With the tensions getting high over the EU’s release of a well leaked draft of the EU’s terms for the UK’s exit, the speculation around its intentions as much implications could prove to be as damaging as any actual outcome.
The UUP’s response this afternoon quotes a piece of text in Article 4, regarding the free movement of goods:
“…the territory of Northern Ireland, excluding the territorial waters of the United Kingdom (the “territory of Northern Ireland”), shall be considered to be part of the customs territory of the Union”
Of course, if it were a national government, this document would be couched in terms of a white paper in advance of the real negotiation. But the EU follows the mainland European tradition of drafting the draft a legal document.
As Brian rightly notes, “the EU are pretending to rely on a legal nicety that cannot survive if a real deal is to be done.”
It’s a distinction likely to be forgotten/ignored by all parties, for the sake of a good public fight. As it is, in the zero sum atmosphere of negotiations the wording seems designed to wind up Brexiteers and unionists in equal measure.
The Taoiseach in this afternoon’s Leaders Questions in the Dail was quick with the emollient phrases, such as”just saying no and being angry is not enough” suggesting that the UK government:
…do not like what they see today, it is incumbent on them to come up with alternative solutions and to flesh out option A and option B, write it down in a legal form that can be enforced and then we can negotiate on that.
Fleshing out from the UK side is inevitably late, since much of what they want comes within whatever scope for trade deals, and (unless the UK crashes and burns) is likely to arise in a hashed combination of the first two items and the last.
And in realistic terms, as Allie Renison of the Institute of Directors noted yesterday, that will necessitate a two way conversation about what sort of regulatory architecture both parties wish to call into being…
In a fascinating encounter the DUP’s Sammy Wilson lodged the fear that the EU was preparing to face down the UK’s decision to leave and Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness’s commensurate concern about ambitious managed divergence.
This is the crux.
The Tory government want out of as many of the domestic controls as they can get away with, but they also need to deliver maximum access to the single market. What they want/need is a combination of alignment and divergence.
Option C (the one no political grown up in these negotiations actually wants to invoke on its own) won’t please either side: not least if it comes with serious economic downsides for the Republic in the more significant area of east west trade.
And as Brian has already noted a particularly strong line of questioning Newsnight last night demonstrated the fact that the EU document contains, as yet, no practical ideas for how it might work:
A not so very hot fudge.
In the Dail Mary Lou at leader’s questions has been trying to rally troops around the war cry of “the Tory-DUP’s wrecking agenda” (ignoring the fact it was her own party that wrecked power-sharing at Stormont)…
The Taoiseach, after welcoming what he called the “constructive and measured approach taken by the Deputy’s party to the Brexit issue in recent months”, went on to point 0ut that there are there are alternative solutions….
…option A, which is our preferred option and the preferred option of the British Government, that involves us avoiding not just a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland but also a hard border between Britain and Ireland.
I do not want a border between Letterkenny and Derry any more than I want a border between Larne and Stranraer or Liverpool and Dublin. We want people and trade to be able to move freely. Option A is still an option.
It is now incumbent on the United Kingdom Government, in particular, to put forward detailed proposals on how it can be achieved or put forward the detail of option B.
Quite. Post the Tory government’s internal accord at Chequers, we should expect a substantial response in a speech from Theresa May on Friday. Best for all parties to keep a quiet mind at least until then?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty