FT recommends staying in the customs union to help solve the Irish problem

Irish Finance minister Michael Noonan was too hasty in slapping down “a special deal on the side ” between the UK and Ireland in response to the report on Ireland and Brexit  from the Lords EU committee. He spoke even as it was admitted that Ireland  would probably be worse affected than Britain. This is no time to reject any well-intentioned idea for resolving what is probably the single most difficult problem of Brexit.

The committee was also right to demand that the UK should unilaterally guarantee the citizen rights of  EU nationals living in Britain, rather than treating them as a bargaining chip. Irish citizens are separately guaranteed under the 1949 and other non-EU Acts.

The full impact of citizens’ rights in the North still hasn’t been fully explored. Irish passport applications are at record level.  Brexit would leave UK passport holders at a disadvantage compared with the Irish in the EU including Ireland. This would  create a basic inequality of citizens’ rights within the purview of the Good Friday Agreement. The British created the problem; but the Irish would be perpetuating it by giving Irish passport holders priority by virtue of remaining in the EU. This looks like a serious cause of potential disruption within British –Irish relationships and it looks bad to say the least if Ireland, as the co-guarantor of the GFA appears to  champion the rights of nationalists over unionists.

The FT this morning corrects (£) Mr Noonan’s misapprehension that any special deal would be made outside the EU and it sides the Lords EU committee and makes a bold recommendation.

If the UK leaves the customs union — as some in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government are hoping — the trading relationship between Britain and Ireland could face significant disruption. Anglo-Irish trade is worth €60bn and directly supports 400,000 jobs, according to the House of Lords report. Ireland’s agriculture sector in particular would suffer from new barriers, given that 40 per cent of its exports go to the UK.

While Ireland’s trade agreements can only be set in Brussels, a bespoke agreement covering control of the Irish border — and movement of people across it — could be negotiated as part of the wider Brexit deal. Even if the UK negotiates a free-trade agreement with the EU that mirrors the current tariff regime, goods would still be subject to “rules of origin” checks.

An online system of customs controls could solve this problem. Alternatively the agreement between Norway and Sweden, by which Swedish officials inspect premises in Norway, could be replicated but would be politically complicated. Nor would a UK-Ireland customs union work: it would be both illegal and impractical for Ireland to be in a customs union with both parties. If such a bespoke deal is impossible, Britain should not rule out minimising disruption by staying in the EU customs union.

 

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  • NMS

    It is very difficult to see any variation being granted for UK Ireland trade for the simple reason that it would create an opportunity for other countries such as Poland to request similar arrangements with former parts of Poland, now integrated into Belarus and Ukraine since 1945.

    Perhaps the UK should have considered the consequences in advance, rather than after the event.

  • Fear Éireannach

    I can’t see how the Polish case is similar, the Polish people in those regions were moved to Silesia and that border was quite impervious for a long period in Soviet times. This has nothing in common with Ireland. We just need our situation sorted.

    But thinking about it in advance would indeed have been wise.

  • NMS

    FÉ – There are lots of ethnic Poles living in both countries & also of course Lithuania, where they are the largest minority. There are also many other minority groups who live on either side of the Border. There are many thousands of people who have relations on the other side of the Border, who have limited local access into Poland. There are also a large number of Ukrainians working in Poland (replacing those who moved West!) Poland is of course just one country, but the loudest.

    Just saying it needs to be sorted, is all very fine, but if you want to create a special case, then people living from Narva to Galati all have a right to be heard. Unlike the UK position, their problems are not self-inflicted.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Special cases exist if the political and practical will is there … Büsingen am Hochrhein is in the Swiss Customs Union yet is administrated as part of Germany. Monaco and Vatican City State are effectively de facto part of the EU customs Union while not being EU members.

    When the Financial Times, a highly regarded newspaper that does research geopolitical and economic issues from around the world including Eastern European politics highlights that pretty much being part of the same customs union as the Republic of Ireland is the only way to maintain the borders of the present, you have to listen up, if you are hearing EU or UK.

    The EU deals with exclaves like Kaliningrad differently than it deals with Russia for similar reasons … because geography trumps national hegemony, and practicality trumps culture.

    Same mountains, Same Rivers, Same problems …. until politiking can terraform the planet, people need to face up to the problems of exclaves and enclaves with physical borders in a feasible manner not entirely on a political basis.

    I don’t buy this sort of domino effect that Poland is going to demand the EU include non-EU countries in the customs union (which is does already) even when they are parts of nations like Ukraine and Belarus who don’t want to join the EU.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The full impact of citizens’ rights in the North still haven’t been fully explored. Irish passport applications are at record level. Brexit would leave UK passport holders at a disadvantage compared with the Irish in the EU including Ireland. This would create a basic inequality of citizens’ rights within the purview of the Good Friday Agreement.

    The British created the problem; but the Irish would be perpetuating it by giving Irish passport holders priority by virtue of remaining in the EU. This looks like a serious cause of potential disruption within British –Irish relationships and it looks bad to say the least if Ireland, as the co-guarantor of the GFA appears to champion the rights of nationalists over unionists.

    It’s very clear a fair number of unionists got Irish passports and I see no reason for treating these unionists any different.

    Let’s reverse the problem, suppose I wanted to work as an engineer as part of a space program based in Kazakhstan, but I had an Irish passport and a British co-worker with a British passport can get there without a visa while I could not. Is that really an inequality? Would it not be pragmatic to explore if I could get a British passport if this was my choice?

    Of course, I’d say fair play to the UK for sorting out this arrangement with Astana, I want in.

    All I am doing is choosing a nation to be the guarantor for not exploiting these rights. Same with a Swiss with a German passport, a Moldovan with a Romanian passport, a Russian with a Polish passport or a Turk with a Cypriot passport. They’ve EU’d themselves enough to get in by being subject to an EU national authority. Southern Irish UK’d themselves long after independence for similar selfish, economic and strategic reasons.

    Every EU country does that, so if the EU does say stop giving the Northern Irish passports, there’s enough to call any specific EU nation out on doing something similar.

    So we have to look at this in terms of the EU-UK rights arrangements, the UK wants to effectively reduce rights of EU nationals under the premises of the removal of the European Community Act. That effectively means every EU country removes the reciprocal rights to the Brits at their own discretion.

    We know that turn a round is basically fair play here, British citizens will face sanction so that EU citizens can be sanctioned in the UK as part of a policy trade-off, but the EU has faced these issues with Switzerland, Norway, Andorra, Northern Cyprus and Serbia … it all comes down to quid pro quo.

    The tougher the UK is on EU citizen rights, the tougher the EU will be on UK citizen rights. It may mean some discrimination against unionists and nationalists arising because of the UK demand to discriminate against EU migrants for a sense of control. Those getting Irish/EU passports in East Belfast know this.

    Surely it would be an act of discrimination by the Irish government to leave the EU against the wishes of the unionists who have gotten the EU passport to insure their citizen rights?

    Heck Governor of the Bank of England Mr Carney has an Irish passport and he’s Canadian, so the UK may be in on the matter themselves.

    There is pretty much nothing to be gained from the Irish or indeed the European Union in general to show bad faith to unionists here. The EU does have some political stake in sanctioning the UK and depriving it of EU privileges, just as the Republic of Ireland has a stake in gaining a competitive advantage on the EU, but to go after British Irish passport holders who’ve pretty much supported the EU cause in that act, is not the way to go.

  • Fear Éireannach

    These problems are not self inflicted in the case of Ireland either, as we do not want them. There is a huge difference between any change imposing obstacles that have never existed and anything to do with Poland.

    And there is a lot of pointless musing about Irish passport holders in NI, this is not an issue at all.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well I mused about British Irish passport holders in general … the EU would have to change their own rules to punish their own passport holders. I’m not sure how Draconian the Brexiteer lobby of the UK and the far right of Europe has to be to provoke that sort of responce?

  • Tarlas

    “Irish Finance minister Michael Noonan was too hasty in slapping down “a special deal on the side ” between the UK and Ireland in response to the report on Ireland and Brexit from the Lords EU committee.”

    I viewed it as politically astute; Well aware of the divide and conquer logic, that would have pervaded debate had this suggestion not been slapped down at this stage. (as well as the possibility of inflaming Unionism, that may perceive the Irish government as meddling in NI affairs) As the divorce negotiations heat up and the UK starts to dish out propaganda about how unfairly the EU and some other countries out in the big bad world, are treating them, in relation to favourable trade deals, cool heads will prevail. Time and tide , the affairs of men and all that!

  • NMS

    They were of course self- inflicted. The UK voted to leave! In the case of Ireland, the failure to move from dependence on the UK market, post 1973, in the same way that Denmark did, leaving the likely future problems, is completely self-inflicted

    Poland will have a vote on the negotiations the UK won’t. Poland matters. It will remain a member of the EU, the UK will not. Northern Ireland as part of the UK is therefore, as alien as Mongolia.

    The current settlement via the GFA, but in particular as laid out in Article 2 Irish Constitution, is open to challenge as it provides for rights to those from outside of the EU (as foreign as Canadians, just physically closer), which are superior to EU nationals living in Ireland,part of the EU.

    All is to play for!

  • Fear Éireannach

    Poland has no particular reason to aggravate Ireland, which has made its citizens welcome and wishes to continue to do so. They have no reason to try and banjax a NI deal nor is there any indication that they wish to do so.

    The GFA does not set out any rights for citizens from outside the EU. It merely regulates the classification of Irish citizens, this provision is under no threat whatsoever because of previous arrangements re East Germany and the current situation in Cyprus.

    Basically the EU has no incentive to makes things difficult in any part of Ireland, the punishment of the neighbours of troublemakers makes no sense and would set a bad precedent. The only question is what the delinquent British government will do.

  • Tochais Siorai

    ‘In the case of Ireland, the failure to move from dependence on the UK market, post 1973, in the same way that Denmark did, leaving the likely future problems, is completely self-inflicted……..’

    The UK accounted for 55% of total Irish exports in 1973. It’s now around 16%. It’s a huge change in a few decades.

  • lizmcneill

    What’s the difference to the EU between an Irish citizen per Article 2 and a Canadian claiming citizenship through a grandparent? The EU is fine with the Canadian’s Irish citizenship.