“concepts and terms like “special status” give rise to serious concerns for other EU partners about precedents that might be set elsewhere”

A much needed, for some, lesson in the real politik of negotiations with other EU states, in regard to the UK leaving the EU, from the Irish Government Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, in a Dáil written answer last week.

457.Deputy Darragh O’Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the need for a special status for Northern Ireland in view of Brexit has been placed on the agenda and discussed formally at any EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): In the immediate aftermath of the UK referendum on EU exit, the European Council agreed, inter alia, that there would be no negotiations with the UK in advance of the Article 50 application being triggered. Accordingly, the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union has not to date been an item on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC). Although formal discussions on Brexit have not taken place at the FAC, I have since June spoken at least once with each of my EU Foreign Minister colleagues on the issue of Brexit, over the course of more than 35 engagements; my programme of meetings continues in the weeks ahead.

Protecting the peace process and Northern Ireland is one of the Government’s four headline priorities in dealing with the UK decision to leave the European Union. The established framework for all engagement on Northern Ireland is the Good Friday Agreement. This has been strongly reaffirmed by the Government and the British Government following the UK decision to leave the European Union. The Good Friday Agreement is an international treaty, registered with the United Nations and it provides for a unique political and constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland, which is the foundation of the peace process. This is something the European Union as a whole has long recognised and supported.

On 23 February, the Taoiseach held a very positive meeting with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at which the Commission President expressed his support and solidarity with Ireland in dealing with the challenges of Brexit, including to uphold the Good Friday Agreement and seek the maintenance of the open border. The Taoiseach will have a further round of meetings in Brussels this week, when he will meet with President Tusk of the European Council and Michel Barnier, Chair of the European Commission Taskforce.

On 30 January, the Taoiseach discussed with Prime Minister May the serious implications of Brexit for Northern Ireland and the imperative of retaining the open border on the island of Ireland. There will be a need for the British Government to reflect the unique challenges Brexit poses for Northern Ireland in the position they adopt in the negotiations with the EU27. I reinforced this message in my meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire in our meeting on 14 February.

The Government has been clear that there are entirely unique circumstances in respect of the island of Ireland that must be taken account of in the negotiations for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and the future EU-UK relationship. While the Irish Government is actively seeking recognition and accommodation of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, our extensive discussions with partner governments across the EU – including the UK – have made clear that concepts and terms like “special status” give rise to serious concerns for other EU partners about precedents that might be set elsewhere. This would risk undermining the Government’s efforts to specifically address and mitigate the very real impacts facing our island – and the people of Northern Ireland in particular – due to Brexit.

While I entirely understand the rationale of those seeking a “special status” designation, the fact is that such a proposal would unnecessarily distract from work to secure arrangements which reflect the genuine uniqueness of Northern Ireland’s situation, founded in the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, as well as its geographic status as the only land border between the UK and the EU27. [added emphasis]

On 21 February, I outlined to the House the need for specific, effective, and realisable measures that could address the major issues of concern under Brexit, whether these relate to the border, or to the citizenship, constitutional and human rights provisions of the Agreement, or otherwise. The Government will also be advocating for the continuation of the range of EU policy supports to Northern Ireland and the peace process, including in relation to EU funding and is looking at existing precedents and potential innovative approaches in this regard.

The Government will continue to work with our EU partners and EU Institutions and prepare comprehensively in support of our overall negotiating objectives.

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  • Deeman

    We could justify it to the Europeans by letting them sit down with Arlene and Gerry dressed up as crocodiles. The debate would be centred around the simple question, “who was at fault for the troubles?” After a few hours of listening to that, the European delegation would conclude that NI is indeed a very “special” type of place.

  • We should all support the Republic of Ireland gaining special status inside the EU. Solutions that are not all State solutions will be resisted by other EU members. The Republic needs our support http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/your-say/republic-needs-special-status-not-ni-1-7844929

  • burnboilerburn

    Its crazy that we are going to have to duck, dive,, twist and turn to try find solutions to the border problem etc. when the obvious solution is staring us straight in the fact. Call a border poll and let the people of the North have their say as to what they would prefer; remain in the EU as part of a United Ireland or stay with the UK outside the EU. Its quite baffling why so many people find that such a difficult option.

  • Smithborough

    What could possibly go wrong?

  • burnboilerburn

    What?

  • Smithborough

    The political discussion in Northern Ireland has yet to grasp the reality that the EU is the party most likely to insist on a post-Brexit hard border, not the UK or Ireland.

  • runnymede

    This just isn’t going to happen and those suggesting it need to wise up.

  • runnymede

    Yep. So Ireland will need a special status vis-a-vis the UK and outside the EU – which we are very happy to grant, btw.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Special status can set precedents, which is why Scotland is kiboshed. NI is unusual enough that it can be facilitated, not least because of its physical separation from Britain and physical connection to the EU.

    The problem here, as usual, is the British who of course are causing the problem in the first place.

  • chrisjones2

    Utter nonsense

  • Nevin

    “On 23 February, the Taoiseach held a very positive meeting with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at which the Commission President expressed his support and solidarity with Ireland in dealing with the challenges of Brexit, ..”

    or more specifically:

    But at a certain point, Dublin will have to spell out how it wants the problems posed by Brexit on the Irish border to be fixed.

    “[Chief negotiator Michel] Barnier is not going to come up with solutions,” says one EU source. “Ireland needs to come up with solutions. The problems are understood, and the circumstances are understood. But Ireland needs solutions, it will have to come up with solutions.” .. ‘Tuath Fairy’ – but will there be any Euros under the pillow?

  • Fear Éireannach

    Perhaps you better expand on which bit is wrong
    – Scotland is not very special and so a widely applicable precedent and unlikely to be set
    – NI is pretty unusual so does not set much of a precedent
    – the British caused this trouble.and don’t give a damn how much damage they do to peace in NI.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Ask and you shall receive. Don’t ask and you certainly will not receive.

  • epg_ie

    Nobody really knows what either the UK or the EU will seek, or how one will want to treat the other, so a period of… less pretence to omniscience from Slugger’s unreliable prognosticators would be in order?

  • Superfluous

    If Northern Ireland were to find itself a niche of still being in the UK, while maintaining full access to EU markets through some sort of special status, then it could become a very attractive destination to headquarter your multi-national business (with one foot in, one foot out – as it were). Such a niche could well bring about a situation where many more people who work in the private sector will become economically dependent on the constitutional status quo (think Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Channel Islands).

    Of course the DUP argued for Brexit and so can’t be seen to be wanting anything to do with the EU, thus turning Northern Ireland into even more of a basket case economy and in turn providing strong economic arguments for unification…

  • burnboilerburn

    If a UI wins then we get on with it forever. If a UI loses, we will say nattin for seven years.

  • epg_ie

    If the UK wants to stay in the European Economic Area, there’s no need for the UK and EU to have a hard border.

    But it looks like England/the UK wants no EEA, immigration control and shoddy Trump imports. Therefore, England/the UK is choosing a hard border.

  • Smithborough

    I would agree that a half in half out status would be both very economically advantageous and could create a much healthier private sector which would depend on that special status. Unfortunately if we are realistic, it isn’t likely to be in offer. The EU will block it because it is too sweet a deal and it creates too much incentive for other countries to follow suit.

  • Smithborough

    Who is we?

  • NotNowJohnny

    Surely you’re not referring to FE’s 1st paragraph?

  • Superfluous

    I suspect you’re right that such a status wouldn’t be given away easily. It’s hard to think of many alternatives though – a hard border would be a logistical nightmare for either state to maintain. They might not actually be able to maintain it at all (think of the current struggles with fuel and tobacco smuggling) – thus making some sort of ‘special status’ inevitable. Or a constitutional change…

  • Smithborough

    Special status would need the agreement of the EU. It would require changes to the EU Treaties which would therefore need unanimous approval amongst EU member states. That isn’t impossible but it is, at the least, an enormous challenge. I don’t see much sign that northern nationalism is doing anything to achieve this. Whingeing about Theresa May and hard Brexit isn’t a strategy.

  • NotNowJohnny

    That’s already dealt with in the legislation. However the figure isn’t 20 or 30. It’s 7.

  • burnboilerburn

    If the vote was held tomorrow morning we would lose for sure. If it was announced that a vote would take place in say September 2018 (similar to Scotland), I think we would win. If not we would come within a whisker. Under the terms of GFA, we can return to the question after seven years. To be honest, if we were slaughtered like 60/40, I reckon it would be dead in the water for decades. Which is why I cant understand why Unionism doesn’t have the courage of their conviction and call for a poll.

  • mac tire

    “I don’t see much sign that northern nationalism is doing anything to achieve this”

    You may not see it but that does not mean nothing is happening. SF’s four MEPs are attempting to get others in Europe on board. Whether that amounts to anything is another story but work is being done in the background.

  • Ray Lawlor

    So throw the UK’s mess onto the ROI? Sounds lovely… but I doubt the Irish Government would be up for it without a serious pot of gold at the end of that clusterf*ck rainbow.

  • mac tire

    It’s just a letter from John Taylor fantasizing.

  • Ray Lawlor

    Given what Charlie Flanagan has outlined above, saying “such a status wouldn’t be given away easily” is an understatement…

    I think both of you above have misread Charlie’s statement, he saying very bluntly that there is no chance of a special status…

    “Hi there Northern Ireland… it’s Bosnia here…”

    “Oh hi… sorry… can’t speak… I have Albania on the phone who’s apparently just done some sort of deal with Greece…”

    I think we can certainly ask for special status… but really there is fewer headaches all round if they tell the UK to man the border.

  • Ray Lawlor

    ” I don’t see much sign that northern nationalism is doing anything to achieve this.”

    Are you seriously suggesting that a party that isn’t in government in a sovereign nation approach the other EU members about trying to get a treaty change?

    And that’s LESS “pie-in-the-sky” than speaking to the sovereign government of your country?

  • Superfluous

    You think Gerry and Mary Lou will need to apply for a working visa next time they want to do some electioneering/counting centre cheering in the north?

    Maybe all the border farmers will need working visas to drive their machinery across their own fields.

    I’m sure there will be some pragmatic exceptions in the case of a hard Brexit.

  • Ray Lawlor

    Problem is – as mentioned elsewhere in these comments – we’d be verging on treaty change which would require ratification and all member states agreeing – including a referendum in the ROI etc… No-one is in the mood to let the UK off the hook, Ireland maybe… but think of the politic-ing that would be required to get that agreed…! Wow…

    Off the top of my head… think of Croatia’s response, given their populations in Bosnia etc… special status… yes please…

  • Smithborough

    Trying to think up some concrete arrangements which would be sellable, or only sligtly beyond the sellable, would be a good start.

  • Ciarán Doherty

    Honestly it’s hard to imagine NI living standards and employment numbers not falling through the floor in the event of hard Brexit without a special status… This should be a major concern for all NI residents, there is the potential here for mass emigration to the south and to England leaving nothing but a decaying ghost province.

  • Smithborough

    I’m not saying it would be anything short of extremely difficult, as it would require a treaty change with all members agreeing, BUT it looks likely that Brexit could also require treaty change, so theoretically it could be part of a package.

    A de facto but minimal version of special status could possibly be packaged as special customs arrangements to make it more sellable.

  • Ciarán Doherty

    Fewer headaches for everyone outside of the island of Ireland, and they are the ones making the decision here so I think we can assume that that’s what will happen. The lipstick on the pig will be some “smart border” IT nonsense and the result will predictably be outbreaks of violence and the complete economic collapse of NI.

  • Jollyraj

    “You think Gerry and Mary Lou will need to apply for a working visa next time they want to do some electioneering/counting centre cheering in the north?”

    Working visa? I don’t think Gerry, career politician that he is, has done much that most working people would recognize as ‘work’ since his days as a barman.

  • Ray Lawlor

    I agree but they are the hindered by the massive handicap of not being an actual government, just a wee devolved administration.

    Added to the fact that Theresa May has literally zero interest in what Irish republicans want and would happily plunge us into the abyss if it so please middle englanders.

  • Ray Lawlor

    Some genius will come up with the idea of making sure those Farmers and Big Gerry have their Irish Passports…

  • Superfluous

    And Mary Lou and the farmers born on the other side of border will be allowed British passports? If so, that’d be a bit of a special status 🙂

  • Reader

    mac tire: SF’s four MEPs are attempting to get others in Europe on board
    1) “on board” what, exactly?
    2) MEPs are irrelevant (as always). It’s the EU commission and the national governments that matter.

  • Ray Lawlor

    No but that type of special status requires action from the post-brexit UK government, not the EU.

    Post-brexit, the UK is free to allow whoever it wants through it’s borders (remember the Brexit campaigning on immigration)… so it would be up to the UK to allow “special Status” for Irish Passport holders in the UK.

  • Superfluous

    Ok ok fair enough – I think my point was that something is bound to give, on both sides, because pragmatically a Berlin-wall style border will not be built – and logistically it will be impossible to stop WTO-tariff-arbitraging between the two territories without some sort of Berlin-wall style border (I don’t think the technical solutions are there yet).

    I read a few months back a Tory mentioning that they might actually cede freedom of movement on the island of Ireland and only check passports at Northern/Southern Irish ports – if Tories follow through on that and the southern Irish don’t check passports on their side then that would be a defacto special status for Northern Ireland, even if it’s not been rubber stamped as such by Brussels.

  • Ray Lawlor

    Something IS bound to give… I agree with you… my worry is who or what the “give” will suit… because my suspicion is it won’t suit ordinary people in the border areas.

    Re: checks at Irish ports… I think that’s a pipe dream too, dreamt up in the fantasies of the Tory brain… which seems to think that the Irish will fall into line. Other than the example of offering the convenience of “clearing US immigration at Shannon” I can’t see the Irish government seceding any sort of sovereignty to the UK government without a seriously nice handshake – also expect whatever Irish government that agrees to something like that to loose the following GE.

    I may be open to being accused of being fatalist here, but I can’t see a way around the mess the English have dropped us in… It is an unholy mess.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “This just isn’t going to happen”….
    RM, do you have some inside information we don’t, or is this simply assertained from an encoded cognative bias?

  • burnboilerburn

    Delivering half a million votes for SF in Ireland is job enough.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Passports are not really the issue. Passport checks within Ireland are not practical. The issue is Customs and issues like public procurement etc. These require NI to remain in the Single market.

  • Jollyraj

    Indeed yes, mo chara. But therein lies the problem.

    Sinn Fein seem to very transparently exist for the sole benefit and enrichment of…..Sinn Fein.

    As far as I can see they have delivered nothing for the people of Ireland, or of Northern Ireland, at all.

  • burnboilerburn

    As far as you can see? Fair enough. But then opponents of SF are not going to look very far to find favour in that party regardless. Or maybe you believe that those half a million people dont have your insight? Ultimately it doesn’t matter because for so long as the people believe SF are delivering they will continue to support them the party’s growth is slow yet phenomonal at the same time. It hurts, i get that but its happenning.

  • 1729torus

    The UK can devolve the necessary powers to NI to de facto remain in the EEA.

  • mac tire

    “1) “on board” what, exactly?”

    Understanding the impact of Brexit in the north, particularly in the ways this UK decision will affect us in ways it will not affect GB, and trying to garner support for a special status to minimise that impact.

    “MEPs are irrelevant”

    The MEPs are reps of the other countries who will have a say, some even being members of the national government parties. There is no harm in trying to garner support and trying to influence people. I have already stated that it may not work – but that that work was being undertaken.

  • burnboilerburn
  • Katyusha

    Bosnia has already applied to join the EU. There’s little need to arrange special status for a state that should soon be a full member, that is if Bosnia’s candidacy does not already count as special status in itself.

  • lizmcneill

    I wonder what NI’s status regarding the EU would be under a (theoretical, don’t believe the GFA permits it) joint authority?

  • Old Mortality

    I’m sure HM government would welcome EU agreement to the continuation of all existing arrangements between the UK and Ireland. Now being such exemplary Europeans, surely it is possible for the Irish government to negotiate that agreeable solution.

  • Old Mortality

    That would be great. We could demolish all those hideous rural houses that would become empty and worthless. Think of the tourism potential if the landscape was stripped of these vulgar monstrosities.

  • Old Mortality

    That might not appeal so much to the EU as it would probably mean Ireland getting the begging bowl out again and with one of the largest net contributors gone.

  • Old Mortality

    60/40 is hardly a slaughtering but maybe it is if you think that 56% on a 64% turnout is an ‘overwhelming’ majority.