This very welcome report by the UK House of Lords is available here, and it is good to see an official British document recognising that “Ireland now faces challenges that are not of its own making” — we might perhaps put things less politely on this side of the Irish Sea. Well done to all concerned.
I do have a couple of nitpicks.
- Beware of Britons suggesting bilateral negotiations. The report suggests that the UK and Ireland should negotiate bilaterally on UK-Irish issues. The problem is that UK strategy more generally appears to have been to try to open up divisions between member states by starting bilateral conversations with individual countries. The EU 27 have been very consistent in emphasising that we will be negotiating as a bloc, which is the only sensible way to proceed. In my view Ireland shouldn’t facilitate this long-standing British aim: not only do we share a common interest in getting the best possible deal for the EU27, and in preserving the cohesion of the EU; but as part of the EU 27, we will be in a stronger negotiating position vis à vis the UK than if we were to negotiate on our own. Ireland is already one of Michel Barnier’s top negotiating priorities, suggesting that our diplomats are succeeding in getting our message across to the rest of the EU. They should keep up the good work.
- Besides: how could Ireland and the UK agree on arrangements concerning the Border before we know what the eventual nature of the UK’s relationship with the EU will be?
- I am genuinely baffled by the following recommendation in the report:
In the event that the UK leaves the customs union, a customs and trade arrangement between the two countries, subject to the agreement of the EU institutions and Member States.
What does this mean? Ireland can’t be part of a customs union with both the EU and the UK, unless the UK chooses to stay in the EU customs union. A bilateral trade deal between Ireland and the UK, not involving the rest of the EU, is impossible, both legally and as a practical matter, and it’s very important that everyone in Ireland understand this. If what is meant is that Northern Ireland should remain within the EU customs union (and, preferably, the Single Market also), then that is another matter — this would require customs controls between the two islands, but that would be far preferable from our point of view than customs controls along the Border. But I am not sure that that is what is meant, and so some clarification on this would be helpful.
But well done to the House of Lords for raising these issues, and for appearing to take them seriously, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of the British political establishment.