. But the idea that a region of an ex-EU member would have access to the Single Market while the rest of the ex-EU state would not, sounds rather unlikely and unworkable to me. It would require customs duties on ‘imports’ from UKNI into UKGB etc, and vice versa.

  • Erewhon888

    Not sure how big you want the context to be but here is something to be going on with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLQsT9BPHpg

  • cu chulainn

    The sea is the ideal place to put such duties as it is relatively easy to police, so this is the easiest thing to work. However, duties need not be imposed on things going to NI unless they end up in the ROI, there wouldn’t be much need for consumer products, for instance.

  • AntrimGael

    The South is currently in a very strong position bargaining wise when it comes to Europe but whether it actually chooses to use this strength is another thing altogether. They have come through 7/8 years of austerity but have still fulfilled their economic responsibilites and is repaying the bank debt. The financial markets confidence in Ireland is very strong unlike Greece, Spain and Portugal etc so it’s time the Irish government flexed it’s muscles when negotiations with the EU regarding Brexit and the North come around. They must demand NO physical borders on the island and flexibility with Britain on trade. Time for Dublin to grow a pair.

  • tmitch57

    Palmerston then was paraphrasing President Washington’s final address as he left office in 1797.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Perhaps he was, Henry Kissinger also used a similar turn of words.

    The approval of three such men emphasises the truth of the quote.

  • Roger

    If you’ve got no customs between IRL and UKNI, what’s to stop goods imported Into UKNI from UKGB being exported to IRL circumventing customs? A back door to a single market. Your ideas are unworkable and unrealistic. UKNI will get the same treatment as UKGB. It’s the only way it can work. UKNI is just a UK region.

  • cu chulainn

    NI is a region with particular needs and whose distinct requirements have already been recognised. You appear to think that NI should be impoverished to save the inconvenience of having a distinct policy. As for a back door to a single market, what do you think will happen if NI is not in the single market, it would be a smuggler’s paradise?

  • lizmcneill

    Well, at least the border economy will be booming, nothing else in NI will….

  • Roger

    I agree with your first sentence. UKNI has particular needs alright, but that doesn’t change the reality that its just a UK region so how it can be treated falls within a UK framework. I think the decision to leave will impoverish UKNI even more than UKGB, but that decision was taken. It’s not about convenience or inconvenience. It’s about what actually can work and what won’t. You haven’t in fact addressed the customs point at all. I do think there will be more smuggling on the UK/IRL border post-Brexit, unless UK chooses an EEA type option. There is far more smuggling on the border between Poland and Belarus too. It’s an inevitable part of leaving the Single Market. But just as the Poles manage, imperfectly for sure, with smuggling, so too will the Irish.

  • Roger

    Some will benefit, but not the thousands of ‘trans EU frontier’ workers who will be crossing in and out of the EU every day. If border economy means smuggling economy, I agree with you. Otherwise, I don’t.

  • Roger

    Dublin isn’t a sovereign state.
    Ireland and UK (state) are.

  • Roger

    Ireland is very much fettered. Firstly, it’s the EU that makes trade deals for the EU. Individual member states like Ireland can’t. Secondly, as of now, Ireland cannot much plan around Brexit because Ireland cannot know what kind of Brexit the UK (the state) wants. Unless Ireland has the benefit of spies in the UK who happen to also have psychic powers. I doubt Ireland does.
    As for your asterisk, in my view you ought really to have qualified “nationalist readers” in some way. A good many of those who participate here similarly scratch their heads when they read people spouting the fiction you mention.

  • lizmcneill

    Yes, I should have used quotation marks. Border controls will only hamper the law-abiding.

  • Roger

    Agreed. Border controls won’t be good.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Hi John can you send me an email brian@sluggerotoole.com

  • Ultonian

    We already have a special status – even with the UK being outside the EU, everyone in NI is entitled to full EU citizenship via the Irish Passport guaranteed in the Good Friday Agreement.

    So with a region of the UK full of EU citizens, and being on the same island as a full EU member, separated from the rest of the UK by a sea border, surely we can come to some sort of arrangement that would allow us to have access to the common market, even if the rest of the UK doesn’t. Maybe a company or individual here can register to be considered as trading within the EU, via the Republics membership, with free movement of goods north and south.

    All it takes is a bit of creative thinking and political will to leverage the current state of play into getting us a good deal going forward that keeps us our rights and privileges as EU citizens.

    The SoS’s refusal to take into account the wishes and needs of the population of NI is just utter laziness. She does not have our best interests as heart, and thus should resign.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The UK is the member state, the decision was made for the whole country. You just can’t have some regions in and others out within the same country, no one in Europe will wear that and it goes against the basic principles of national sovereignty.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “The UK has just shot itself in both feet, so its likely that the UK will be the one walking with a limp in the next few years, not Ireland.”
    And you think Irish prosperity is unconnected to the health of the UK economy? Unconventional view, I’ll give you that.

  • Ultonian

    Who says anything about NI being formally in the EU. But even if the UK as a whole is out, we will still be EU citizens via our Irish citizenship. We can try to get a special scenario where that, and the will of the people here to maintain links with the EU is recognised and we can trade with the rest of the EU via Ireland’s membership. Like I said, just takes political will and a bit of creative thinking instead of the lazy attitude we’re seeing from Foster and Villiers.

  • cu chulainn

    Irish prosperity is of course connected to some extent to the health of the UK economy. However, this connection does not prevent it doing much better than the UK as a higher growth rate for the last 6 decades shows.

    The UK shooting itself in the foot may reduce Irish growth a little, although there will also be some diversion out of a isolationist UK to Ireland, but of course it damage will be much less than the UK.

  • cu chulainn

    These people do will do their shopping where it cheapest.

  • cu chulainn

    Exactly. Some people here seem to prefer NI becoming an impoverished backwater, where only smugglers have prospects, all to ensure that NI is only a “region”.