The personal strains imposed on identity by Brexit, as Theresa May struggles to build support for a renegotiation

With cabinet ministers admitting as much and an extension to Article 50 looking ever more likely, the Daily Mail carries this busy chart  purporting to describe Theresa May’s renegotiation agenda with  the EU. It reads like a Brexiteers’ dream.

Her idea of doing a DUP-type deal with Labour leavers isn’t going down particularly  well with the comrades  who recognise  ” Brexit bribes” when they see them.

Nick Timothy. Mrs May’s sacked joint chief of staff now a loose cannon  is always urging her to toughen up, this time with the Irish.

     If even an invisible Irish border is unacceptable to the EU, another option is available: a customs territory comprising the UK and Ireland. The republic could remain in the EU but leave its customs union, agreeing instead a common commercial policy including matching tariffs with the UK. This would protect Irish consumers and businesses: the republic imports more from the UK than from any EU country, and the UK is its second biggest European export market. It would also support Irish exports: 85 per cent of its freight trade to the continent uses British ports.

A more sophisticated and ambitious rethink along similar lines has come from the unlikely  quarter of a group of heavyweight  German economists writing for Ifo, a Munich-based economic think tank – with what influence remains to be seen.

“We propose a model for the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union for the post-Brexit era that ensures close economic ties and avoids a hard Irish border,” they say. “Our aim is not to define a first-best solution but rather a politically feasible approach that minimizes economic costs.”

The model proposes a new Europe wide institution

The backstop provision in the withdrawal agreement is dropped.

The United Kingdom permanently delegates all trade policy matters in goods to a newly created European Customs Association (ECA) in which the EU is also a member. Neither the EU nor the UK pursue independent trade policies, and the ECA represents them the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the same way as the EU has done until now for all 28 EU members. (Gosh!)

The UK has voting rights in the ECA, as do all other member states. Together with the other members of the ECA it mandates the EU Commission to negotiate trade agreements with third parties.

Decisions are taken with double majority as defined in the Lisbon Treaty, and the European Court of Justice (in extended form including all participating countries) continues to supervise all law- and policy making in the field of trade.

The ECA covers all ‘classical‘ areas of trade policy, such as tariffs, quotas, rules of origin, trade defense, etc. On these issues, the EU has exclusive competence.

Areas in which the EU has no exclusive competence and in which countries have veto rights (trade in services, intellectual property, direct foreign investment, audiovisual and cultural services, and social, educational and health services), should not fall under the ECA. During a transition period, the pertinent provisions in the EU treaties continue to apply. For the future, arrangements in these areas are made by means of one or several supplementary  bilateral agreements.

On existing trade agreements with third parties, provisions pertaining to ‘classical‘ areas or areas covered by bilateral agreements continue to apply to the UK, as well as those currently or in future negotiated.

This seems like a version of the Norway model but much less flexible. Interest lies in it as an example of German dissent from EU solidarity over the backstop – not the only one in academe – but it is unlikely to appeal to Brexiteers as it ties their hands almost as tightly as the EU – although with prescribed exceptions like FDI  .

On other side of the argument, two  powerful articles on the threat to a mixed identity (or as I would call it normality) posed  by  Brexit  turmoil.

Dearbhail McDonald is group business editor, Independent Newspapers (Ireland)

The Brexit backstop – this fundamental need to avoid a border, rightly articulatedin stark, if belated and obvious terms at Davos by the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar – is about so much more than tariffs and trade. It is about our identity. Brexit tears at the heart of the Good Friday agreement, which allows people like me, a Catholic who grew up in Newry, or a loyalist from east Belfast, to identify as British, Irish or both – and to celebrate our different allegiances.

I can say, as an Irish woman from Northern Ireland, that I am Irish-British: in another time, I would have been tarred and feathered for saying so. Brexit strips away at those coveted birthrights. A border will force us, once again, to choose sides. As we stare down the barrel of Brexit, Theresa May has opened another front, securing parliamentary support to reopen the withdrawal agreement and demand significant and legally binding changes to the backstop that she vigorously defended for months.

The prime minister may have scored a short-term pyrrhic victory in the internecine wars that have divided her party and the UK parliament. But backtracking on the backstop is a mistake, and a dangerous one at that. Placing party politics and political survival above the peace process is a risk we cannot afford to take.


Jamie Smyth, Australia and Pacific islands correspondent of the Financial Times

As a foreign correspondent I’ve spent my life crossing borders, but none more regularly than the one dividing Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, a demarcation that now threatens the Brexit deal. I grew up in Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s when the 500km border, which snakes across fields and divides communities, was notorious for terrorist incidents, smuggling and security checks. Every summer my family dashed across the border to Donegal — a welcome sanctuary from rioting that accompanied July’s Protestant parades — and there were shopping trips down South when taxes or currency swings made petrol or other goods cheaper. As a child from the Protestant British community, taught not to fear the military presence, I enjoyed queueing at the crossing point

A few years later, I chose to go to university in Dublin; the border became more sinister. I spent hours stranded on the Belfast to Dublin train as security forces cleared the line of suspect devices planted by the IRA. I nearly missed my graduation ceremony, which coincided with the Loyalist protests at Drumcree: my mum and I were forced to skirt roadblocks to cross the border. By then, news reports of sectarian murders of people my age sickened my stomach, particularly since it was obvious that peace was what everyone wanted. The border was often the dumping ground for the mutilated bodies of victims. The hard border remained in place in the mid-1990s but for me the psychological divisions that many northern Protestants harbour about the South had begun to dissolve….

There followed a golden age in UK-Irish relations, a boom in cross-border trade and a blurring of the lines between British, Irish, Northern Irish and European identities. I am a mix of all of these, rather than a “citizen of nowhere”, to quote UK prime minister Theresa May’s derogatory label for people who move between countries. I married a Catholic from the Irish Republic, lived in Dublin for several years and have spent the past decade reporting from Brussels and Australia. My children appreciate Irish, British, European, and now Australian culture. It’s a complex but beautiful blend.

Anyone who has any knowledge of Irish history knows a hard border would become an immediate terrorist target, a recruiting tool for dissident Republicans and a rallying call for paramilitaries. But for me the greatest danger from Brexit and the bitterness it is producing is the recreation of the psychological boundaries that have dissolved over two decades of peace on all parts of our islands.



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