What should Ireland be looking for?

It was very disturbing to read the following last week:

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said Ireland will consider a special free trade zone with the UK if Brexit results in a complex UK split from the EU and the Single Market.

It would be legally and technically impossible for one bit of a customs union and Single Market to have such an arrangement with a third party. To achieve such an objective would require our leaving the EU.

And so I was pleased to read this morning that what the Government is actually going to look for is some sort of special status for the North so as to maintain free trade within the island no matter what the British decide. Presumably this would mean the North remaining within the EU’s customs union and/or Single Market, otherwise it won’t work. (Remember: if Britain leaves the EU’s Single Market and customs union without an interim free trade deal with the EU in place, WTO rules require tariffs on trade between Britain and the EU. This can’t be avoided. And that means tariffs on trade between the Republic and Britain. That can’t be avoided either.) I don’t know if such a thing is legally possible under EU law — though as I mentioned earlier the Kingdom of Denmark might offer a possible model — but it does seem like an option worth exploring.

Beware of weasel words however. Jeffrey Donaldson is quoted as saying that

“What we’re really looking for is a special deal for the island of Ireland which enables free movement of goods and people on the island, and preserves the institutions we’ve created under the various agreements,” Mr Donaldson said. “The people we’ll need to convince are the EU.”

Yes, keeping the North inside the EU Single Market or customs union would indeed require this being possible under EU legislation, and it would require both good will and a fair amount of technical work to make it work, if it is even a runner in the first place. (How on earth would agriculture be dealt with, for example?) But the real problem is likely to come from the UK. Mrs May’s speech over the weekend seemed to rule out a special status for Northern Ireland — I thought she was pretty explicit about this. And how would the DUP feel about the logical corollary of such a scheme, namely customs frontiers (and in all likelihood tariffs) between the island of Ireland and Britain?§ The people that we will need to convince, above all, are in London and Belfast. And let’s start by trying to convince them to remain in the customs union, at least as an interim measure, until a free trade deal can be sorted out.

(And let’s not forget: it’s London that is responsible for this mess in the first place. Why on earth did Donaldson’s party support them?)

§ Yes, a border with the Republic promises to be extremely costly for them, but I presume they also export a fair amount to Britain. One way or another, it looks as though they are in big trouble if London decides to leave the Single Market and customs union.

10 thoughts on “What should Ireland be looking for?”

  1. Brexit looks like a psychiatric issue. Good to see Donaldson standing up for NI. London will let NI swing Spandau ballet style. There will be far less money around. Fox and Bojo are pur et dur neoliberals who see nothing wrong with food banks and no connection to stagnant productivity.

  2. Theresa May’s abandonment of the long game, in favour of placating the Tory right does not auger well for either the UK, Ireland or Europe.

    One of the few cards in the hands of the UK are the 3.2 million EU migrants currently in the UK (versus just over one million Brits in the EU); the other is the dumping of Northern Ireland, feuding factions and financial burden included, into the not so willing arms of the ROI. Would the Tory right use either or both cards? You bet.

    Whatever about “What should Ireland be looking for”, here is something that Ireland should be doing.

    Firstly, Ireland must ensure that its trade with the EU is not almost 100% dependent on being routed through the UK, as it currently is, as there is no doubt now that there is a distinct possibility of severe delays and disruption to trade from the UK to the EU/EFTA, including Irish trade transiting the UK.

    Ireland needs therefore to have full motorway access on Dublin-Rosslare and Cork-Rosslare routes, as well as ensuring that those ports (Cork, Waterford, Rosslare and Foynes) have regular (daily?) feeder access to northern European ports, thereby keeping EU goods trade within the new NCTS transit system; but more importantly not getting stuck in the middle of a UK-French/EU goods ‘administration’ war, without any options except join the lorry queues in Dover, or customs queues in Calais.
    And it looks increasingly likely that there will be ‘administration’ wars, as the Europeans are clearly looking to give the UK the Greek treatment.

    “Mrs May’s speech over the weekend seemed to rule out a special status for Northern Ireland — I thought she was pretty explicit about this. ”

    But NI already has special status in international agreements, up to and including the freedom to break the union with the UK, and join the ROI, if a majority of the people of NI vote to do so. An unlikely and an unwelcome prospect unless it came with an overwhelming majority of the people of NI, which is at present unlikely. Still, northern nationalists will not be the only people in NI to be very annoyed at being left out in the cold by means of a hard Brexit.

  3. Fox is a ####. The negotiation dynamics are fascinating. Structurally weak UK economy represented by ideologues who have lost contact with reality and who will put ego before the City. A real pity Tull isn’t around. It was such a well managed economy 2 years ago.

  4. @JR

    “Theresa May’s abandonment of the long game, in favour of placating the Tory right …”

    I don’t think you have this right. May essentially has to follow the current path – there was no tactic available to do otherwise. The Long Game is not an objective for May, but rather, an option. Given the referendum result AND Tory party internal dynamics (mainly the MPs) the starting path was fixed. It is a matter of how things pan out and how public opinion evolves that will determine whether there are opportunities to alter course.

    The only way there can be an alteration of course is if the right has free reign to have a go first. Trying to keep the Brexiteers away from the process would immediately undermine the effort.

    May will go along with the wing of the Party that has taken control with regard to Brexit, but will calculate whether a change of tack is required (she may decide it isn’t) as things unfold, and will calculate whether a change of tack is practical dependent on the balance of power on the Tory back benches (a different kettle of fish to back benchers in Ireland) and other internal non-Brexit agendas within the party.

    You have to understand that there is a group of very influential Torys who genuinely don’t care how much damage the EU inflicts on the UK as a result of Brexit – they actually expect it. There is a real danger that badly handled exit negotiations could result in the public falling in line with them and real hostility to the EU emerging. May is not part of this group, but she has to accommodate them fully right now – but two and a half years is a long time in politics.

    1. Grumpy ,this is just another leg of the Tory civil war.

      Previous periods of insanity in English history such as the reign of Henry the Eighth and the rise of Cromwell followed economic collapse. Nobody could stop Cromwell either. Once he was dead they abused his remains.

    2. You may have a point.
      Yet in olden times when a horse started to bolt (run away we used call it), the choices were to try at the outset to reign-in the horse, sharply and with force, or to allow the horse to run until he had run out of steam, and risk the damage to live and limb on that precarious journey.
      A good horseman would usually attempt to reign-in the horse at the outset; if the horseman choose to let the horse run, all onlookers could do was to look on from afar, and hope that the horseman was still in control, and hope that he (rarely she, as in this occasion) knew what he was doing.

  5. I am no constitutional legal expert, but, just from what I read in the media, it looks unlikely that any of the proposed ideas for enabling N. Ireland or Scotland to have a different relationship with the EU than does England are legal. In addition, Teresa May clearly views N. Ireland and Scotland with contempt, so there is no political will to implement such ideas either.

    There is, however, an obvious solution to the impasse.

    Reunification of Ireland and full independence for Scotland asap – ideally before Christmas.

    These are the objectives the Irish government should be pushing for, not gimmicks that fall foul of both U. Kingdom (as it currently stands) and European Union law. The Irish government made a big mistake in not coming out 100 per cent in favour of an independent Scotland at the time of the referendum in September 2014 and in not promising to facilitate an independent Scotland joining the EU. Had it done so, it could have swung the balance in favour of a ‘yes’ vote. Instead, it was too anxious to curry favour with London, a policy which Brexit has now thrown back in its face.

    As a first step, the Irish government should immediately invite Nicola Sturgeon to Dublin and treat her with all the pomp and ceremony due to a leader of an independent country, even if this enrages Teresa May.

  6. “Ireland needs therefore to have full motorway access on Dublin-Rosslare and Cork-Rosslare routes, as well as ensuring that those ports (Cork, Waterford, Rosslare and Foynes) have regular (daily?) feeder access to northern European ports, thereby keeping EU goods trade within the new NCTS transit system …”

    Seems sensible, though I would favour main-line rail access with appropriate terminals over more roads. Heavy rail, which has a much lower land-use footprint, is a lot more efficient in terms of load capacity – though it is considerably less flexible at both the proximal and distal ends in terms of handling. Stil, we now have sophisticate robotics at our disposal. Driverless overnight freight trains?

    As I mentioned on another thread, the vexed question of the free-movement of economic migrants, whilst great in theory, will eventuate in a distasteful political mess. National politicians of whatever stripe will feel the heat first, then transmit it to their respective governments who will, of course, do the ‘right’ thing. Right being the right word. Do folk expect otherwise of elected politicians? Seems that so do.

  7. It is hard to know what Ireland should do. Ireland is like a semidetached house on an estate where the neighbours are quiet middle aged professionals. The husband has just started taking crystal meth and the wife wants to contract an STD. What would Jesus do?

  8. Meanwhile the UK government continues to machine gun itself in the head pausing only to change ammo pouches
    “The LSE dispute centred on a meeting between Professor Kevin Featherstone, head of the LSE’s European Institute, and Nathaniel Copsey, the Foreign Office’s head of research, during which LSE officials say they were told of the no-foreigners proscription.

    LSE researchers had been doing consultancy work for the FCO relating to Brexit, and an LSE spokesman told the FT: “At that meeting Professor Featherstone was told that academics working on that project going forward would have to be UK passport holders only.”
    https://www.ft.com/content/8de9294a-8caa-11e6-8cb7-e7ada1d123b1#comments
    We could reword this as
    “The dispute centred on a meeting between Professor Kurt Abrect, head of the university European Institute, and Frederich von Stalhelm, the Foreign Office’s head of research, during which officials say they were told of the no-foreigners proscription.
    Univeristy researchers had been doing consultancy work for the REich Chancellory relating to the issue, and a spokesman told the FT: “At that meeting Professor Abrecht was told that academics working on that project going forward would have to be pure bred aryans only.”
    and it would contain the same meaning.
    Be afraid.

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