As spin becomes a vortex, a calm reading of positions on Brexit suggests progress is possible.

Even as we reach what we’re told is a climactic moment,  it’s easy enough  to see why the border problem is so hard to solve. It requires someone to go on the record to depart from a most cherished position.

  Ireland would like the UK to remain within the single market and the customs union, or failing that, for Northern Ireland to do so.

The British government echoed by the DUP have ruled both out in favour of a free trade agreement with no tariffs with the EU and as many as they can get with the rest of the world. Yet they know they cannot hope to strike a deal as good outside the EU as within it. They have so far failed to come up with mutually acceptable terms, saying that’s why the negotiations have now to move on to the nitty-gritty of trade.

In the meantime Northern Ireland cannot in any way be treated differently from the rest of the UK. This is unrealistic if only because of the degree of interdependence in key sectors north and south and  entirely sensible hopes for increasing them without harming NI-GB trade or undermining the constitutional position.

There is a circular argument here that has to be resolved.

The NI option would create some kind of economic border between NI and GB. This in itself would hardly benefit trade between GB and both parts of Ireland so it’s difficult to understand why Dublin is pressing it on its merits. It only makes sense to me as a trial run for Ireland’s best option for their ideal, which is for   the whole UK to remain in the single market and the customs union, or best of all, for Brexit to go away.

These extremes are not tenable as negotiating positions for either side and they know it. But giving up on cherished positions is best done down to the wire, when resolve faces its ultimate test.

Such a moment may be today. Or maybe not. We shall only know in retrospect.

Irish sources have  been concentrating on generalities like harmonising regulations and standards that reduce toxic political content.

You’d think a deal along these lines  was perfectly possible, given that standards in a host of areas are harmonised already. The end result might be special customs and standards  arrangements  in key sectors like agribusiness and energy. These areas could expand by mutual EU/Irish and UK/Northern Irish consent- no doubt tricky to negotiate but doable by experts.

What remains to be sorted is how these would be guaranteed in the future or changed by mutual consent. This would be worked out in a transition period and would have to include  adjudication mechanisms that do not give supremacy to the European Court of Justice but retain a crucial role for it. By analogy with the Human Rights Court and the Convention in Strasbourg, this too is surely feasible, although it gives the Tory right something big to swallow.

Also to be settled would be what is bilateral between the UK and Ireland and what is uniquely EU between them and would have to be replaced.The Irish tend to exaggerate the latter. The final impact on the present GFA is quite limited as far as I can see, but new arrangements for Brexit  might benefit by being written into a new version of the Agreement.

It ought not to be beyond human ingenuity to come up with a workable formula today or over the next few days.

But a stumble over a general phrase could throw the whole business into the melting pot. Aside from the complexities of tariffs and regulations, the generalities of “frameworks” and “principles” take you into a whole new semantic ballgame.

Cliff Taylor explains  current positions very fairly in the Irish Times.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Granni Trixie

    How pathetic. By sitting out one of the most significant change of in our lifetime, SF (with the DUP) have just about delivered us to DR yet you somehow portray them as “right”. So the jokes on you.

  • Granni Trixie

    The DUP is also reinforcing their image as unreasonable, unco-operative in Britain.

  • Statilius the Epicurean

    Allegedly there are around 20 Conservative MPs who would walk out with the DUP if there was a hard border in the Irish Sea.

  • Granni Trixie

    It’s quite a risk.

  • NotNowJohnny

    He can’t. And he doesn’t want to. He wants the entire UK to remain in the SM and the CU.

  • NotNowJohnny

    To what end? To achieve what? And where would they walk to?

  • Neiltoo

    So does that make them an interested party when it comes to the rest of the U.K. too given the millions of people in GB entitled to Irish citizenship?

  • Statilius the Epicurean

    If May can’t agree to a deal without the DUP, then why did she agree to the draft text before checking with Arlene Foster?

  • NotNowJohnny

    Nothing. They didn’t have to. They have wisely remained silent watching the farce enfold. Meanwhile the EU’s position remains. There will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

  • Sean Danaher

    Problem is that as Noam Chomsky said Bernie Saunders was to the right of Dwight Eisenhower. Different days. Time for the pendulum to swing again?

  • Toye native

    that’s for NI to decide, Brexit is for the whole of the UK decid, I thought you would be on the DUP”s side on gay marriage being a good Christian

  • Aurozeno
  • NotNowJohnny

    Perhaps she had checked it with Arlene Foster. Perhaps all was well until the right wing of the DUP got nervous when the news leaked out and the party called their leader out. She certainly lacked her usual composure in front of camera as if dancing to someone else’s tune that she knew was the wrong tune.

  • Jess McAnerney

    Absolutely they are right.
    It is time we started talking seriously about a new Ireland and the opportunities the offer of immediate membership to the EU in the event of a united Ireland and not wait until the DUP gets the offer removed from the table altogether.
    Ireland wont be leaving the EU to follow the Arlene May show from here to the unknown.
    Putting the veto back in place is not enough, we need a plan B that is in our own hands.

  • Aurozeno

    actual figure according to NI assembly ….total value NI exports 31% to RoI

  • Neville Bagnall

    Why would they? The deal was done.
    They have nothing to gain from easing the pressure on May.
    Its positively against the EU interests to gift the UK any ray of light from the united front they have been presenting.

  • Granni Trixie

    Good grief! You are joking, I presume.

  • Mimi Balguerie

    It does where reciprocal rights for EU citizens (and the additional reciprocal rights Irish and British citizens share with each other) is concerned.

    That was one of the three Brexit issues. The border was another. Obviously the issue with the border is only relevant to Northern Ireland, but rights for Irish citizens obviously applies across the UK. But apparently those rights have already been assured.

  • The Saint

    He doesn’t need to veto the 27 are as one in dealing with the uk

  • Df M

    The true chain of events will emerge in due course…

  • Neville Bagnall

    I would hardly have believed it possible in something so critical, especially these days when the DUP represents most strands of Unionism in some way… but yesterday was Sunday.

    Still no excuse for going into a meeting without knowing if your majority is on the line.

  • Lagos1

    To begin with I was trying to discern whether May was a shrewd operator who kept her cards close or just another manager who rises to the top by never making a real decision. This question was settled for me some time ago. This is just further evidence. Frankly, if the DUP end up pushing her out of office then they will have done us all a favour.

  • Lagos1

    But the question is who is benefiting from this economic growth? And who will be most seriously impacted when agrifoods are shut out of GB?

  • The Saint

    Countries have recessions, I know of none that have not experienced an economic recession.

    Only 9 years later how would you consider Ireland’s economic recovery?

    I don’t see any disaster long term, we were assisted by our allies in the EU and our friends in the UK (UK are paid back already btw)

  • Lagos1

    If ROI can’t get the UK to sign up to stay in the customs union – something that was never going to happen and what this is really all about, then the ROI’s days as a member of the EU are numbered. It will make no sense the day after Brexit and will make increasingly less sense as the EU project moves free from the UK. I see EFTA membership alongside Norway and Iceland on the horizon.

  • lizmcneill

    We’d be all right, we’d be in the EU-UK along with London and Scotland.

  • lizmcneill

    And by the UK you mean the DUP. The Tory negotiators are giving up so much ground that if we left them to it until 2025 we’d be in Schengen and the Euro.

  • ‘island man

    There is a sea border with the rest of the UK, it’s called the sea, and I can’t see how additional customs checks will shaft the economy of NI, considering an element of customs checks already happen here. Goods between the north and Britain will continue to be tariff free like they are right now.

  • lizmcneill

    What is the monster raving loonie party’s position on Brexit? They might be preferable to the Tory/DUPs.

  • El Daddy

    Ahhh, Gargoyles. Now this is the last place I was expecting to get a reference to that.

  • eamoncorbett

    Corbyn has a different agenda when it comes to the EU , I think he still wants out so that he can pursue a nationalisation programme unhindered by the competition authority but is sympathetic to SM/CU. it could be argued that the NHS needs to be nationalised in total ,but then would the public pay higher taxes.

  • eamoncorbett

    In the end they might be glad to settle for the Canada deal.

  • eamoncorbett

    That’s too sensible an approach to have any hope whatsoever, however when one thinks about it , it is the biggest decision taken since 1939.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it’s an interesting one isn’t it. You might be right but I wonder if, in the interests of keeping his massively pro-EU younger following happy, he lets his euro-scepticism slide and signs off on a customs union strategy. He’s been letting Starmer move more and more towards making that overt.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Vast majority of our trade goes that way, way more than over the land border: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f7fc882b710be3cf7d658313e8e475a5941d7e33dbd1486ea3125264ddb2a74c.png

  • ‘island man

    And it still will, no one will be stopping trade from happening. It’ll be a few extra customs checks, out of sight and mind, that will be required.

  • Barneyt

    Well yes. I see that but still, he has a cheek aligning London and Ni.

  • Barneyt

    Is she so naive that she did not realise any dilution of NI in anyway was going to rule the DUP? They’ve been quite vocal so she is aware… and reputation alone would inform.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I wouldn’t call it cheek. More like seizing an opportunity to make his important political point.

  • Mimi Balguerie

    Well, you ask an interesting question, to be fair. SF have been holding selection committees throughout the country the last few days, indicating they are gearing up for a possible general election in the south. Their prospective new leader, Mary Lou, was reselected today.

    They haven’t had to do anything on Brexit, given they’ve already made their views very clear on the Irish and EU side, and the British government have been busy making a hames of things. “Never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake”, and all that. A better use of time and effort is to put in the groundwork now for the next phase.

  • Neville Bagnall

    I don’t think UK membership of the EUCU is the Irish aim. That’s their opening negotiating position. Their aim is what is outlined in the abortive deal. UK sovereign maintaining regulatory alignment in all key sectors with any expansion of the areas subject to NSMC approval. Preferably on a UK wide basis, but with a red line on the North. I said so maybe a week ago and events and the media reports yesterday and this morning has only confirmed my view.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    would it be fair to say Varadkar is doing their work for them there anyway – not much for SF to add?

  • Derrick O’Leary

    I think you are confusing NI with the UK as a whole. 5% of the UK”s total exports go to Ireland. A significantly higher percentage of NI”s do.

  • Toye native

    Could be, but I am hearing 87 export’s from NI go to the rest of GB, I heard there now 5percent and I don’t think it was talking about the UK

  • Zack E. Nolan 2

    No. They just have 10 of the 11 MPs at Westminster

  • Zack E. Nolan 2

    Under what section or Belfast Agreement?

  • Derrick O’Leary

    No, let’s be clear.
    40% of your TOTAL trade goes to Britain. The rest is exported.
    Over 30% of NI FOREIGN trade goes to the Republic.
    That is 15% of your TOTAL trade.
    After that you trade in decreasing order with:
    USA
    Germany
    France
    Canada

    Northern Ireland is in the same position that the Republic was before joining the EU – very dependent on UK trade because it is not developing any other markets.
    The problem is more complicated: some of NI’s trade consists of goods that originated, or were partially processed, over the border before being exported as NI produce.
    This might help.
    https://www.ft.com/content/30c13788-d4e0-11e7-8c9a-d9c0a5c8d5c9
    And a check on what you might have been listening to:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-42223732

  • Derrick O’Leary

    No. 60% of NI exports go to Britain. 40% to the rest of the world. Almost a third of that 40% goes to the Republic. That is, about 15% of the total NI trade.
    Put another way, 75% of the business NI does relies either on Britain or Ireland.
    And this is the state of affairs you plan to continue.

    15% of the trade Ireland does relies on the UK, 13% if you excluded NI.
    Apparently some MP was on the radio talking rubbish.

  • Mimi Balguerie

    Up to a point. The Irish government has a position on Brexit that has been formed with input and consensus from all Irish political parties – not just Fine Gael’s or a wing of Fine Gael’s, but with their confidence-and-supply partners in FF, with SF (both as an opposition party and as the elected representatives of Northern Ireland), and with smaller parties like the Greens as well. Indeed the Green party just tweeted today that they’d met the Taoiseach to review and secure buy-in for the renewed Irish position after Monday’s debacle.

    Therefore there is only one, clear, unified Irish government line on Brexit, even when the parties are at each others throats over domestic issues. This is how the Irish team can represent a clear Irish negotiating position without enduring the humiliation of Micheál Martin or Mary Lou McDonald calling Leo in the middle of a meeting, torpedoing his negotiating position and flying home from Brussels to grovel. Can you imagine the shame of it?

    Meanwhile May doesn’t seem to have sought consensus even within her own party, never mind with her coalition partners or – god forbid – the opposition.

    It also means all political parties have been able to use any influence they have to push the unified stance in Ireland’s interests throughout Europe, regardless of differences in domestic policy. Martina Anderson and Matt Carthy have been particularly active from SF in this regard, ensuring Irish interests are clear and well understood throughout Strasbourg and Brussels, supporting the Irish government position rather than undermining it. It also means that the possibility of an election in Ireland that the British press were salivating over (and failing to understand) is an irrelevance, as all parties in the Dáil are singing off the same hymn sheet and will have the same policy on Brexit no matter who gets into government. The views of FG ministers and senators relayed are no different from the messages from FF, SF, or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

    This is how you do international diplomacy without a gunboat. It involves setting your domestic disputes to one side and realising that the good image of a country in the international stage is a fragile thing.

    This may also be why you perceive Varadkar as aggressively republican whereas I perceive him as the most partitionist Fine Gael’s leader in a long time, and much more so than Kenny or Coveney. The position Varadkar and Coveney are representing is not merely there own, but a consensus formed across the entire Oireachtas, including with FF and SF.
    By the way, the unionist parties were invited to help form that Irish government line, and they refused. So if it’s a little too green for them, they only have themselves to blame.

  • Toye native

    Fair enough, it was reported differently on the radio last few days

  • Mimi Balguerie

    Up to a point. The Irish government has a position on Brexit that has been formed with input and consensus from all Irish political parties – not just Fine Gael’s or a wing of Fine Gael’s, but with their confidence-and-supply partners in FF, with SF (both as an opposition party and as the elected representatives of Northern Ireland), and with smaller parties like the Greens as well. Indeed the Green party just tweeted today that they’d met the Taoiseach to review and secure buy-in for the renewed Irish position after Monday’s debacle.
    Therefore there is only one, clear, unified Irish government line on Brexit, even when the parties are at each others throats over domestic issues. This is how the Irish team can represent a clear Irish negotiating position without enduring the humiliation of Micheál Martin or Mary Lou McDonald calling Leo in the middle of a meeting, torpedoing his negotiating position and flying home from Brussels to grovel. Can you imagine the shame of it?
    Meanwhile May doesn’t seem to have sought consensus even within her own party, never mind with her coalition partners or – god forbid – the opposition.
    It also means all political parties have been able to use any influence they have to push the unified stance in Ireland’s interests throughout Europe, regardless of differences in domestic policy. Martina Anderson and Matt Carthy have been particularly active from SF in this regard, ensuring Irish interests are clear and well understood throughout Strasbourg and Brussels, supporting the Irish government position rather than undermining it. It also means that the possibility of an election in Ireland that the British press were salivating over (and failing to understand) is an irrelevance, as all parties in the Dáil are singing off the same hymn sheet and will have the same policy on Brexit no matter who gets into government. The views of FG ministers and senators relayed are no different from the messages from FF, SF, or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
    This is how you do international diplomacy without a gunboat. It involves setting your domestic disputes to one side and realising that the good image of a country in the international stage is a fragile thing.
    This may also be why you perceive Varadkar as aggressively republican whereas I perceive him as the most partitionist Fine Gael’s leader in a long time, and much more so than Kenny or Coveney. The position Varadkar and Coveney are representing is not merely there own, but a consensus formed across the entire Oireachtas, including with FF and SF.
    By the way, the unionist parties were invited to help form that Irish government line, and they refused. So if it’s a little too green for them, they only have themselves to blame.

  • Derrick O’Leary

    Well, it boils down to three things for NI in my mind.
    NI stands to risk (not necessarily lose) as much of it’s trade as Ireland does, about 15%.
    And regardless of Brexit:
    NI and the Republic do not do nearly as much trade as they could with each other.
    NI does not sell nearly as much to the rest of the world as it should. The Republic’s economy should not be ten times the size of the North (or six times, using the new measurement in the Republic to exclude fantasy exports). It should only be a bit over twice the size. NI has some serious development to do.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Sean, broken right arm at this most inconvenient of times! Can’t type but trying out the dictation facility on my iPhone. As you say politics for more rightest today that in the past, let us hope that as Yeats said “An age is but a reversal of an age”.

  • Sean Danaher

    Seaan
    I though you were a bit quite recently! I do hope your arm gets better soon.

    There is of course the Hegelian Dialectic better known as the pendulum of history model. Is the swing about to reverse?

  • Reader

    Aurozeno: The real figures
    Your graph doesn’t show NI trade with GB because that isn’t actually an export. You concluded that it is therefore irrelevant? Of course it isn’t – it’s still jobs and revenue, and larger than any of the other numbers there.

  • Aurozeno

    My graph ?, Its your graph and it shows about 45% GVA of goods and services produced in NI going to the UK , cut out trade to either and you were doomed anyway .