The EU as much as the British, should not use the Irish border as a a pawn in the Brexit negotiations, and must move on

Fintan O’Toole has been treating us to splendid summer of seminal articles that give the lie to the idea of a silly season. Today he offers the thought that in an echo of the old Churchill phrase, the parishes of Fermanagh and Tyrone are unravelling Brexit. While the image draws us in, it is also slightly forced. I’ve just returned from a break in Fermanagh which included a visit down the Marble Arch Caves.  The system, if not the section open to tourists, stretches across the border. Here the “parishes “ are handled superbly in a splendid example of cross border cooperation.

In the article the border parishes and steeples are of course a metaphor for the role of the Irish border in the Brexit negotiations. This time, the problem has been internationalised. Neither Britain nor Ireland should be content to leave it at that.

For the massed ranks of UK government’s critics, the EU commission is being cast as an implacable behemoth, the British as a mere supplicant. But the British are reckoning that the balance of strength is a good deal more even than that. The British paper on the border may indeed be more vision than strategy, but is there any need to doubt they are genuine about opposing border checks? For me the British argument is more than plausible, that the Irish border question cannot be settled independent of the future trading relationship with the EU. They want a free trading relationship which would cancel out most border problems. If somehow you were settle the border on so far unknown EU terms at this stage you would create the precedent for  terms of trade for the entire negotiations.

So who is it really who are playing the border as a pawn?

Should the Irish government heed O’Toole’s advice and support the British opposition against the British government in calling for a transition period in  which the UK remains within the single market and the customs union?

While this has  obvious short term appeal, it comes up against two major problems.  It assumes the EU would buy it, never mind the British government: and it says nothing about the final solution beyond pointing up the seductive implication of calling Brexit off.

No, the immediate challenge for Varadkar is not whether he should side with British Labour. What is far more important is the  line he takes as one of EU 27 on the judgement that ”sufficient progress” has been made on the border to move on to trade issues as the British are pressing for.

Over the next month, the border topic may end up being  buried by a greater wrangle about the divorce payment. But if not, Irish diplomacy within the EU should concentrate on persuading the bigger partners to avoid making the Irish border the stumbling block against moving the negotiations forward. Secondly, the Irish and British should seek the EU’s blessing to come together to devise practical solutions to feed into the negotiations, preferably with or if necessary without, northern input. This is no time to stand on protocol.

, , , , ,

  • Jim Jetson

    YOU CAN’T HAVE CAKE AND EAT IT TOO!!!!!

  • Damien Mullan

    Yes, and the NI state was a paragon of democracy and stability since 1922. The issue that is being debated here, is the loss of an ‘era of good feelings’ that has underpinned NI society for the past 20 years. It’s not prefect, it never will be, but it is arguably as close as it will likely ever be.

    There was no frictionless trade under the CTA from 1922 onwards. The past presence of customs posts along the border until the early 1990’s gives a lie to that assertion. Those came progressively down with the adoption of the Customs Union and Single Market.

  • Damien Mullan

    There is no bilateral deals between states within a customs union with external states. Otherwise there is no customs union. Alaska is not permitted to conduct a bilateral deal with Canada absent of a nationwide U.S. agreement with Canada. That’s how customs unions work, in unison, i.e. in union.

  • Stephen Kelly

    I agree with the accountant no more messing about. The RoI must stand up to the rest of the EU and say listen guys this is the way its going to be for us and our longtime friends in NI. RIGHT.

  • John Devane

    Access to the single market. Yes. Membership of the single market is incompatible with EU membership because the EU insists on free movement

  • John Devane

    Exceptionalism ? Is that just another way of saying Independence from the EU. You’re an exception if you don’t accept the EU political project. You’re an exception if you just want a trading relationship without the political baloney aka Lisbon Treaty

  • John Devane

    I suspect that’s going to happen. The trick is to ameliorate the effects on the Irish border

  • Summerfell

    What about a Portuguese citizen who enters Ireland via Dublin, then goes to NI and disappears into the UK?

  • Hugh Davison

    ‘The EU is playing politics with the Irish border’. Can you elaborate on that, please? in what way is the EU playing politics with the Irish border?

  • Hugh Davison

    Funny. As a child I remember crossing the border, with all kinds of rigmaroles around triptychs and contraband. Frictionless?
    What are you blethering about?

  • Hugh Davison

    Weird how many GB farmers voted for Brexit. Did NI farmers to the same extent, I wonder?
    I mean: ‘ I get umpteen k quid from the EU per annum, but you know what, sovereignty is more important than money.’

  • Hugh Davison

    Can you explain the ECJ problem. I’m interested.

  • Hugh Davison

    What is this ‘diktat’ word that seems to crop up whenever EU appears in a sentence?

  • Hugh Davison

    There’s that old ‘diktat’ word again. What on earth does it mean?

  • Hugh Davison

    Ah! Would Dubliners rather be ‘Parisiens’, Berliners or Londoners? Or Dubliners?

  • John Devane

    The UK govt has made reasonable proposals to retain an open border it’s the EU saying No

  • John Devane

    Wishful thinking. A united Ireland is simply not on the table right now. You’re conflating the issues resulting from the UK’s democratic decision to leave the EU with a united Ireland this UK government cannot deliver

  • Hugh Davison

    What reasonable proposals? and who is saying no? I understand serious discussion has not happened yet, due to lack of progress on the British side. But tell me more about the EU playing politics.

  • John Devane

    Hugh yes it’s early days and who can really tell in the negotiations stage who is playing politics. However, if we’re to take the latest developments at face value, the UK govt proposals to enable a continued soft Irish border have been rejected wholesale by the EU negotiation team, it would appear. The case for insisting the UK government alone must come up with a solution is playing politics with the peace process.

    The act of leaving the EU is the UK government’s mandated responsibility to follow through. It has to enact the wishes of the UK Electorate. The EU response is a negative one and instead of facilitating departure it merely dismisses UK proposals without making any of its own. The same goes for the Irish government, who have far more at stake to then irresponsibly leave to the Eurocrats in Brussels to work out alone with the UK government

  • Trasna

    To hell with the border. Build a wall and build it high. Kick the UK out of Irish politics Inc and for all. It’s time.

  • Trasna

    An open border and open trade with Ireland and the UK thinks it can have the same with the EU. A very special arrangement indeed.

    Not likely.

  • Accountant

    The UK should get a fair deal in all its trade arrangements, including with EU, but EU may try to be vindictive. That is likely to result in a partial deal initially. EU exporters will get very upset at this self-harm and EU politicians will soon come under enormous pressure to justify their irrational actions to their citizens, starting with the Germans, who will pay 50% of the budget post Brexit, so will call all the shots. Such are the tensions of self-preservation for the EU bureaucrats.

    But enough of the macro, the micro threat (for Ireland) is enough to be going on with. Irish politicians need to land a deal ASAP, as a hard UK / NI crash out is far from impossible.

  • John Devane

    Not very fair on fellow citizens in the North?

  • Trasna

    What do you consider a fair deal and why should Britain get anything?

    There is no substance to the rest of your post. Brexit, and the EU’s response to it, is a political response not an economic one. To believe economics will top the political agenda is a mistake.

    How many times does this have to be said? Eastern Europe has little trade with Britain, so they will not be swayed by the economics of it. The German car industry has already said the same.

    As far as the EU budget goes, it only 2% of the GDP of its members combined.

    Britain should just be allowed to crash out with no extension until it puts forward realistic solutions to the border, trade, citizens rights, its exit bill and free movement.

    Until Britain does the above, the EU should shut down the talks.

    Brexit means Brexit remember. Take responsibility for your actions.

  • Trasna

    Not my fellow citizens. Time to have that border poll and put an end to this nonsense once and for all.

  • Trasna

    The border is open because both countries are in the EU. You are leaving the EU and as a consequence there has to be a border.

  • Trasna

    That puts NI in the EU and the U K . That’s a disadvantage to Ireland.

    It’s a no no.

  • Accountant

    And therein lies the fundamental flaw of the EU that would eventually lead to its breakup. However, I think the people will not let the politicians away with their self-serving games.

    Not least because UK will do better (more precisely, less badly) than EU under WTO rules – but, under that scenario everyone loses.

    Or maybe you want EU to pull out of WTO ?

  • Trasna

    Will you still believe that when the EU subsidies cease I wonder. After all money for nothing is hard to replace.

  • Accountant

    NI doesn’t stay in EU.

    It has a very special status with GB, a pretty special status with RoI and a bit of a special status (near-free trade) with REU.

    Best possible outcome and a win for RoI, which gets the reciprocal.

    North and South end up, comparatively, best outcome across UK & EU.

  • Trasna

    The people have lost interest in Brexit. A hard Brexit will have no repercussion for the politicians. I’ve already mentioned that a hard border won’t cost the Taoiseach his seat not Coveney’s his.

    Brexit is no longer a big deal.

    Can you look into your crystal ball and tell me who will win the All Ireland on Sunday.

  • Trasna

    Special status for NI is a no no. It cannot be allowed to compete with Ireland in both the EU and UK.

    There is no special relationship between NI and the UK. There was an uneasy peace for 20 years. Brexit has just blown that uneasy peace out of the water.

    A very hard border is best all round

  • Skibo

    John in the end if a land border and the stability of the peace process is in jeopardy GB will lose no sleep on ditching the North.
    If the British have any sense, they would officially draw up plan for how to make reunification happen. It would not mean it would happen but at least we would all know what it could look like when the time is right.
    It would be madness to walk into such a constitutional change without proper planning, nearly as mad as walking away from the largest free trade area without a plan!

  • John Devane

    They’ve a legal right to Irish citizenship but it’s the NI Secretary that calls the border poll.

  • John Devane

    Skibo the UK government may harbour a desire to ditch NI but it’s not in their power to deliver it over the heads of the NI Electorate. The GFA is the agreed vehicle to any future constitutional arrangement in Ireland for the foreseeable

    The UK is leaving the EU. It’s more realistic to accept that democratic decision by dealing with its consequences as opposed to wishing it wasn’t so

  • Hugh Davison

    Not sure why you’re asking me that. Did you read my comment (hint: irony)?