A reply on Brexit to Nicholas Whyte

I don’t think I did leave out “the important dimension” of the Irish border, one of three issues identified by the EU before trade talks can begin. On this I agreed with the Brexit Secretary David Davis who asked how the border issue could  possibly be settled in advance.  A settlement on the Irish border has surely to be compatible with a wider deal and the EU I suspect will not allow an Irish tail to wag the EU dog.

I also query Nicholas’ statement:

“Speculation about any kind of special status for Northern Ireland will remain wishful thinking unless and until London formally proposes it; nobody else at the negotiating table is going to mention it.”

How is that compatible with the EU’s high ranking of the Irish border issue?

The Irish side could in theory propose a bespoke Irish-British settlement within the EU’s negotiating position. Bertie Ahern for one, no slouch as a negotiator, would have them  get on with it.   To be fair, they have indeed come near to doing so but have tactfully (and perhaps tactically)   failed so far to put the pieces together. What’s stopping them if they’re right in believing that their economy will be even harder hit than the UK’s ?

I suspect they are nervous about going any further in public at least, in case they suddenly become isolated. Little Ireland sounds trapped at the moment between bigger contending forces.  Now is not the time to try to exert whatever pressure Ireland has with the Commission and EU 26, whatever the EU says about settling the border question first.

The EU could also propose a bespoke all-Ireland  deal and a north-south arrangement within it if they really believe it’s so important.

The British are probably quite happy to regard all of Ireland as a card to play as the negotiations proceed. This is hard ball but nobody expected a smooth process or an easy deal.  But the Commission are no more the good guys than are the British.

Granted absolutely that Brexit is the UK’s doing and we can all sympathise with Varadkar’s youthful asperity. But the UK’s position whatever it will be exactly in detail, aims at free trade arrangements with the EU.  That would mean an open not even a “frictionless” border. According to them it is up to the EU to make clear what the limitations on free trade would be. So in that sense the ball is also very much  in the EU’s court.

Barnier is hustling the British to  be more specific about  their proposals while the British are trying to make a virtue of their chronic  indecision on the big questions.

While nobody could argue that the British are looking impressive, at least the cabinet seem to be agreeing on a transition period that would look very like remaining with the internal market and the customs union, while technically leaving them, added to which are a substantial divorce and future benefits settlement and ” voluntary” free movement for a time.  This if it sticks, ( and it’s a big  “if”),  should be recognised as quite a big shift in position which Dublin  should respond  to, very much in their own interests.



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