A crunch on the border is not in Ireland’s interests

“What we want to take off the table, before we even talk about trade, is any idea that there would be a hard Border, a physical Border, or a Border resembling the past . . . Then we’d be happy to move on to phase two.”

“The UK insists that the issue cannot be tackled until the EU agrees to move to discussion of phase-two issues. Speaking at Iveagh House on Friday, Boris Johnson echoed Mrs May’s approach. “In order to resolve those issues and get it right for our peoples, it is necessary now to move on to the second stage of the negotiations, which really entail so many of the questions that are bound up around the Border issue.

Leo Varadkar sounds like a man who would exercise a veto in the EU Council if he had to. But he believes he speaks in solidarity with EU 26.

The British position however has its own logic. How can the border problem be solved until trading terms are decided? A solution to the border problem in isolation would be the Irish tail wagging the Brexit dog.

Within present parameters there are only three choices.

The first is continuing UK association with the single market and/or the customs union, some mix of the Norway and Turkish models. These seem to have been all but ruled out by both sides.

Secondly, a border down the Irish Sea which gives Northern Ireland special status  with the single market and customs union. This is anathema to unionists and unacceptable to the British government as it divides the UK . But it is no magic bullet for Ireland. The border is one thing but would it really help the balance of trade between Ireland and GB?  A good deal will be made of Ireland coming out of the British shadow. But that happened long ago and should not disturb the reality that it is not in Ireland’s interests for the UK  to  crash out of the EU.

The third might serve eventually. The Hammond plan for  the UK to remain  within the single market and the customs union for a two year  (extendable?)  transitional period. But within the cabinet and  the party, its prospects  don’t look good, although the Irish strongly favour it.  The British are at best not ready to put it forward.

In the short term a British suggestion of more billions for the EU budget might serve to break the deadlock.

The best that can be said is that we shouldn’t take too literally what anybody says at this stage. But the impression of coming crunch in December is strengthening. Which side will blink first?  It’s  quite something  to observe Ireland supported  by continental allies against the British  after generations in which  Irish affairs  were seen  as either  a private tussle within our islands, or as a pawn in a bigger game.  Have things really changed so much?

I don’t claim the Sun is typical but its vituperation  sounds desperate..

Brexit buffoon

THE Sun has some advice for Ireland’s naive young prime minister: shut your gob and grow up.


I’m obliged to commenter Ruairi Murphy for drawing attention to RTE’s Europe briefing by Tony Connelly, based on the EU paper that prompted the EU’s and Ireland’s harder line in the border.

     On 14 August, London published a 27-page negotiating paper on Ireland.

It said Britain would “not accept” a hard border.

The paper talked about a new, undefined customs “arrangement” between the UK and the EU; there could be a so-called trusted trader scheme so that big companies could be fast-tracked through customs clearance; SMEs with goods crossing the border could be exempted from customs declarations; there could be some all-island agrifood arrangements based on the fact that Ireland was already deemed a “epidemiological” unit where animal diseases were concerned

The paper was swiftly and brutally dismissed by senior EU Task Force negotiators as “magical thinking”.  Michel Barnier accused London of wanting to undermine the legal order of the EU’s customs union and the single market.

Throughout the summer, with each round of Brexit negotiations, both Michel Barnier and David Davis spoke of a prolonged “mapping” exercise being coordinated between officials on both the EU and the British side.

The mapping was essentially a detailed examination of all those areas of North-South co-operation, as provided for by the Good Friday Agreement, which were underpinned by mutual EU membership by Ireland and the UK, and which would therefore be adversely affected by Brexit.

On the face of it, North-South co-operation was delineated through the six North-South Implementation Bodies established by the Good Friday Agreement.

There were also “six areas for cooperation and implementation” agreed by the North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC).

The NSMC had also agreed seven priority areas at its last meeting in November 2016.

They included the environment, health, agriculture, transport, education/higher education, tourism, energy, telecommunications, broadcasting, inland fisheries, justice and security, and sport.

All that mapping was highly detailed and technical.  In time, officials quantified the level of EU-relevant areas of North-South cooperation.  It came to 142 areas.

It was becoming clear that, as they waded through all of 142 areas in detail, officials on both sides were discovering more and more areas of North South activity that was touched by EU law.

One example is cross-border health.

Look closely, and you can see where the single market is essential to its functioning.

It requires equality of patient rights, but also things like single standards for medical devices, the approval of medicines at EU level, mutual recognition of medical qualifications, mutual acceptance of cross border ambulance activity.

“All of this is completely aligned at the moment,” says the source, “because Ireland and the UK are members of the EU.”

In other words, there is a lot more at stake than simply the explicit North South cooperation established by the Good Friday Agreement.

There is really the idea of the island as a single economic area, a single labour market – that’s on top of the Good Friday Agreement

While Connelly’s piece  exaggerates the reality of an all- island economy, it reveals the areas  of necessary all-island cooperation and harmonisation. This allows Pat Leahy in the Irish Times to make a further case for Sinn Fein  returning to the Executive.

There would be a strong case for Sinn Féin to rejoin the Executive even without Brexit; at a time when the North is becoming a pivotal issue in the future of Brexit it is simply astonishing that Sinn Féin thinks the cash-for-ash scandal, an Irish language Act and same-sex marriage are higher priorities.

Honestly, what sort of leadership is this? I doubt even if the North’s gay gaelgeoiri are happy with it.

It would be entirely feasible for Sinn Féin to consent to the relaunch of the Executive and the Assembly – even for a trial period of six months or a year – in order to give the North a voice in the Brexit debate. That voice could be raised not just in London and in Dublin, but also in Brussels and, if necessary, in Paris and in Berlin.