So Guy Verhofstadt tells us that the EU is not out to punish the UK (or ‘Britain’ if you still think we’re all the same). We, if we are paying attention to Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU cannot had out what the British Foreign Minister so crassly refers to as a punishment beating:
- The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness, founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation.
- For the purposes of paragraph 1, the Union may conclude specific agreements with the countries concerned. These agreements may contain reciprocal rights and obligations as well as the possibility of undertaking activities jointly. Their implementation shall be the subject of periodic consultation.
The other compensating thought for the Leavers is that the Canadian deal provides a template for something very close to membership of the Single Market without actually being in it.
That means all manner of regulatory strictures in the first place, but it would be hard for the EU to offer ‘Britain’ something more ‘punishing’ than the the deal it has already struck with Canada.
The opportunity and the threat of Brexit is not the big stuff, it lies in the smaller unintended consequences that can scale up over time. Without adding to the often meaningless rhetoric around the implications for peace in NI, Verhofstadt makes a valid point here:
One of the greatest challenges in the forthcoming negotiations will be the acute need to find a solution for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, so that a new hard border dividing them is avoided. I am committed to doing my upmost to ensure, from the European Union side, that the specific needs of Ireland and Northern Ireland are prioritised in the negotiations to come.
Here again, Britain and the European Union must work together. It would be a tragedy if Brexit reversed any of the progress towards peace and reconciliation made in recent years, but much work must be done to square this circle and deliver a viable solution on the ground.
The key to may amount to developing a positive attitude on both sides of these negotiations:
Brexit will be a sad, surreal and exhausting process. The EU must use the UK’s departure to reform and move forward. Britain can choose to be a partner in this process, or it can be an impediment to it. Let us hope for a future relationship based on trust and genuine partnership.
There’s no near term threat that I can see re Northern Ireland, but we’re about to witness an election in which the storing up of dried kindle of tribal resentments are shamelessly displayed every time there’s a fresh deadlock at Stormont.
Those who voted for remain have serious concerns that need more than just another series of meaningless supplications or protests. And as Micheal Martin noted the other day in this Irish Times podcast:
The independent economic analysis is that the North will suffer most of all from Brexit, and particularly from hard Brexit. And the island of Ireland will suffer. So I’m pessimistic about the translation of the conciliatory language into reality in terms of what we all want to avoid: borders tariffs on goods and services. We want to avoid borders on the island of Ireland.
I think it’s still possible for a common travel area, but its going to be very difficult because Britain seems intent on restricting on the movement of people, particularly in terms of work. In terms of the language of her speech and the aspirations of her speech, they will have to come up with further clarifications of how they terms of how they intend to translate into a workable model.
The bigger worry is a political worry. There have always been people who are not signed up to the new political situation, so we have to be careful that we don’t create scenarios that give fodder to people who will want to be disruptive and destructive.
The trade issue is jobs and bread and butter. It’s interesting in the Prime Minister’s speech about the reference to research and education, and particularly the research collaborations across Europe. Now Britain wants to retain that, and there is a sense that Europe will kick back. And I think for the North that’s a worry I have.
Many northern campuses, universities, companies, business were aligning themselves with both British and Irish companies in the Republic to seek Horizon 2020 funding and that all could be shut off for the North. But we need to seek out ways and means [for] the citizens of Northern Ireland.
Given the conflict and the violence the economy of the North is not one that has ever really come out of that situation. And because of its over-reliance on public sector employment it has never really developed fully as a private sector economy.
One would argue, and one would hope, we could get special deals on a number of fronts for Northern Ireland. That Interreg funding could be maintained, for example and that we could tap in to the good will that is in Europe to maintain some access for the citizens in partnership with the Republic to quite a number of these EU funds.
That’s tangible and practical in people’s everyday lives.