The drip feed over Brexit strategy is hardly encouraging and requires wholesale review in Northern Ireland

We inch forward in a long struggle for clarity..  The legal  challenge in the English High Court  to triggering  Article 50 without  parliamentary approval drew this  insouciant admission from a barrister in reply to  a sharp  question from the Lord Chief Justice. But  how meaningful would a take –it-or-leave-it vote be?

James Eadie QC, defending the Government over claims Mrs May should seek Parliamentary approval before triggering Article 50, told the high court: “The Government view at the moment it that it is very likely that any such agreement would be subject to ratification.”Almost all treaties are subject to ratification”, he added.

But such a vote would be on the final treaty, not the negotiating process, and is unlikely to happen before 2019 when the deal may already have been done, lawyers said.

The Guardian claims an exclusive on the private meetings of the cabinet’s Brexit committee which heard that leaving the customs union would cause a 4.5% fall in GDP by 2030.

The 4.5% cut is the average prediction made in three studies that were carried out before Britain’s EU referendum, in a move that could anger Brexit supporting MPs who believe that the old estimates are out of date.

The studies, by the Treasury, the thinktank NIESR and the Centre for Economic Performance and London School of Economics, predicted the effect on the British economy if the UK was to opt for a Norway-style model. That would involve remaining inside the single market but outside the customs union, within which countries set common external tariffs and so do not require customs checks.

Although the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, called for the UK’s withdrawal at the meeting, the prime minister was said to repeatedly stress that she was not ready to make any final decisions on the UK’s negotiating position.

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, said – according to one well placed source – that while Brexit would require “political choices”, there would also be economic consequences that had to be considered.

The paper on the customs union also warned that to stand still in trade terms after a withdrawal from the bloc, the UK would need to grow trade with its 10 largest partners outside the EU by 37% by 2030.

It was one of three documents presented to ministers during the cabinet meeting. The second discussed options for the UK’s immigration policy after Brexit while the third examined the consequences of the country becoming directly subject to World Trade Organisation rules.

Ministers were also warned that some ports, including Dover and Holyhead, which handle a lot of road freight, could be seriously clogged up if there were customs checks on vehicles transporting goods.

The document said that extra infrastructure required, likely to include dozens of parking spaces for lorries undergoing checks, could not physically be built in Dover because of its cliffs.

Others highlighted the UK-Irish border, which is effectively invisible, warning that it would be a complex issue to tackle if it had to become a new point for customs checks.

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, said that Irish officials feared that the return of customs posts would provoke terrorist attacks. “The British and Irish governments would certainly do everything possible to minimise physical customs checks on the border – perhaps through the use of advanced technology, or simply through checking lorries at towns near the border, rather than at the border itself,” he said.

In a briefing for Mrs May’s EU summit this week, the FT’s analysis (£)  concludes there is almost total incompatibility between  what is known about the British position  however nuanced, and the likely EU response.

In the joint project between the Guardian and the Irish Times, Lisa O’Carroll and Henry McDonald have a piece on the NI economic outlook including the loss of  EU funding of around £350 million a year. No snip indeed,  but dwarfed by the Treasury subvention of £9 billion a year. And PWC’s Esmond Birnie asks the big question of the opportunity cost of reform.

The NI executive is pinning its hopes on safeguarding the subsidies, it’s a mistake, it’s not realistic and it’s fairly important to have a plan B,” said Birnie. Farm subsidies, for instance, have “fossilised a sector in one period of time” with little incentive to innovate – or even leave the sector – meaning missed opportunities to grow the business or make it more dynamic, according to Birnie.

Some 38,000 farmers and rural projects shared nearly £350m from Brussels, accounting for about 70% of the region’s EU money. By output, this amounts to three times the subsidies and grants given to farmers in the rest of the UK…

….Forecasters predict that in 2017, the year when article 50 must be triggered, Northern Ireland will be the UK’s weakest performing region, with growth of just 0.2%.

There is also a report of the impact of Brexit on Britishness and  an  powerfully pessimistic  piece by Eimear McBride on what she sees as  Britain’s “wholesale  purge of values”  in deciding  to leave the EU.

..,if history has taught British politicians nothing, they should at least remember that the people of Northern Ireland, on all sides, have no tradition of lying down and taking whatever scraps Westminster doles out. The Brexiteers’ reliance on hazy, emotive grandstanding won’t solve the problems facing Northern Ireland, and the gravity of what it may unleash means there can be little relish in pointing out that fact.

Instead, I wonder how many ways there are to describe heartbreak? The Britain I’ve known is disfiguring itself, and soon it will not even remember what it looked like – while both Irelands of my youth, having struggled for so long to make a mirror in which all citizens may recognise themselves, are left waiting for the hammer to fall.






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