Ireland must seek EU permission to make a draft bilateral deal with Britain

Dublin reaction to Theresa May’s big Brexit speech is understandably cautious verging on the sceptical.   Is more substantial content  to be expected when Theresa meets Enda in Dublin next week,  no doubt to discuss  her hopes that an open-ish border can be achieved  through  “frictionless “ trading monitored digitally  and immigration rules enforced mainly through national insurance and taxation rather than entry points?

Probably not,  even though the promptness of the visit after the speech is welcome and she has just told MPs at PMQs that she and the taoiseach are “one page” over no return to the border of the past, whatever that means.  She will surely urge Enda  to act as an advocate for the British approach; he is bound to be more cautious for fear of using up  too much  political capital too soon.  He regards himself as bound by EU rules deferring negotiations  until Article  50 is triggered. Fair enough; we don’t have too long to wait.

In the Dáil, the Taoiseach said he looked forward to the negotiations which will start once the British trigger the article 50 exit mechanism before the end of March.

“That is where the serious issues of the outcomes of the prime minister’s statement today will be dealt with in minute detail,” Mr Kenny said. “We will argue vociferously for our country

How much can be done bilaterally between the two governments, while the main business is between  the UK  and EU 27?

Phil Hogan, Ireland’s EU commissioner urges his government to  a find solutions  via the  EU system rather than over- concentrating on the Dublin-London relationship. There are obvious pitfalls in sticking too rigidly to either approach and the choice is not binary. But  Dublin’s initial EU –facing  approach  is criticised by John Walsh in the Times.(£)

The House of  Lords released a report before Christmas recommending that the British and Irish governments negotiate a bilateral agreement to preserve the common travel area, which would then be presented to the European Commission for ratification as part of a final settlement. The taoiseach and Michael Noonan, the finance minister, dismissed the report and said that the government would negotiate in unison with the other 27 member states.

This was a mistake. At least if there was a separate agreement between Britain and Ireland, the government could use it as leverage in negotiations. If, as it seems likely, talks between the Britain and the EU descend into brinkmanship over the next few years, the status of the Irish border will become a secondary consideration.

Ireland exports 15 per cent of its goods and services to Britain and 30 per cent of imports come from the UK. Some 200,000 jobs are dependent on trade with the UK, and most of these are in SMEs and the food and drink sector.

If there is a hard Brexit, the domestic economy will take a disproportionate hit. The planning that is needed to help companies prepare for a trade cliff edge cannot be overstated. That is why a Brexit department within the government is needed — at a very minimum.

Earlier this month the Lords EU Committee concluded : 

We do not underestimate the legal and institutional difficulties of translating such recognition into a final agreement. Yet the unique nature of UK-Irish relations necessitates a unique solution  The best way to achieve this would be for the EU institutions and Member States to invite the UK and Irish Governments to negotiate a draft bilateral agreement, involving and incorporating the views and interests of the Northern Ireland Executive, while keeping the EU itself fully informed. Such an agreement would then need to be agreed by EU partners, as a strand of the withdrawal agreement.

Surely the time is coming soon for Ireland to produce a strategy  beyond hand wringing and  to answer Theresa May’s? Ireland need not be passive. She may be only one of 27 but unlike the UK she cannot be punished by her partners for taking up a clear position if she favours  a generous  response to Brexit, in Ireland’s own interest.

It would be advisable to flag up the special interests of Ireland north and south before immersion in the main negotiations.   In the meantime, please note that  the  repeated claim that no one  in  Britain cares about Ireland is unfounded.


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  • Summerfell

    Irish exports to the UK count for 14% of Ireland’s exports… compared to 20% to the US and 13% to Belgium. Ireland needs to get on with it and join Schengen. The CTA means the UK has no control of its borders…
    1. An EU Citizen (free to move to Ireland) may fly to Ireland, and once there, disappear into the CTA, thus making illegal immigration extremely easy.
    2. Goods made in the UK can be transported into Ireland and later on into the EU’s single market. The opposite is also true. If there’s no agreement for free movement of goods, then you’re going to need some sort of border control.

  • Neil

    Alternatively the EU can make life easier for Ireland with subsidies, or help with issues around trade and finance, while making life as difficult as possible for Britain and NI in order to discourage other nations from following the same foolish path. But that wouldn’t take into account British exceptionalism.

    The Lords can say what they like, and they do, but they have very little power or influence to bring to bear. The EU is a much larger entity and they can soften Ireland’s fall if they wish, while turning the screw on the British. Given Theresa’s “give us a special deal please or we’ll crush you” approach (or even Boris comparing the French PM to a Nazi wheeze today) that may seem like a more attractive option.

  • file

    Peter Hain’s comments re the St Andrew’s Agreement on Nolan today, specifically the British government tactic according to him of putting things in agreements that they have no intention of implementing, should make Enda Kenny wary of making any Brexit deals with the UK.

  • Fred Johnson

    Surely border and customs checks at the ports and airports is the solution.

    Come on Unionists, you said you were pro-business? Why would you want to put a burden on businesses with a hard border 😉

  • Fred Johnson

    Indeed and Belfast and Dublin ports and airports are where that border should manifest itself.

  • Fred Johnson

    The British and the Unionists would love to maintain the fiction that
    Ireland is joined at the hip to the UK, and better be deferential as a

    Facts are only 14% of Irish exports go to the UK. Ireland
    is competing with the likes of Switzerland, Singapore and
    Hong Kong for multinational investment, and spending enormous capital
    trying to get its farm products into China and the US.

    The Brits are just these weird neighbours with an attitude problem that directly
    stems from Empire. It’s going to hit them soon that they are just a
    medium sized nation inside the global multinational supply chain.
    Nothing more and nothing less.

  • NMS

    Cannot agree more with the need to remove UKNI issues from the equation and move to closer links via Schengen.

    But the CTA can’t apply, from an EU perspective, unless it is recognised as part of the Barnier negotiations. I commented on those here .

    Irish exports to Belgium mainly involve goods such as pharmaceuticals which are moved through the entrepôt of Antwerp, the figure of 13% is misleading.

    However, it is crucial that the Irish Govt. negotiate the best possible deal for its electorate and the EU, which is likely to be bad for UKNI.

  • NMS

    Fred, it is not the % of Irish exports, which make the UK market crucial to Ireland, it is the type of goods, local added value and who makes them. Irish exports to the UK are key to many Irish owned businesses and in the case of the very large food exports, 100% of the value was created and stays in Ireland. The local added value in many exports from MNCs is much smaller.

  • Jag

    Theresa wants to scare the bejaysus out of Enda (not hard, in fairness) so Ireland presses the EU27 negotiators to the hilt to accede to the UK position (free trade, immigration control).

    Theresa’s diplomatic minions will be doing a similar job in the other EU27, “who will buy your Mercs, Angela”.

    The EU27 controls access to an affluent market of 500m on Britain’s doorstep; as such, the EU27 will be dominant in any negotiations, and the starting point is, the UK is Albania, not Switzerland, not Norway – Albania.

  • NMS

    To widen the discussion further, here is a link to a short analysis of the likely positions of the Visegrád Four (Poland, Czech Rep, Slovakia & Hungary). They have a combined population similar to the UK and in the case of Poland, a lot of nationals living in the UK

  • Brian Walker

    I have no idea what Hain said. It would be helpful to read what he actually said. As he was involved in St Andrews it seems odd that he said that.

  • Teddybear

    Ireland can veto any final agreement between U.K. and EU. Excuse my analogy but ROI is holding the UK’s testicles (NIreland) (and yes, Christians do use such words in case anyone asks) during its Brexit negotiations.

    I’m confident th border issue will be satisfactory resolved unless of course ROI negotiators are incompetent… or have SF doing the talking, as it wouldn’t be in SF’s interest for an open border to remain.

    Think about it…

    An open border would not make anyone agitate for a UI as they feel it’s there already in all but name. But if there’s a hard border, well that gets people’s backs up. SF could then argue that the only way the hard border to be removed is a UI. THEN, SF would have leverage for persuading for a UI

    SF may openly be against a hard border but in private I bet they’re praying for it. It will be th only peaceful way they could meaningfully appeal for a border poll and perhaps even win it

  • Reader

    Summerfell: An EU Citizen (free to move to Ireland) may fly to Ireland, and once there, disappear into the CTA, thus making illegal immigration extremely easy.
    Or they could save time and money by getting onto a tourist flight to Gatwick instead.
    They still won’t be able to claim working tax credits, housing benefit, NHS treatment, education for their children or get a National Insurance number to allow them to work.
    So far as EU citizens are concerned, paperwork is the border.

  • Brian Walker

    I suppose we just have to accept that blogs attract comment that is negative and claims so much more knowledgable than the players. It would be really great if more comment concentrated on possible solutions rather than trying to score over dogmatic points which, frankly, are usually pretty old news to anybody who has the slightest acquaintance with the subject.

  • Zorin001

    I agree Teddybear, business as usual doesn’t suit Sinn Fein on the border but they can’t come outright and say that.

    Realpolitik is an ugly underhanded business one that the man on the street doesn’t always consider.

  • Oriel27

    Sorry Teddy but this is not about SF any longer. Sure there is other parties who dont want a border either.

    Its as simple as this, a hard border across the island will land the country back 50 years. The GFA & peace process will be gone.

    I cross the border every day to work, l live beside it and have family both sides. To be honest one never notices it – but yesterday was a stressful and worrying day for me.

    Any hindrance, be it customs checks etc will be greatly resisted. If anything, the border must go down the middle of the irish sea. Its the only way to ensure peace prevails and the economic interests of both North and South are guaranteed.

  • 1729torus

    An open border would effectively set NI on a longterm path out of the UK.

  • He said the following: “Sometimes you have a document containing thousands of words and although there might not be 100% agreement on one line in it, there is broad agreement on the whole lot of it, and that enables the way forward. Everybody knows that is the way Northern Ireland politics works. The most important thing about St Andrews is that it moved the whole process forward. It may not be that everyone agrees 100% on everything, but broadly speaking they agree on the whole package.”

  • Oriel27

    Moderate unionists must now speak up. Obvious Stormont doesnt work. They cannot support a hard border or any border on this island. If anything, brexit as cemented the end of NI.

  • 1729torus

    None of the British commentators sound particularly apologetic about the problem they’ve foisted on Dublin. In fact, you might even think that they’re secretly happy that they can create a situation where Ireland is apparently compelled to spend energy for the benefit of the UK.

    Seems the old domineering mentality is still around; people will pick up on it after a while and relations will potentially chill as was the case before 1998.

    If links can be severed to the maximal feasible degree once, it can happen again. In that case, many British people will be shocked and hurt.

  • lizmcneill

    Why? There wasn’t much agitation for a UI with the pre-Brexit open border.

  • Dan

    …the way it works under deceitful men like him.
    Hain was never to be trusted.

  • 1729torus

    It would show that NI isn’t really part of the UK, but part of Ireland instead. Once the crack appeared, it would gradually widen and NI would slowly drift away from Britain.

  • Karl

    If Theresa is relying on Enda to make the case for her, shes fuct. Ireland with 4 million people will have limited political capital, if more sympathy amongst the 26. Endas got to use it carefully, at the right time and not going pissing around trying to keep the rock and the hard place happy.
    Better to keep the EU sweet than the UK despite the obvious pain this will engender in the short term.

  • It certainly doesn’t do any favours to the idea of the British government as an honest broker.

  • Fred Johnson

    That is nonsense. The MNC’s employ 200,000 people in the ROI, and spend billions on local goods and services. You can’t just selectively exclude them from the statistics. It’s true the ROI is overly reliant on the UK in the agri-food sector, but that should change and indeed has been changing. I think only about a third of agri-food products now go to the UK.

  • file

    Listen to Nolan’s podcast of his show – I don’t think Nolan does transcripts yet. Malachi O’Doherty was on after him making the point I posted.

  • Summerfell

    “Or they could save time and money by getting onto a tourist flight to Gatwick instead.”

    Flying into Gatwick post-Brexit = passport stamp. Flying into Ireland = no passport stamp, hell, no passport necessary! Which is a benefit in the long run.

    “They still won’t be able to claim working tax credits, housing benefit,
    NHS treatment, education for their children or get a National Insurance
    number to allow them to work.”

    Illegal immigrants don’t care about this. They only care about getting paid under the table. Take a look at the number of illegal immigrants in the UK, those people don’t care about any of the fancy stuff you mention.

  • AntrimGael

    If there’s one thing the Irish civil and diplomatic services are not it’s stupid and unfocused. They have had teams working on ALL eventualities months BEFORE the Brexit vote and contingency plans are well advanced. I hear they are now seriously considering boosting their merchant fleet, leasing large numbers of vessels, to bypass Britain and deal directly with Europe. Despite the nicities and floury language Ireland will ultimately fall in behind the EU regarding Britain and if that means hard Brexit and customs/passport controls on this island so be it. Furthermore the Irish cherish their EU citizenship and will not give this up.

  • lizmcneill

    The CTA has existed since before the UK and Ireland were in the EU and it didn’t have that effect.

  • Brian Walker

    Gosh, AG, you’re well informed! Or are you guessing and relishing all the fuss?

  • Brian Walker

    Dan do you trust anybody? Who? Why? If not, what next – domesday?

  • Dreary Steeple

    A lot of people on this site don’t trust orange blobs either.

  • Oggins

    So what are we saying and expecting?

    A large number to fly to Dublin (or ferry). Sneak over the border, if hard, and smuggle across the Irish Sea? Or if we put a hard border on our ports, it removes the possibility of going via Ireland?

    As someone who is employed in manufacturing, I am scared of the impact it will have. We can’t have an open border with two different trading and custom laws.

    I know we keep repeating the same mantra but NI is going to suffer.

    Good article Brian by the way

  • Oggins

    So what is stopping a northern or southern company depending on the need to label products accordingly for their own benefit. There will be a need for larger customs on both sides to manage and spot check

  • AntrimGael

    Well I did watch the RTE Prime Time last night where all of the above were mentioned or do you just not bother listening to anything the Irish say? Furthermore Brian you seem to be the one relishing all the Brexit fuss from the OUT perspective and were you also not the one pushing out articles on Slugger suggesting all sorts of Unionist/Loyalist insurrections and Doomsday scenarios in the event of further Dublin input or Joint Authority?

  • J D

    Summary: The UK desperately needs all the allies it can get in this Brexit cockup, even the help of Ireland (notice how the correct name is used throughout, no “republic” – so you know they must be desperate Unionists are never this polite).

    No. Ireland will be taking care of herself and the UK can have that Brexit anchor all to themselves. Enjoy it!

  • 1729torus

    Yes, but in this case NI would have to choose where the border posts went.

  • harmlessdrudge

    Belgium is now a more important market than the UK, which has been becoming steadily less important every year. Much of the change we will see will happen as result of depreciation of the £ never mind trade barriers. Ireland will lose low wage jobs to a low wage economy next door and will gain high wage jobs targeting EU markets. Brits will find Irish products less affordable too. There’s no prospect of Ireland being taken hostage, except perhaps by the cost of a hard border, but that would have costs and consequences for the UK too.

  • Fred Johnson

    Your bias is shining through Mr Walker and its blinding you to the reality.

    Direct trade routes to the continent are being seriously looked at by the Irish government and may become an absolute necessity if the UK fully leaves the customs union.

    I’d know you’d like to think of the Irish as teathered to Old Blighty, but mostly the Brits are an amusing irrelevance.

  • lizmcneill

    It’s unlike that it’s NI’s choice.

  • J D

    It is always Sinn Fein’s fault isn’t it? Unionism is publicly reveling in the prospect of a hard border, but it will be SF’s fault.

    You should blog for slugger, yer a natural.

  • J D

    Well, it isn’t. It’s part of Ireland, you’ll notice this big blue wobbly thing encircling the island, carefully making that bleeding obvious to all but Unionists.

  • J D

    I reckon they are in for a nasty surprise when Ireland let’s them fall flat on their arse.

  • J D

    Ireland has a gun to the UK’s head, not the other way around. Once A50 is triggered Ireland should make it clear to the UK that any deal they come up with that includes a hard border on the island will be vetoed. Full stop.

    If we are going to get a hard border then we should stick it to the Brits as hard as possible. Leave them sinking with WTO MFTS. It is the best and fastest way to bring the north to heal and achieve re-unification.

  • J D

    Me-owww. Better informed than you obviously, but don’t let your jealousy stay hidden. Be petty!

  • Madra Uisce

    Yes it did,but Ireland and the UK were not then EU members.Both countries joined the EU at the same time but now the Brits are leaving and its looking like a hard BREXIT that will change everything.

  • the moviegoer

    If the UK plans on slashing corporate tax to 12.5 per cent or lower, that is more of a threat to Ireland’s economy than hits to the smaller domestic economy which is more reliant on trade with the UK. If that happens, Ireland’s big differentiator from our neighbour will be access to Europe. It is not in Ireland’s interest that the UK gets a cushy Brexit deal. Multinationals are more important than farmers. There is no point in Ireland staking out a position until we know what the UK plans on doing post-Brexit. In the cold light of day Phil Hogan’s assessment makes the most sense.

  • Brian Walker

    Ouch! The Irish government like the British has been working hard, is not stupid etc.. The British have put out a strategy. I’m arguing that the Irish should put out theirs and I’m suggesting an approach. I rely on the papers to cover developments and Im grateful for updates.Why the prickliness? My Dublin friends and contacts are cool I assure you!

  • Brian Walker

    There you go, another commenter truffling for ulterior motives…

  • How will the UK afford such a tax rate? Shut down the NHS? Something would have to give.

  • Brian Walker

    Irish anger is understandable but the British didnt do this just to get at Ireland. From your comments you seem to tbink it was all an anti-Irish plot..

  • hotdogx

    Brian, I’ve looked into this as well, as many on here know I live in France and I take the boat to Central Europe from Rosslare or Dublin with my old Ford CAPRI at least four times a year, more direct routes are opening up and ships are being added & leased if necessary. Some of the biggest RO RO Ferries in the world belong to Ireland. The difference going through Britain or going direct to Central Europe is the price of the extra bit of crude oil required to run the ship longer and the Lyon nager journey time. We even have the same money. That’s it

  • hotdogx

    Of course the didn’t do it on purpose. They like the Irish and Ireland and we like them. They act as though they don’t legislate for any part of Ireland and so the shouldn’t !!!!!

  • hotdogx

    Yes they will fall flat, but being the good neighbors we are we will help them to their feet as in WW1 and WW2, Irish blood of all creeds flowed for freedom and helped defend Britain and the Allied forces. Unionism loves to forget this.

  • hotdogx

    No he’s not wrong actually, there are a couple of industries in Ireland that could be disproportionately vulnerable

  • Kevin Breslin

    The Common Travel Area is protected by the Amsterdam Treaty I would think. The biggest threat to it comes from Westminster, not Brussels.

    If the UK wishes to deal with migration through red tape in Northern Ireland, how does that affect the governing of the Republic of Ireland?

    Do they really need to consult the Republic of Ireland government on a program that the latter is not going to have to cooperate with?

    There’s no need for the Irish to do the same red tape to other EU nationals, whether they may have to do that to UK nationals or not is down to Irish bargaining with the EU.

    As for customs there really is no guarantee that the UK would think of the Irish anyway, even if the Irish weren’t in the EU.

    I agree with Phil Hogan to deal with this matter in the EU, alongside France and Spain who’ll have freight issues with the UK themselves, the latter specifically with regards to Gibraltar.

    I really don’t see an advantage to the Republic to do a bilateral deal with the U.K. perhaps it is in the interests of both the UK and Republic to think bigger than this.

    The only thing it does offer is a way of stopping if not mitigating the UK triggering unintended consequences in Northern Ireland and on the Irish border from its own brinkmanship.

    As I see it a bilateral deal between the two nations would be a concession from Dublin to London and not the other way about.

    David Davies saying that the Republic of Ireland will not have to choose between the UK and the EU, seems to show a level of maturity I wouldn’t normally associate with the jingoistic Eurosceptic political class of the U.K.

  • hotdogx

    I think Britain will have to forget Mercs and BMW, I’m sure we’ll see them taking out the old blueprints to build new Morris Marinas and Austin Allegros.
    All the elite leaving Britain to work in Ireland will be ordering their Merc & Bmws in Ireland so I’m sure Angela won’t be loosing out. In fact with her reunification experience we may get some help from her.

  • eireanne3

    No, it is just “collateral damage”!

  • eireanne3

    no, it’s just called “collateral damage”

  • J D

    Well, the UK shouldn’t be rely on the current arrangements in Ireland lasting until the end of Brexit negotiations.

    If SF is in coalition govt with FF then all bets are off.

  • 1729torus

    I never claimed that Brexit was an anti-Irish plot, or even that Ireland was a substantial consideration during the Brexit debate.

    Britain is being rude and arrogant about the situation, and I speculated that insofar as the British care, they were secretly hoping that Dublin could in some vague sense be brought to heel.

  • Starviking

    Us Unionists with our Irish Guards, Royal Irish Rangers, Royal Irish Lancers etc…

  • Starviking

    “It is the best and fastest way to bring the north to heal and achieve re-unification.”

    Those kinds of actions on the part of the ROI would be perfect for increasing cross-border hostility, and probably kick any united Ireland another century down the line.

  • J D

    What has the soccer team got to do with anything?

  • Starviking


  • Dan

    Did you trust Hain?
    More fool you.

  • hotdogx

    Of course

  • Reader

    Summerfell: Illegal immigrants don’t care about this.
    They don’t care about passport stamps either.
    Have you remembered that we are talking about EU citizens here? Why go to the UK to hide and to work in the black economy when they can go to e.g. Ireland and have all the benefits and privileges of EU citizenship?

  • Summerfell

    No poassport stamp = how long have you been in the UK? It makes it easier to overstay.

    “Have you remembered that we are talking about EU citizens here? Why go to the UK to hide and to work in the black economy when they can go to e.g. Ireland and have all the benefits and privileges of EU citizenship?”

    Because they have family/friends there, for example. Or just because they want to. If you’re 19 and you feel like working six months as a waiter in an English-speaking country, and your cousin (who lived in the UK before Brexit) can host you in Manchester, and you have no other ties to Ireland (or… Malta) then, why not?

    This is just an example. I don’t know what each possible illegal immigrant is thinking. They each have their own push/pull factors. The point is, there is no control. Brexit is supposed to mean “control”, and this is giving that up.