Friday, 8 September 2017

Brexit Options In Ireland

The government is trying to claim that the EU's demand that they settle the question of Ireland, and the border before its possible to move on to the question of post-Brexit trade is impossible. They say that its impossible to determine solutions to cross border trade in Ireland without first agreeing on Britain's trade relations with the EU as a whole. That argument is nonsense. It is a trojan horse to try to sneak in an overall trade agreement prior to settling other matters. The problem in Ireland shows just how light-minded the Brexiteers were about the whole thing prior to the referendum, and how duplicitous some of them like Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, at the time, were, in claiming that the issue of the border presented no difficulties.

The EU has rightly thrown the problem back to the UK government, telling them to come up with their solutions to the problem, rather than expecting the EU now to solve it for them. The government, typical of its pathetic approach to the negotiations has so far gone from claiming that there was no problem to suggesting technological solutions that do not exist. The government is wrong to say that a solution to the border cannot be found before a UK-EU trade deal is agreed. There are a number of options that the UK government could put forward to the EU, as its solution.

Firstly, given that Northern Ireland voted by a large majority to remain in the EU, the UK could relinquish its claim to Northern Ireland, which was snatched out of the rest of the Republic, at the time of independence. A united Ireland resolves the problem, and grants the people of Northern Ireland their wish of remaining entirely in the EU. If the Protestants in Northern Ireland objected to a united Ireland, then Northern Ireland could be given independence, as a territory, rather like Andorra, but within the EU, and with joint, oversight by both the Irish Republic and Britain, for a transitional period. A similar solution could also be implemented for Gibraltar, and Scotland, where voters also voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU.

Secondly, the UK government could agree to Northern Ireland remaining within the existing single market and customs union, so that existing trade and free movement across the border could continue. But, that would impose other constraints on the UK government. It would mean that either the UK government would have to also state its position for Britain itself to remain inside the customs union and single market, or would like Labour have to state its position as being to adopt that position (along with all of the requirements that implies such as the continuations of free movement, payment of contributions etc.) for a transitional period. Of course, the latter only delays the resolution of those questions, rather than actually resolving them.

Alternatively, if Northern Ireland remained in the single market and customs union, but Britain did not, then the border would have to be erected around the whole of Ireland, and between it and Britain, which also means that free movement between Britain and the whole of Ireland would end.

Thirdly, the UK government could state its position as being that Britain as a whole would seek to remain within the single market and customs union permanently, which means also agreeing to abide by the conditions of such membership such as the continuation of free movement, recognition of the European Court of Justice, and requirement to pay into EU funds etc. In other words, it would provide the benefits of membership of the single market and customs union, along with the obligations that implies, but without the advantage of also being able to participate in the formulation of the rules and laws that Britain currently enjoys.

Fourthly, the government could recognise that the only other alternative is to reinstate a hard border between Northern Ireland and the republic with everything that implies in relation to the break down of the Good Friday Agreements etc.

Those are the solutions that are open for Britain. They are the options that existed prior to the referendum, and which some of us set out during the referendum campaign, but which the Brexiteers refused to engage with, insisting that no problem existed. The government, and the Brexiteers might not like any of those choices, but they are the only real choices that exist. Its up to them to make that choice and bring it forward, so that the Brexit negotiations can proceed. It is not up to the EU to get the Brexiteers out of the mess they have got themselves into.

No comments: