Ireland top of the Agenda in Today’s Brexit Negotiations

Today sees Ireland take centre stage in the Brexit negotiations.  The border, along with the UK’s divorce bill and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, are the three headline areas where significant progress must be made before negotiations move towards a free trade agreement.

Although Brexit Secretary David Davis has headed back to London, after spending less than an hour in Brussels yesterday, senior officials from the UK and the EU will present their position papers on the what appears to be an increasingly intractable issue.  Indeed, Simon Coveney has poured cold water on the notion that technology alone will allow for the operation of a ‘frictionless’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following Brexit.

Coveney said:

What we do not want to do is pretend we can solve the problems of the border on the island of Ireland through technical solutions like cameras and pre-registration and so on. That is not going to work.”

On BBC Good Morning Ulster earlier, Fine Gael Senator Neale Richmond, a colleague of Coveney, seemed to suggest that the Irish Government’s favoured approach would involve moving customs controls to seaports and airports, an arrangement that would be politically toxic to unionists.

Until now, politicians in London in particular have delivered empty platitudes in relation to Ireland such as ‘no return to the borders of the past’, without ever offering anything resembling a solution, other than that which Coveney has now dismissed as unworkable.  Indeed, at Prime Ministers Questions last Wednesday, Emily Thornberry, standing in for Jeremy Corbyn, challenged First Secretary of State Damien Green on the impact of no Brexit deal on Ireland, something which the Tories have been threatening.  Remember ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’?  No deal would would most certainly lead to imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland, so Thornberry pushing Green on this certainly exposed the contradictions inherent in the UK Government’s position on the border.

Michael Creed TD, Fine Gael’s Agriculture Minister, vented his frustrations yesterday about the conflicting positions of various UK Government ministers in a range of areas affected by Brexit that are of particular interest to Ireland.

Creed said:

There is no political coherence there. There is no leadership on Brexit. Various ministers talk about hard Brexit, soft Brexit, no deal being better than a bad deal. The worst possible deal is no deal, both for them and for us.  The lack of any coherence is a huge problem for us and until they get their act together, what we are trying to do… It appears to me that the instability is spilling over, impacting on the kind of Brexit. There is no coherence.”

Today’s meeting, which focuses on the border and doesn’t cover all of the areas Creed is alluding to is a behind closed doors affair; however, following today, we may begin to get an idea of what solutions are being proposed to ensure that the integrity of current border arrangements are not undermined in what is certainly the most complex of the three issues at the top of the negotiators’ agenda.

  • jonlivesey

    One thing missing here is that the Common Travel Area may have had its day in any case and Brexit may simply trigger the inevitable. In 1922, it was a fine idea to have a soft border in order not to divide families with a real international border. Especially so when that was just what was happening all over Europe post-War.

    But families where there was one brother in Ireland and one in the UK in 1922, are today families where second cousins may never even have met one another. And when the UK leaves the EU, if the Republic decides to stay in, that will be the Republic *deciding* that its relationship with the UK is less important than its relationship with the EU.

    In that case, why would the UK continue to give citizens of the Republic free entry, automatic access to the UK job market, UK benefits and the right to vote and stand for office? In 1922 you could argue that such rights were deserved, but today you could not argue that they are any more deserved than, say, Brazil. After all, the Republic isn’t even a Commonwealth member, and that is also the Republic’s choice.

    So, a soft-ish border for trade may well happen, because it is in both parties’ interest, but you would be hard pressed to convince the man in the street that the CTA should continue – assuming that man even knows it exists.

  • jonlivesey

    Way to go, making his point for him. You don’t think this automatic sneering and hostility could be a factor in the situation?

  • jonlivesey

    Of course. We’re in “opening gambit” time.

  • jonlivesey

    When you look at Ireland’s new debt level, I’d say you have more concerns about the Germans and their use of the ECB to control the EU than we do.

  • jonlivesey

    No, we are just not pretending that Ministers do detailed technical negotiations. And thank God for that.

  • jonlivesey

    No, of course we are not listening, because Ireland is one of the least important issues. Try to convince the average Briton that Ireland is an important issue, and you will get blanks looks.

  • jonlivesey

    We do get it. We just don’t see it as a central issue. We’ll spend two years negotiating an exit agreement with the EU, and then in the last week or two they’ll slap together something about Ireland.

  • jonlivesey

    Exactly. Ireland can’t be allowed to exercise much leverage here. The EU’s issues are far bigger and significantly different.

  • jonlivesey

    The UK does not have to “sacrifice” NI under any circumstances. All we have to do is politely inform the EU that if they wish to make an issue of the border with the Republic, then they will also have to propose a solution. One that would pass muster with the NI voters.

  • jonlivesey

    The reason you can’t imagine this and that is because all your intuitions come from the UK and the Republic joining the Eu on the same day, and carrying the CTA in with them, which allowed everyone to ignore the issue.

    Do you have the same problem “imagining” customs controls between France and Switzerland, or between Greece and Turkey?

    The CTA is a bilateral agreement that is a hundred years old, and people in the Republic are very used to its benefits, while most people in the UK don’t know it exists and don’t care.

    Replacing the CTA with something else will be a big deal in the Republic, and in the UK it will be one of a welter of many things.

  • jonlivesey

    “What is the sense in partition?”

    It kept Ireland’s civil war in Southern Ireland, and kept it from spilling into British cities. Looked at objectively, it was a very smart move.

  • jonlivesey

    “…..and huge opposition to the EU telling Irish people…..”

    Like the huge opposition to the Irish Bank bailout?

  • jonlivesey

    There is a large tail wagging a small dog in that comment.

  • Karl

    I have given up tolerating the unreasonable. The next step is to stop funding it.

  • Barneyt

    Ulster patriots in Donegal have two open borders, with their Connacht patriots and Northern Ireland patriots. Similarly you can say the same for the Ulster patriots in Cavan. Hold on. Are you confusing Northern Ireland with 9 county Ulster?

  • Oriel27

    Are you talking about convincing the man on the street in England about CTA? You will find he wont care. Its a different story in Ireland.
    Its plan to see to anyone, Brexit has brought back the discussion on the existence of the North.
    Now, if a border returns, expect a border poll and an acceleration to a UI.
    As a border resident, any sort of border at all wont be tolerated this time. The unionists dont have the numbers now.

  • Oriel27

    that was then, its not now. That was 100 years ago – besides thats your opinion.
    In todays world, were businesses, families, communities, economies depend on the 32 counties, partition is a ridiculous concept. It causes problems.
    If i was to send money from the bank in Armagh to the bank in Monaghan, i have to get a bankers cheque and post it. That takes a week. Its 16 mile apart.
    Partition has been nothing but a disaster for Ireland.

    So bringing back a border voted for my people on another island, now how do you think that will sit with the locals?

  • Barneyt

    Some analysts seem to think May can easily set her own course for the next two years. Chilling

  • Barneyt

    Head in the sand, denial… overwhelming belief that the EU and rest of world will come running. I don’t think we’ll feel the full sting for a while but, even if it proceeds sweetly there will be physical division once more and we know what that brings.

  • Barneyt

    France and Switzerland are very different to the two sides of the border on our island. Customs are natural between two different countries but the Irish issue as we know is not a settled one. Customs controls will exacerbate matters. Sadly

  • runnymede

    Nice to see this delusion continues in spite all of the evidence…

  • Oriel27

    what you talking about evidence – do you live close to, do business ether side or cross the border everyday?

  • ElamLayor
  • Kevin Breslin

    Saying Ignorance is Bliss is not getting it.
    Thinking customs controls are simply about Ireland isn’t getting it.
    All Huffing and Puffing is making border communities in Northern Ireland feel they are better off out of the United Kingdom.

  • Kevin Breslin

    And it kept the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
    Both should be over now.

  • Kevin Breslin

    David Trimble a local member of the Conservative Party and one time major politican said of Northern Ireland’s potential Brexit problems … It’s such a small part of the United Kingdom it doesn’t matter.

    There isn’t a solution to these problems, there is going to be a malaise with political denial in Westminster and the DUP ranks backing it up.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I also seemed to believe the DUP even with Lee Reynolds Leave Liar sheet failing to get Brexit to pass muster here.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Ulster has two open borders … One With Connacht and one with Leinster

  • Sean Danaher

    Its an interesting point but it works two ways; UK citizens have equal rights in Ireland also. Definitive figures are difficult to get, but by county of birth there about 500k Irish born residents in the UK (UN estimate 2015) and c 288k UK born residents in Ireland (ONS estimate Jan 2017). In Percentage terms because the UK population is c 65.5M and the Irish population c 4.7M, about 0.75% of the UK population is Irish born and 6.1% of the Irish population UK born.

    Your speculation regarding Ireland staying in the EU indicates I think that you spend very little time in the Republic? The overwhelming feeling there is that Brexit is total madness. On top of that there is mainly pity for the UK and a small element of schadenfreude. The likelihood of Ireland leaving the EU is zero at present as is the belief there that Brexit will be successful.

    Ireland and the UK have an EU opt-out regarding movement of
    people and they are not in the Schengen area. I would anticipate free movement
    to continue in the medium term (5 year horizon) if Brexit goes ahead.

    In the longer term the UK could decide to end the “historical relationship” in a scenario where the UK economy is not doing well and there is increased anti-immigrant feeling in the UK. Alternatively the EU could put pressure on Ireland to join Schengen. Either way it would make life very difficult for the border region

  • Skibo

    Ireland exports around £16B to the UK and the UK exports £25B to Ireland. Where is this £1B per week?
    Ireland trades over £35B with the rest of the EU. Is that less important than the £16B to the UK?

  • Skibo

    Is it automatic sneering and hostility or just recognition of a fact of life?

  • Skibo

    Who is going to impose these fines and how will they catch them if there are no border posts?

  • Skibo

    Wrong RM. The WTO set tariff levels. Countries can negotiate to lower such tariffs but they have to be approved by the WTO or there could be legal challenges. By the way the WTO represents 164 countries and not just 27.
    You are right that the UK can set lower tariffs but there are procedures to go through and they take time. In the mean time they will have to trade at WTO levels which will leave them less competitive.

  • DOUG

    Is there anything to be said for another mass?

  • Zeno3
  • Skibo

    The border between Norway and Sweden is not as simple as you make out.
    https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/close-sweden-norway-ties-despite-eu-border-dividing-them-1.2683072
    Not only that but Norway is in the EEA and a member of Schengen and pay into the EU. Will the Uk be willing to agree such a position?
    I cannot see Schengen being acceptable.
    Interestingly enough for a border 3 times the length of the North South one, they spay around 10.7M euro to man the amount of posts required. That did not include a saving of 28.6M Euro in only checking at one side of the border.

  • Zeno3

    The bank bailout was more detached from reality. People didn’t really understand it or it would never have happened. I can’t believe the Irish Government would stand by and let the EU ruin their economy just to spite the British. As someone said. it’s Ireland that needs special status in the EU not Northern Ireland.

  • lizmcneill

    ““Not everyone or everything is checked but you can still sometimes have queues of a couple of hours at the border at peak times.”

    You should volunteer for going through that every day as you think it’s going to be so trouble-free.

  • ElamLayor

    this site is great isn’t it allowing you to up vote your own comments! I did it myself yesterday accidently.

  • Skibo

    I wonder how the Irish Government resolves the two figures? Even adding the two figures together only gives £41B, well short of £52B!
    That hand-out even mentions the UK as Ireland’s largest export market but the USA is well ahead of the UK and Belgium is the same if not larger by now.

  • Nevin

    Ireland will quite naturally lobby to protect the interests of the state but when push comes to shove it won’t be able to resist the power of the big beasts.

  • Accountant

    The border guards. We all know that there’s going to be a harder border and it will be policed.

  • Skibo

    Did Coveney not take the position that the British Government put into legislation?

  • Skibo

    Not according to the DUP. Apparently there will be no need for border posts or guards and cameras will do the policing! Sarcasm, in case anyone thinks I have changed faiths!

  • Zeno3

    A few years ago Google won the Irish Exporter of the Year, but all they were doing was booking European Sales and Australian Sales of their adverts through the Irish Office. That was around £12.5 billion.
    Does that go down as USA Exports?
    Belgium is a global distribution centre for pharmaceuticals and a lot of the drugs companies are headquartered there. Ireland exported €6.8 billion worth of medical and pharmaceutical products to Belgium in 2015.
    So those figures are not the real picture.

  • Old Mortality

    How would West Belfast, home to so many vulnerables, manage standing on its own two feet?

  • runnymede

    I’m sorry you have no idea what you are talking about.

  • Accountant

    The DUP are talking out of their tails. Border guards will be required, but can be kept really low level if DUP and Davis get their act together ASAP and work with RoI to get sensible exemptions off the EU.

  • Oriel27

    God help those border guards. Would want to be well paid. I remember on my own road during my youth – many a border attack. Go ahead with manning over 200 crossings. We will see how long NI lasts.

  • mac tire

    And his job is…? He’s not needed then.

  • Accountant

    No, he backed a partisan version of its implementation.

  • Accountant

    The duty monitors did a pretty good job on the fuel laundering, which wasn’t being run by good guys.

    But point noted re: number of holes/crossing points – hence the need from EU for a pragmatic de minimis/exemption.

  • Skibo

    He backed a stand-alone Irish Language Act and that is what the British Government put into the SAA.
    Ulster Scots is mentioned in a different area within the SAA and an act is not mentioned in reference to the Ulster Scots.

  • lizmcneill

    We’ve had 20 years with an invisible border, you think there are no cross-border families nowadays?

  • Skibo

    Zeno what the country does with the export after it leaves Ireland is up to the recipient country. The export still left Ireland.
    The UK exports a similar amount to Belgium, do you question their exports also?
    In the end, the Irish Government introduced the fanciful figure of £1B in trade between the UK and Ireland to maximise the shock.
    I have seen other figures that puts the exports from Ireland to the UK down as far as £11B. I wonder if we remove the figures for the North from that, how much further it would reduce?

  • Accountant

    As you know, the DUP doesn’t recognise that obligation and the local parties rather than UK government are the representatives in NI with the mandate to agree power sharing.

    Coveney had an obligation to act impartially – i.e. to mediate and he backed one party’s position, when his mandate required him not to.

    I expect Brokenshire to also be partisan on certain issues.

    In any case Brexit drove a cart and horses through GFA.

    Hence my statement that GFA is obsolete.

  • Zeno3

    What does Google Export from Ireland?

  • eamoncorbett

    UI or no UI if it’s a hard Brexit and Stormont is up and running at the time you can expect SF to walk away from the GFA . Brokenshire has made it clear that Britain don’t want to rule NI directly and will stop at nothing to get the Assembly working again, he also hinted that the promised billion might be dependent on this happening.
    Barnier has said that any agreement must take into account the delicate peace settlement on this island ,that would indicate to me that the EU has some kind of compromise solution with regard to the border . These negotiations are not just about trade , politics and what will work are just as important, imposed solutions don’t have a great history of success with regards to this island.

  • eamoncorbett

    If NI voters mattered why wasn’t the referendum result taken on board .

  • Georgie Best

    The EU can simply say leave things the way they are. This is perfectly acceptable to the majority of NI voters.

  • Trasna

    Why would the EU care is 10s or 100s of thousands made their way into NI through the Rep. The Rep sure as hell aren’t going to stop them.

  • Georgie Best

    Nobody will worry too much about the end of the CTA provided the boundary is in the Irish sea, which is the only place it could be.

  • Trasna

    Ireland does not need special status. It fucking needs to grow up, accept the border, withdraw citizenship and passports and build a wall around NI.

  • Georgie Best

    The House of Lords have the right idea, don;t use the phrase “special status” in case it frightens the 17th century crowd, but ensure that the specific circumstances in Northern Ireland are addressed during the Brexit negotiations all the same.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-40645232

  • Trasna

    250,000 thousand British citizens in the Rep know about it.

  • Georgie Best

    That isn’t a useful contribution on a serious forum.

  • Trasna

    In fairness, you will get blank looks from the British no matter what the subject.

  • Trasna

    That’s because the Tories solution to NI is to put the border around the island.They just don’t want to tell the DUP just yet.

  • Trasna

    An exemption means setting a new precedence, that will not be allowed happen.

  • Trasna

    A similar number employed in the UK.

  • Georgie Best

    “The duty monitors did a pretty good job on the fuel laundering”
    What good job do you refer to?

  • Trasna

    Why do unionists and nationalists alike get upset at the notion of Ireland walking away permanently?

  • Trasna

    The delicate peace settlement applies to NI only.

  • Accountant

    There is already an exemption of €300 for loads coming into EU. We need that increased substantially for NI-RoI movements.

  • Accountant

    Why would the Tories do that ?

  • Accountant

    The once substantial cross-border fuel laundering has been largely eradicated by customs officers.

  • Zeno3

    And that is one of the reasons a deal will be done.

  • Zeno3

    There is a temptation to imagine they are all stupid at the minute. Games are being played by all sides. That is all that is happening. There is far too much money, jobs and trade involved for them all not to come to some sort of reasonable arrangement. Watch and see.

  • Barneyt

    well I was pointing out the border that exists within ulster and that the wee six is not ulster.

  • Skibo

    Perhaps you didn’t notice, I didn’t purposefully answer anything on Google as, other than going a google search, I know next to nothing about them.
    I notice you seem to now have accepted that an export to a country is an export and what the recipient country does with that product does not affect the trade figures.

  • Skibo

    Tell me do you agree with the attitude of the DUP that they can ignore legislation?
    As for Coveney, his position on the ILA is in agreement with the SAA . As a co-guarantor, he can point out where a party is not fulfilling previous agreements.
    You can expect all you want from Brokenshire yet when he does not back what the DUP say, you will object to his interference.
    The brexit vote did not drive a coach and horses through the GFA but a badly negotiated Brexit deal could.
    If the GFA is obsolete then why are we crying about reinstating the Assembly? Why not let the thing mothball until we are fully aware of what the effect of Brexit is? Let the SOS along with Coveney ensure that fair and reasonable budgets are set and release the funds to the Civil Service.
    Can the Civil Service do a worse job when the RHI scandal was agreed while there was a Minister in charge who couldn’t pick out a major flaw in the cost controls!

  • Timothyhound

    It would help if anyone had a clue what the British position is. But they don’t. And that includes the British. It’s ineptitude on a grand scale.

  • Accountant

    I think an Assembly is essential for local accountability. I am not an apologist for Arlene’s RHI f*** up, but, currently, I blame poor quality civil servants equally for the mess (although I’m reserving judgement until enquiry corrects this view). They all seem to be muppets, but at least they’re our muppets.

    I see Assembly as independent of, and supposedly (I wish) an evolution of GFA, but UK breached spirit and a fundamental principle of it, by agreeing Brexit. Unfortunately, however, NI and RoI both being within EU is only in the “whereas” section of the GFA treaty, which is not legally binding.

    I still think Coveney should not have taken a position, other than, perhaps, to have reminded UK government of its commitment. You won’t see Brokenshire contradict a DUP position; reality is he will do as they say or just keep quiet.

    And, finally, let’s wait to see final shape of Brexit – absolutely not. NI/the North is at way too much risk of getting sacrificed on the crusade by the Brexit ministers for full/hard Brexit.

  • Skibo

    If the Civil Service is responsible for the RHI scheme then we are in serious trouble. No matter who is Minister of a department, the Civil Servants rarely change. I think the important issue is people, no matter what their job should be accountable, from politicians right down.

    The Assembly is not independent of the GFA. The GFA gave birth to the Assembly. The Assembly is fully and inextricably linked to the North South bodies. Something that Irish Government should have made more aware to Unionist politicians when they either played lip service to the N/S bodies or just didn’t turn up.

    The issue of Coveney is just a bluff where Unionism is not prepared to accept the Irish Government having any influence in the day-to-day running of the North. They have to realise that as a co-guarantor, they have a right to state when they believe the agreement is not being fulfilled to the letter of the word.

    The issue I have with Brokenshire is, the fact that he will not stand up to the DUP and say get on with fulfilling the previous agreements. If he cannot do that, he should remove himself. Obviously he does not have enough belief in his position or his support from above to lay down the law.

    Finally Brexit, do you really believe we have the ability to shape Brexit in favour of the North?
    I think one reason that SF are concerned at the Assembly reforming is the issue of how do you get agreement from the Assembly as to what type of Brexit the North wants. While MMG and AF were able to forward a letter to Downing Street as to their views on Brexit, the contents would not suggest they are the belief of the current DUP group of MPs.
    My issue of waiting for the Brexit negotiations to be completed is we would then be fully aware of just how hard the border would be and the effect on the NI economy.
    The Reunification of Ireland may actually be the most positive solution.
    The election after those negotiations will dictate the look of the Assembly if it lasts that long.