Both sides are now playing politics with the border

 

Theresa May must have been desperate to have signed the joint Report in December. She did so, knowing that it would do little but buy time before the next elemental clash, and focusing on  contradictory positions over the border. The price of a deal would then increase, just like a loan from a money shark. He didn’t force her to take out a loan, now did he? But those are the terms, dear. And so  today’s draft withdrawal Agreement which the EU have just published came as no surprise.

You’ll recall that Arlene Foster finally let May go ahead to sign the Report at the second attempt after  requiring   a cardinal tenet of unionism to be included, that no economic border would  come between NI and GB.  Foster in her statement added the rider that “more work is needed.”  But now she may be ruing the day she was so accommodating, not a position she often holds. For “more work” in DUP terms was never done.   Today Foster could only declare the draft “constitutionally unacceptable and economic catastrophic.”

It turns out those assurances were worth even less than the paper they were written on. As we reported yesterday they’re absent from the final text. This is because they were written off as a mere internal affair between the UK government and the DUP and not a matter for a lofty EU legal document.

.The status recommended for Northern Ireland is bound to raise Unionist and Tory hackles by  removing one of the usual planks of sovereignty, the main trading and border policies,  without seeking permission from the people who live there .  The Brexit cry “Taking back control” rings very hollow here. But in the end they can’t be serious. This draft is Operation Hope Not.

In cold print the EU paper really does remove traditional aspects of sovereignty which in EU parlance was pooled.

For Northern Ireland as part of the UK after Brexit,  the draft Agreement does not return full sovereignty. In effect we are  not allowed to Leave. We voted Remain did we not? This is the first time that differentiation has been allowed for part of a state. And it will do relations between unionists and nationalists no good at all, for it was done at the behest of the Republic, acting as the EU’s  stalking horse. As an exercise of power, it is undoubtedly impressive. But will it be a one-off that doesn’t happen like that?

Or else, who’s next to claim special status,  the Scots or the Catalans?  The draft Agreement sonorously declares:

A common regulatory area comprising the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland is hereby established There will be  a single regulatory space on the island of Ireland with no internal barriers.

“The common regulatory area shall constitute an area without internal borders in which the free movement of goods is ensured and North-South cooperation protect.”

the European Court of Justice would continue to have jurisdiction over Northern Ireland where EU rules apply.

Northern Ireland would also have to abide by EU state aid rules if the default alignment solution – or Option C – takes effect.

There would be joint EU-UK customs checks on goods coming into this new regulatory space.

In the face of British anger  the EU  side including the Irish are now holding out their hands to the British and telling them innocently – and correctly-  “but this is what you agreed,”

In a sense they  did  but not quite. Failing to acknowledge  the pledge to the DUP in a ” joint” report which the EU signed in turn is sharp dealing.

The EU are pretending to rely on a legal nicety that cannot survive if a real deal is to be done.  Right now the whole process of requiring  three “principles”  for Brexit to be agreed in advance of the main negotiations is  fulfilling its purpose, which is to put pressure on the British to  come closer to EU terms.

Jeffrey Donaldson DUP is almost certainly wrong when he claimed the  draft withdrawal agreement was illegal but he may have a point when he added:

 “If the EU or Dublin believes the UK government will be signing up to a border in the Irish Sea, they are deluded,”

 

Today at PMQs Theresa May gave her word one more time  to reject the EU position       while the UK side are stress that  “it’s only a draft.”

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney is firm but emollient all at once.

“Our response is, look, this [option C] doesn’t have to be the solution but come up with something better that we can agree and we’d be delighted to agree

He might aknowledge too the Republic has no more of an interest in an economic border down the Irish Sea as the North.

So  if the British can’t explain how their preferred terms would deliver an open border along its actual line, can the EU and the Irish tell us where they else would put it?

On Newsnight  last night Evan Davis apologised for being aggressive with a Fine Gael spokesman but repeated the question several  times

I’m sorry, where does the border go?.

“Now, where does the EU border go when a ship arrives. Is there no border?

Just answer the question.”

Less than a minute into their interview, Mr Davis broke: “Sorry to be so aggressive about this, but if you’re proposing no border anywhere, what’s to stop the UK from just sending everything into the single market?”

The answer at the end was “ Between the UK and the European Union.”

Any particular bit of it?

Brexit: ‘The DUP’s hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland’” by “Brexit: ‘The DUP’s hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland’” is licensed under “Brexit: ‘The DUP’s hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland’

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