While the Supreme Court continues the agenda moves on. A hard Brexit looks more and more likely and the future of the Irish border is in the balance.

The Financial Times (£) says it all in the editorial quoted at some length below  – or most of it.

If Theresa May had introduced a simple bill granting MPs a vote on Article 50, the November High Court case and the appeal to the Supreme Court would not have happened.

What it doesn’t say is that the UK government look like triggering Article 50 before the end of March to leave the single market and the customs union. They will argue for s0me entry control for the families of EU workers. In return they will offer no tariffs for EU imports and renewed defence and security pacts. Then the fun will start – the negotiations to preserve the UK  as  the bridge to Europe for foreign investment including role of the City. They will hope there will be enough in the overall package to keep the Scots from rebelling and act as an opening hand for an Irish deal.

There is an obvious dilemma over membership of the customs union. Retaining  it  would tie their hands in negotiating trade deals with new foreign partners but would facilitate trade with EU members and an open Irish border.  This seems to be the most open question in Brexit policy at the moment.

Charles Grant the director of the Centre for European Reform and one of the best informed commentators sharply critiques the wider British position and offers sage advice for the hand the government  ought to play.

Theresa May’s government is heading for the hardest of hard Brexits. That’s what many European officials now believe. In several capitals they have told me that – partly based on their reading of British newspapers – they think May is being pushed by the right of her party towards a deal that will achieve maximum sovereignty for Britain and do maximum damage to its economy

Given such a weak hand, what can May hope to achieve? Staying in the single market is impossible, since she rejects free movement and the authority of the European court of justice (ECJ). Her best bet is to aim for a free trade agreement (FTA) (FTA) that provides zero tariffs on goods, plus some access to EU services markets.

May would also impress the 27 if she aimed for a high level of economic integration. She should make a clear commitment to a transitional deal to cover the several years that will elapse between Britain leaving the EU and the entry into force of an FTA. Businesses and financial firms are desperate for arrangements that could allow them a period in the customs union and parts of the single market while they consider their plans. May’s problem is that the EU’s price for the transition period will be politically unpalatable: free movement, ECJ rulings and budget payments.

But the case for remaining in the customs union is strong: many fewer bureaucratic delays and barriers at the UK-EU border, and minimal disruption of integrated supply chains (crucial for industries like cars and aerospace). Staying would also make it easier to avoid restoring controls on Northern Ireland’s border with Ireland. May should offer money for the funds that support the development of poorer EU members. Encouragingly, Brexit secretary David Davis has not ruled this out. If Britain made such payments – as Switzerland and Norway do – it would spur the EU to offer a more generous FTA.

The details of how Britain restricts free movement are important. If May offers a less stringent regime to EU citizens than to those from other nations – a policy backed by some of her ministers – she will earn goodwill.


From the Financial Times editorial

The judges are hearing the case because of the government’s opaque handling of Brexit. If Theresa May had introduced a simple bill granting MPs a vote on Article 50, the November High Court case and the appeal to the Supreme Court would not have happened. The prime minister is right that too much time has been spent debating the process of Brexit. But it is her strategy that means more has not been said on what it will look like.

The distractions, however, are not restricted to the Supreme Court. Across the road in the House of Commons, the opposition Labour party tabled a motion on Wednesday to force the government to lay out its plan for Brexit. It was an attempt to politically outmanoeuvre Mrs May. As things turned out, the vote had minimal impact on the government’s strategy.

The main lesson of the Supreme Court case and the Commons debacle is about how not to deal with Brexit. As Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said, the negotiations will be a complex and politically sensitive process. Further complications resulting from obfuscation and parliamentary jousting will further hinder progress. If the government had been clear and honest about its Brexit strategy from the start, these complications could have been avoided.

The government has, so far, offered general statements about the need to curtail immigration, vague suggestions about the prospect of continued payments into the EU budget and hints that the UK will not remain in the single market. What it should do is publish a white paper outlining its objectives in its Brexit talks. This need not weaken the government’s negotiating hand. The direction of travel will, however, offer more certainty to business and to parliament.


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  • Ryan A

    The really amusing thing about this debacle is how hardline unionists have really lit a fire under themselves that threatens to destroy them and their raison d’etre.

  • Oriel27

    Could we be seeing the situation that NI could be handed back to RoI? – who knows what discussions are going on behind the scenes (obviously in stages over a 20 year period etc).
    Surely they (British, EU) are aware of the dynamite dangers of the return of physical borders across Ireland. NI could be left as an economically isolated island on the edge of Europe not free to trade with the South. Its a complete bonkers situation we are in.
    But seriously, are we seeing the beginning of the re-unification process?
    I, as a border resident, who crosses the border everyday to work, its seemingly the only logical solution to this whole mess. Putting a border back would be akin to putting the toll bridge back on the M50 in Dublin – completely unimaginable.

    And before anyone starts, the border between Norway and Sweden is a natural one, it has large mountain ranges, lakes rivers and very few roads crossing.
    The border between NI and RoI isn’t naturally, NI was a gerrymandered state, its reason to be belongs to a different time (when their was the british empire).
    My own parish of Roslea is half in Monaghan, theres over 200 roads that cross the border. My uncle’s farm is cut by the border. I know of places in monaghan were the road is the border for a few miles. Another part of monaghan doesnt have direct road access to the south.

    This whole brexit thing is driving me nutts.

  • johnny lately

    Apparently the prospect of a hard border is deluded and nonsense to the British and unionists, obviously you’ve been reading from one of those fake news websites Brian. All nationalists parties should now ensure that in the event of a hard border there will come a border poll afterwards.

  • Oriel27

    Not only nationalist parties Johnny – all parties.

  • ted hagan

    How could Northern Ireland be ‘handed back’ to the Republic?

  • Oriel27

    Well not literally ‘handed back’, but it would be a process over many years. For NI to stay in the UK outside of the EU and share an unnatural border with the EU – its not going to work.
    Obviously there will be a border poll etc. Remember the GFA must be upheld. Although as someone recently stated Brexit wont affect a ‘comma’ in the GFA, it will affect it if a hard border returns. Then if that happens there wont be a ‘peace process’. Its a mind boggling situation we are in.
    It will come to the the stage, Unionist should not and will not be allowed to dictate the way they did 100 years ago. Unionists will have to give in for the common good.

    Its changed times we are in.

  • NMS

    Surely a poll on both sides of the Border? Once the costs of absorbing Northern Ireland are explained, the vast majority of people will vote against taking on this massive wreck.

    Imagine having to absorb 3% of the UK’s National Debt, open ended pension costs etc., apart from the massive redundancy cost of sacking most of the UKNI Public Sector, closing down the teacher training colleges (Ireland already produces far too many) etc.

  • ted hagan

    You mean you can foresee a time when SF and the DUP aren’t locked in bondage? I can’t.

  • North Down

    Am not deluded, I can’t wait until we leave the eu , hard border bring it on , a hard border won’t come afterwards either, not for many a year, what if a hard border benefits the people of the UK in time, it’s most likely in 3-10 years time Europe will be in a complete mess,and we will b saying thank goodness we got out of the eu, I know people on hear will hate the idea of brixit working, because there will go any small chance of a UI

  • Paul Hagan

    Theresa May must have really had a good laugh when she realised all she had to do was say “red, white and blue” and the DUP would clap and cheer, without a seeming care to what, as you say happens to their raison d’etre

  • Oriel27

    Yes i can Ted, but who says both parties will exist in their current form in the future? Wouldn’t unionists get far more power in Leinster House?
    What i do know is, look at how well Protestants amalgamated into the South (don’t listen to Ian Paisleys lies about Protestant oppression in the South – that didn’t happen widely). Within Monaghan, you have several orange lodges that are active, a huge amount of the businesses are protestant owner. Protestants have not been treated badly. Heather Humphreys get a sizable protestant vote (& catholic vote), herself of orange stock.
    So yes i do see a time of unity among all.

    But seriously, erecting a hard border again is bringing everything back 40 years and looking for trouble.

  • Katyusha

    Am not deluded, I can’t wait until we leave the eu , hard border bring it on ,

    Must be nice living in North Down and be insualted from the more extreme effects of living near a closed border. Would you be so keen on it if that border was moved to Banbridge?

    what if a hard border benefits the people of the UK in time

    This is deluded. What benefits could a hard border possibly bring to the UK? It’s a negative development no matter what way you look at it.

  • ted hagan

    In the 1920s Protestants made up eight per cent of the population of the Republic, in 1990 it was three per cent.

  • johnny lately

    Of course a border poll on both sides NMS and regardless what you claim about the costs involved of integrating Northern Ireland into the 26 counties a majority of people have always supported a united Ireland in those 26 counties including the last one just a few months ago.

  • Korhomme

    The Supreme Court case is deciding whether MPs or the government decides; and whether the devolved Assemblies/Parliament have to be consulted. This Court case could have been avoided, perhaps, if the Referendum Act was clear about what happened in the Event of a Brexit vote—no mention because it wasn’t expected.

  • Oriel27

    World war 1, emmigration, change catholicism etc etc Protestants to this day get a very good deal in the South.

  • Oriel27

    you obviously dont live close to the border. ‘im alright’, its ok now but wait until it has an affect on the way people will vote on the border poll, when it happens.

  • johnny lately

    The Irish population has risen dramatically since the 1920s, including almost 20% of the population in the 26 counties not being either born in Ireland or of Irish decent. The numbers of protestants although lower in percentage terms their overall numbers probably haven’t changed much they have more or less remained static.

  • North Down

    I thought Christmas came early for the shopkeepers around the border towns, all those good people from the south spending all their money up north, when do you think the good catholic shopkeepers , hotels etc will get fed up with all the money they are getting, how will they vote on a border poll

  • Brian Walker

    Paul and Ryan. Maybe the issues are bigger than the DUP? Their support for Leave is without prejudice to their involvement in sorting out whatever accommodations are reached as a result of Brexit. Their support for the government hardly puts them at a disadvantage compared with the nationalists.

  • Brian

    We are some way out from knowing what shape Brexit will take.

    And the comments of the director of the Centre for European Reform on second, or third, hand conversations are not a reliable indication of that outcome.

    But the Irish Border will still be there after Brexit.

  • johnny lately

    You must be under the illusion that those Irish citizens born and living in the 6 British controlled counties of Ireland will sit back and allow their freedom of movement around the island of Ireland to be erased on the whim of a minority.

    The reality is a hard border will focus mindsets and fuel the fires of resentment and mass protests in Ireland and the only people supporting a hard border will be the minority British population.

    On the other hand if in the event of Brexit British border controls move to Ireland then it will be those British folk in Northern Ireland who will be isolated and unwanted.

  • Paul Hagan

    Certainly bigger issues at play here Brian, but that I for one can see little evidence of them playing a long game here. In fact I find little evidence of any strategic thinking, unless you think of their (purported) closeness to May is evidence of that in itself. I somehow doubt it will come to much though. Thanks for the article in any case.

  • Oriel27

    North Down, people will get fairly fed up when they are prevented from going to their shops, churches, chapels, halls – without having to stop and show passports, open boots etc. Believe me, i know what that hell was like when i was a child going thru checkpoints on the way to mass etc. It was also as equally as much annoyance for the good protestant folk from Dernawilt (Arlene’s relitives) going to church in Clones. So yes people will vote to get rid of a hard border if it comes back.

  • johnny lately

    Yes thats correct Pete the border will still be there no-one is saying otherwise but will it still be invisible or will there be border checks, obviously you believe there wont be any hard border and you probably wouldn’t be fussed if there was but I do and the majority of people on both sides of the border do but the truth is you dont know and neither does the two governments as its not just up to them its also up to those 20 odd other members of the EU too.

  • Karl

    More and more likely??? It was only anything else in the fevered minds of the delusional and Brexit supporters.
    This is another step in the separation of NI from Britain.

  • North Down

    Sorry when I said hard border I ment mainland Britain,

  • Ryan A

    It doesn’t really matter whether they support the Government or not. The push that comes to shove will be the desperation for control of freedom of movement from the right wing tories to stave off UKIP and everything else will be collateral damage including the border and the economy. There are no conservative votes up for grabs here.

  • Old Mortality

    There will be no border checks unless the EU obliges the RoI to establish them and even then they don’t have to be enforced with any great rigour; I doubt the EU can demand that every single border crossing is controlled. I would envisage little more than a Garda snoozing in a car at Killeen, a terrible waste of manpower but nothing worse. There might also be an impressive display of cameras on main border routes aimed at ‘monitoring’ movement across the border but which will be largely ignored.

  • Old Mortality

    Gosh, you would have been really disappointed by a Remain victory wouldn’t you?

  • Old Mortality

    ‘.. including the last one just a few months ago.’
    I missed that referendum. What was the result?

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    “negotiations to retain as much as possible for the UK to continue as the bridge to Europe for foreign investment including role of the City. They will hope this will be enough to keep the Scots from rebelling and act as an opening hand for an Irish deal.”

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, the banks in London are lining up for the Paris train (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/brexit-banks-london-paris-move-uk-france-exodus-french-regulator-a7462731.html)

    and as for Scotland
    a) the scenario quoted from the SO’T article is not going to happen, and
    b) it would not be enough.

  • johnny lately

    Why would I be disappointed ?

  • johnny lately
  • Oggins

    Using basic maths, 1920 there was 240,000 Protestants, 2016, 211,000. Also. This figures in 2016, say identify as either R.C or Protestants. The republic is a secular state,who don’t give a hoot about religion.

  • North Down

    SORRY I ment, a hard border on mainland Britain, I do support brixit , and it would be crazy to have a hard border hear ,

  • ted hagan

    Yes I know they do. I lived in Dublin for many years. Protestants kept their heads down and played their part in building the new state. The South is, by and large, a good place to live, despite a poor health service, but that won’t make a jot of difference to most unionists in the North, who wish to remain British.

  • Ryan A

    GFA only requires NI to vote for it. Britain in the long term will benefit and more than likely to be happy to let NI off with it’s debt to get rid of it asap.

    I can see the bus now.

    “We give Northern Ireland £96m a week. Let’s spend it on the NHS instead.”

  • John Collins

    I agree there are problems with the HS down here, but benefit allowances be it UB, OAP, JS allowance,and above all carer allowances are far better south of the border.

  • johnny lately

    “There will be no border checks unless the EU obliges the RoI to establish them”

    Why then are the two governments attempting to come up with a deal that prevents a hard border happening OM. if it was as you believe that would be acceptable as a Brexit makes no difference whatsoever to the working class joe blogg Irish citizens born and living in Northern Ireland but producing ID like passports and such disrupting the free movement of Irish citizens within Ireland would be the straw that broke the camels back. Im sure someone from a unionist or British perspective would feel otherwise but for old Irish families like my own it would be seen as denial of their right to free movement around their native land.

  • Brian Walker

    Pete,. So you dispute my view of Charles Grant’s high general reputation? On what basis -superior knowledge or personal conviction? I think sometimes it’s good to defer to authority without treating it as infallible. If I were you I’d join me in paying attention to Grant.

  • eamoncorbett

    A hard border will bring nothing but problems for those who try to implement it , have you learned nothing from the last thirty years. Do you seriously believe that eveyone in this island would be better off with a hard border . Smuggling , dodgy diesel , criminal gangs in control, is that your idea of the future of NI.

  • eamoncorbett

    Ever heard of swings and roundabouts.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Why should anyone take on 3% of the UK debt? The 26 counties did not, and nobody should have to pay back an occupier. In any case removing NI from the UK does not affect the repayment of the UK debt as NI was making no contribution to it anyhow.

  • Nullius in verba, Brian.

    But my point was, in your headline at least, to avoid over-reaching for a conclusion at this early stage.

    What Grant is actually doing is arguing for a change in tactics by the UK government, and Theresa May in particular, based on his anecdotal evidence of how “European officials” in the other 27 nations are viewing UK political and media discussion.

    He’s not predicting an outcome. He’s lobbying.

    The 27 may be overly pessimistic in supposing it will be the hardest of Brexits. If the economy turns down sooner rather than later, the advocates of closer ties to the EU – including the Treasury and increasingly vocal business lobbies – will be strengthened. The parliamentary majority in favour of a soft Brexit may yet find a way of nudging government policy; this week ministers avoided a Commons defeat by backing a Labour motion requiring them to state their plans for the negotiation.

    One of May’s strengths is that she believes in evidence-based policymaking. If she concludes that the national interest requires it, she may find the courage to break with the hard right and go for a not-so-hard Brexit.

    And that’s fine, despite the reliance on the anecdotal pessimism.

    Although there’s an assumption there that May is targeting something other than a “not-so-hard Brexit”.

  • Oriel27

    The peace process would be over for definite if a hard border came into existence.
    It would be akin the the cratered roads of my youth, and we all know what was associated with them.

  • Oriel27

    Unionists can not be allowed to dictate anymore.

  • ted hagan

    DUP/SF; They are the dictators now.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Yip, Renzi’s political resignation has actually caused the Euro to fall against the pound and Donegal and Dublin are seeing Northern traders going down there. It’s utterly surreal

    It’s like the currency differences almost doesn’t matter in an insular Ireland context at the moment.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There will probably be a customs border for freight …mainly because the incompetent DUP who lied about saying there won’t be pretty much haven’t done any forward planning, and neither have the UK government who are their own worst enemy at this period.

  • Old Mortality

    Neither the UK or the Irish government want a hard border although you sound as if you might be gagging for it. The hardness of the border will depend on whether the Irish government can extract a relevant concession from the EU and even then, as if pointed out earlier, it doesn’t have to implement it with any enthusiasm. Is there a wall across the EU’s eastern borders? I’ve not been there to confirm it but I’m pretty sure there isn’t. Nor do I believe that Eurostar passengers will have to go through a checkpoint when they reach Paris or Brussels.

  • Old Mortality

    You wouldn’t have been able to foam at the mouth over the imagined prospect of being prevented from wandering freely across this sceptred isle.

  • Fear Éireannach

    If the UK doesn’t want a hard border then why doesn’t it simply leave things the way they are? People in neither part of Ireland want change and the EU does not want change.

  • Katyusha

    Eurostar passengers have to go through passport checks in London (before they depart for Paris or Brussels) right now, to check for non-EU immigration, among other things.

    As for the EU’s Eastern borders, the answer is not everywhere, and not yet. The construction of barriers to Russia is a big concern of the Baltic States, and in the south east (eg Hungary) fences have been constructed to restrict illegal immigration.


  • Roger

    If Ireland gets saddled with 3 percent of the debts of the 100 counties, the Troika will have to come back.