Friday, 28 July 2017

Brexit and Ireland

During the EU Referendum campaign the Brexiteers told a whole series of lies, such as the £350 million per week that they would give to the NHS.  But, the most serious lie they told was over the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.  The question was repeatedly put to them that Brexit would inevitably mean the reintroduction of a hard border between North and South, undermining the Good Friday Agreement, and the peace that has followed it.  Most shameful was the role of the then Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, a hardline Brexiteer, who repeatedly said that no such problem existed.

Well, of course, a very serious problem does exist.  The Brexiteers continually fell back on the argument that a common travel area had existed between Ireland and the rest of Britain going back long before the creation of the EU, so that Britain out of the EU would make no difference to those arrangements.  But, of course, it does, precisely because there has never been a situation before where Britain has been in the EU, whilst Ireland was not, or vice versa.  There was no problem with a common travel area when neither Britain nor Ireland were in the EU, the problem arises precisely because of Britain leaving, whilst Ireland does not!

The Brexiteers, of course, were keen to play down any such problems, because they, along with their fellow ultra-nationalists across Europe, and in the US, hoped that Britain leaving the EU was just one domino falling as far as the EU as a whole is concerned.  They hoped that the solution to the Irish border question would be resolved by Ireland joining Britain in committing suicide by leaving the EU.  But, that was never going to happen.  The ultra-nationalists have passed their peak whether it is Le Pen, Wilders, Farage and so on in Europe, or Trump in the US.

In the US recently, one Republican Senator being questioned about their failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, was honest enough to admit that their problem was that they never expected Trump to win.  So long as they could simply attack Obamacare, and play to their base by saying they would scrap it, they could continue to win votes without having to seriously consider what they would put in its place.  In many ways, its the same with Brexit.  Many of the top Brexiteers never expected they would win in a Month of Sundays.  They hoped to be able to use the referendum simply to push their nationalist agenda further, both for internal political reasons, and in the hope of squeezing further concessions out of Brussels.  Having won the referendum, the extent to which they now have absolutely no clue what to do next, becomes more apparent as each day passes.

In terms of Ireland, its clear that there are only two rational solutions if Brexit goes ahead.  Either a hard border is established between the Republic and Northern Ireland (as part of a hard border with the rest of Britain) or else, the hard border is put around the whole of the island of Ireland, and between it and the rest of Britain.  This last option is what the Irish government now appears to be suggesting, and what, therefore, I would expect the EU to press in the Brexit talks.  It means problems for the British government of a similar type to those it will face over Gibraltar.  A hard border between the whole of the island of Ireland, and Britain is just another step forward from the current de facto scrapping of the Irish border, and its de jure scrapping by the creation of a United Ireland.

So far, although Northern Irish Protestants also voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and the economic interests of both capital and Irish workers is for the border to remain open, there seems little likelihood that Protestants in the North would vote for a United Ireland, or that a majority could be won for such a position, despite the size of the remain vote, and despite the fact that in the last elections, Sinn Fein became the largest party in the North.  The DUP, stands out like a sore thumb in its support for Brexit as against the community it purports to represent, and it would undoubtedly oppose such a move, backed up by the Tory government in Westminster, beholden to the bigots simply to stay in office.

But, the facts on the ground remain intractable.  Take the situation exposed in recent days in relation to a possible trade real between Britain and the US.  For the US to agree to any such deal it will undoubtedly use its far superior strength to dictate the terms to Britain.  It will insist that Britain agree to the import of chlorine washed poultry, hormone fed beef, and genetically modified crops etc.  But, one those products land on the shores of Northern Ireland, an open border will mean that they flow across into the South, where under current EU food safety regulations they are banned.  And, that is just the case with foodstuffs.  There will be a whole range of products that will be able to be imported into Britain from third countries that would not be allowed into the EU, because they breach food safety, environmental or health and safety laws, which could then be simply transported across an open Irish border, and from there into the rest of the EU.

The importance of those EU regulations has been illustrated with the Grenfell Tower fire.  The EU has stringent regulations on such matters, and checks on buildings in Germany and elsewhere indicates that those regulations have been adhered to.  That even despite the regulations, its now been found that 600 tower blocks in Britain failure the fire safety checks, is an indication yet again of the penchant for British bosses, and authorities to go for the cheap option whenever they can, and to bend regulations, simply to make penny pinching savings at the cost of the lives of British workers.  Can there be any doubt that without the current EU regulations, those same bosses and authorities would take that trend even further?

But, the intractable problem with the border exists in the other direction too.  The main consideration for all of the bigots that voted for Brexit was a demand to curb all immigration at whatever cost.  But, with an open irish border, there will be nothing preventing EU migrants simply catching a plane to Dublin, and then making their way North across the open border, into Northern Ireland, and then going by boat or plane to London or Manchester.

There are only two ways to prevent the movement of migrants from South to North, from the EU into Britain, and to prevent goods moving North to South from Brexit Britain into the EU, and that is either to place the hard border between the whole of the island of Ireland and Britain, or to place a hard border between the irish Republic and Northern Ireland.  The Brexiteers have to choose one or the other.

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