On Brexit, the Irish are caught between two opposing forces, but at least they’re showing more invention and concern about the North than the British and northerners themselves

The ritual opening shots in the Brexit campaign must leave the Republic feeling caught in a trap in a dialogue of the deaf between two opposing forces. So much, so sadly predictable, in spite of all the warm words- although the crudeness of the exchanges is perhaps surprising.

It’s pretty clear that the Irish government don’t favour the aggressive opening approach by the Commission and confirmed this morning by its chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

On the detail of the FT’s latest on a British bill escalating to euro 100 billion, the Irish demur. In their strategy document they assess the UK net contribution to the budget in 2015 as euro 14 billion, adding that up to date figures will be available  in 2019. This implies that the escalated settlement figure of 100 billion reported in the FT to be paid before trade talks begin that year, is well over the top, even if it includes  some ongoing costs.

It’s also pretty clear  that the rigid separation and sequencing   of “settling the accounts” and citizenship, only then to be followed by trade, does not match up to the EU’s own professed aim of including Ireland in their priorities. For without discussing the trade implications how can you achieve anything like an open border?  Ireland will politely challenge Commission supremacy and has already planned to be involved at every stage of the negotiations, as outlined in the Irish government’s strategy paper published yesterday. Pat Leahy in the Irish Times reflects on the opening shots of a long campaign.

  The strategy emphasises that the final decisions on the EU side will be taken by the member states acting together, rather than by the European Commission. The document warns of a “worst-case scenario” where the UK leaves the EU in two years without an agreement, and trade between the two reverts to World Trade Organisation rules.

As Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes says

These reports of a €100 billion bill are utterly unhelpful. Putting such an over-inflated bill on the British could leave talks at a standstill from the start,” he said.

“It is clear that the UK will have to pay a substantial bill but there needs to be fairness. The Commission could be setting the stage for a very dangerous stand-off and Ireland stands to lose if the talks simply fail at the first hurdle.

The British warmly agree. 

According to reports, Brussels was plotting to limit Ms May’s Brexit discussions to direct meetings with the European Commission’s lead Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. Such a move would run contrary to Ms May’s claim that she would be negotiating directly on the terms of Brexit with fellow leaders.

Mr Davis said Britain had “ every right” to attend every European Council meeting and will exercise its right.

“Just as we are obeying the laws of the Union, exactly to the letter, we are also going to expect our rights…The idea that somehow one side of the negotiation can dictate how the other side runs a negotiation is laughable.”

 

The Irish strategy document itself is a statement of aims and offers little by way of incisive political analysis of thorny issues , like  how much can be achieved  bilaterally  between the two governments and how Irish/EU  citizen rights  can be guaranteed  inside a Brexit Northern Ireland.

But what is most remarkable about the document is that the Irish government are putting much more thought into the implications for the North than the British government, at least in public.

They will argue that the Republic could need special EU support to cope with the economic shock from Brexit  and for a  substantial  transitional period after Britain leaves the EU but before a new trade deal between Britain and Europe is finalised, to try to minimise the disruption of Brexit.

As expected in such a document,  Dublin puts a positive face on the British position  towards Ireland and minimises their differences  over the idea of special status for the North  It notes without comment the British aim of negotiating “a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement” instead of seeking Single Market access  and “some type of association with the customs union…. a key concern to Ireland.”

They seem to be pinning their hopes on the British aim of “avoiding a cliff edge” and favour lengthy transitional arrangements” that implicitly – who knows? – might become permanent.

On the border..

The avoidance of a hard border will require flexibility and creativity on the part of both the UK and the EU. Within the EU, Ireland will make clear its expectation that there will need to be a political and not just a technical solution ….The closer the trading relationship between the UK and the EU, including Ireland, the les challenging the task of avoiding a hard border should be. All possible avenues in the EU acquis will have to be explored to facilitate free movement of people, goods and services on the island and it may be necessary to consider additional measures.

  On EU peace and other funding after 2020.

 Work beginning on successor programmes under the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) also needs to ensure that they will allow for continued participation by Northern Ireland in a range of EUfunded programmes with a cross-border dimension.

 On citizenship

Under the Good Friday Agreement the people of Northern Ireland have the right to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British or both. This means that people in Northern Ireland are not required for example, to self-identify as British in accessing public services. This arrangement should not be disturbed by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU

The withdrawal agreement should contain no impediment to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland accessing programmes and services across the Union to which they are eligible, including those as may be provided for in any arrangements on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

( But  how are the rights affected of those from NI and GB  who self –identify as British and  who wish to live and work in the Republic?)    

 

Continuation of the Common Travel Area after the withdrawal of the UK from the EU is a priority for both the Irish and the UK Governments. Ireland will remain outside the Schengen area given this stated objective of maintaining the CTA.

 

Annex 2: The All-Island Civic Dialogue – Sectoral Concerns 46 Agri-Food 46 Seafood 46 Prepared Consumer Foods, Horticulture, Cereals, Tillage, Animal Feed, Forestry 46 Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation 46 Energy 47 Transport 47 Tourism and Hospitality 47 Further Education & Training 47 Higher Education & Research 48 Primary and Secondary Education 48 Human Rights under the Good Friday Agreement 48 Heritage, Culture & Rural Ireland 48 Children and Young People 49 Social Insurance, Social Welfare Rights and Entitlements and Social Welfare Pensions

 

Where is the northern voice in all this? And the British voice for that matter?

    

 

 

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London