The UK House of Lords on Brexit and Ireland

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

26 thoughts on “The UK House of Lords on Brexit and Ireland”

  1. Kevin
    The discussion is always cast, here, on “the border” when in reality there are many. The least problematic is the one most fixated upon, the common travel arrangement. Thats soluble. As you and others have pointed out, and as I have even this morning been banging on about on Twitter, the real problem is the Customs border.
    The proposal smacks of delusion. If we were to allow this, and somehow be allowed to so allow, then Irish firms would be faced with significant burdens on country of origin proof – how would the EU know that the butter, the bike, the widgit, was from Ireland or from the UK (Ni part) else? Maybe someone can tell me, genuinely.
    Even were we to have this , how easily will the NI Chambers of Commerce, the DUP the TUV and the rest of the acronyms wear the argument that no, sorry you need to do customs clearance to sell to the rUK? It beggars believe that they could, would, or should so accept, if they are in true fact within the UK. What is the relative cost to the NI trader of compliance with the internal UK customs barriers? Remember they would have to be of a standard that the EU would bear, so cannot be nod-and-wink.
    Nobody seems willing or able to even begin to build a framework within which to quantify the costs of the relative options. Meanwhile, down here, we allow blithe talk of “the border” and fixate on the ability of the supporters of Crossmaglen Rangers to go easily to their almost annual trip to Croker or the supporters of Manchester United to pop over to a match. I exclude business travel as that will begin to decline as the UK draws into its brexited shell…

  2. I think there is some merit to Ireland and UK trying to agree on some things and then both try to push for those in an eventual agreement. Whether you call that ‘negotiating’ or not is less important.

    1. http://www.independent.ie/business/brexit/finance-minister-says-bilateral-uk-deal-not-possible-35287949.html

      “Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said it will not be possible to have a bilateral trade deal between Ireland and the UK.
      Mr Noonan was speaking in response to questions about a House of Lords Committee report which advocated a bilateral deal between Ireland and the UK which would be separate from the UK’s Brexit negotiations.
      The Lords Committee suggested that a deal between the two governments should be struck to ensure open borders and allow freedom of movement between the two countries.
      However, Mr Noonan has said that such a deal will not be possible because of Ireland’s place within the 27-Member bloc.

  3. On the ‘nitpicks’, the report does also specifically mention how Ireland cannot negotiate on trade outwith it’s membership of the EU. That’s in the section with John bruton.

    More generally, evidence so far suggests that the Irish government and the EU are likely to care more about NI than the conservative government in London, or at least the brexiteers. Their motivation seems basically to be English nationalism. And while we can have a good debate about its Britishness, NI is not English.

    1. re: English nationalism:
      In the recent Sleaford election, Labour were completely abandoned by what used to be their traditional support base. Abandoned to such an extent that in order to survive, if that is their wish, Labour will have to endorse and embrace Brexit; and to try to steer the future Britain away from a large Mike Ashley-type sweatshop that the conservatives would turn it into.
      Brexit is about to become more imbued with English nationalism, post Sleaford, than it was before, if that is possible.

  4. Yes. This is welcome.

    From a “These Islands” perspective, what we have here is a largely unilateral decision by the youngest of the four recent civilizations to reside here which impacts on the identities, positions in Western civilization, and future general well-being of the citizenries of the older three. Simply not cricket! Time to revisit the crease and for English nationalism to reach a generally acceptable agreement on direction of These Islands with its elders.

  5. Not every problem has a solution.

    It is becoming clear that the problems caused for Scotland and N. ireland by Brexit have no solution within the context of a U. Kingdom. The logic of unionism is that England decides these matters for the Celtic countries.

    If Brexit turns out to be the event that triggers the dissolution of the U. Kingdom, independence for Scotland and end to the partition of Ireland, it will be well worth it. June 23 could become a public holiday and statutes to Boris Johnson erected in Dublin and Edinburgh.

    1. It strikes me that most of the problems of disentangling the UK from the EU would have arisen for the Scots had they chosen independence from the UK back in 2014. The wary Scots voters decided, probably wisely, that the economic and other uncertainty was not worth it. Sadly, the English population did not take the same view in 2016 on Brexit.

  6. “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. ”

    I think that statement needs some clarification.
    Does it means that all and every issue pertaining to a Post-Brexit UK is to be decided by the EU 27, with Ireland having no individual hand, act or part in matters where EU competency to negotiate is not specified in EU treaties.

    I would like if somebody spelled out in detail, what areas of competency the EU in relation to ‘negotiating’; my point being that Ireland should seek to retain to itself the maximum flexibility afforded in terms of its own negotiating powers.
    Or is Ireland to find itself in a position where we will have to get permission from Brussels to make as much as an intergovernmental phonecall with the UK?

    For instance, my understanding is that the EU has competency to negotiate on matters of trade, but Ireland should be able to retain the right to negotiate that its citizens could work in the UK and vice versa? Could such a bilateral agreement on the right to work not exist whether the UK remained inside or outside the customs union?

    Ireland may need to be aware of a UK strategy to divide and conquer in terms of the negotiations. But Ireland needs to be more aware of the EU negotiators Prosecco response in proclaiming that ‘while over 30% of UK exports go to the EU, less that 10% of EU exports go to the UK’.
    Translated, that Prosecco response means that Ireland’s needs are fully expendable in the heat of negotiations, and perhaps in the cold calculations that precede them.

    Ergo, in the suggestion offered by Grumpy seems very reasonable to me.

  7. Worth a look.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxDPwiwGBg0

    Article 50 provides a procedure only for the divorce agreement, “taking account of the framework for its [the divorcing state’s] future relationship with the Union”. Barnier spells out what this means in terms of agreeing a “transitional arrangement”. It only makes sense if the UK sets out at least the outline of how it sees its future relationship with the EU.

    The UK government has not yet made up its mind. Not having any coherent policy, the general trend has been to place the responsibility for finding solutions on individual member countries of the EU27 for the problems that arise, ignoring the fact that they are not of their making. This is generally perceived as a “divide and rule” approach. If it is, it is having the direct opposite impact to that which is intended.

    The response of the MOF is the right one. And timely! Who knows what might have emerged otherwise.

  8. The risk of the EU collapsing because of Italy is non-negligible.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/wolfgang-munchau-italy-could-bring-down-european-union-1.2902649

    It would be wise to maintain good relations with the UK throughout the Brexit negotiations because those negotiations might be overtaken by other events.

    The impact of Brexit on the Irish economy is going to be very negative, and the needs of our own population can’t be completely sacrificed to preserve the cohesion of the EU (which might fall apart at any time).

    Also, a polite suggestion. It would be good to hear more from the people who will be directly harmed by Brexit – e.g. people who work for exporting firms like Kerry Group – and see what they think about how the negotiations should be conducted.

    1. There isn’t actually any proof that Brexit will be negative for the Irish (i.e. R. Ireland) economy. Its obviously a possibility. It depends on what deal is negotiated. But, as of now its equally possible that it could benefit the Irish (i.e. R. Ireland) economy, with an increase in the share of mobile FDI being attracted to R. Ireland at the expense of the U. Kingdom. Obviously the impact on N. Ireland is different and, to the extent that R. Ireland increases its share of mobile FDI, N. Ireland will lose share. I outlined the solution for this in my post above. Since the Brexit vote in June the rate of fall in unemployment in R. Ireland has accelerated.

      1. I hate to point this out, but could you please acknowledge in your future posts, if you wouldn’t mind, the fact that the Republic of Ireland is an independent state, referred to internationally in parentheses as RoI, where you must use such abbreviations?

        I don’t quite know how the sub-state of Northern Ireland is supposed to be acknowledged? Is it N.I or Northern ireland, as fully spelled out? Nor, to be frank, do I much care. However, under our constitution and our international status, it would be helpful if you could refer to the Republic of Ireland as it is internationally signified. That tends to matter to the ordinary citizens of this state, of which I am one.

        Many thanks.

        1. I have no idea what point you are making. It seems a bit pedantic. Obviously there is a problem in describing the entities on this island as neither of the two artificial states on the island can be classed as a country. Only the whole currently-partitioned island can be classed as a country. I think you’ll find that the term most frequently used for the 26-county state is simply Ireland, which is the term I normally use on this site (see my many other posts). So also does (for instance) the author of this thread (see title) and most of the other posters. Indeed your good self simply uses the term Ireland in your other post. In most contexts it is understood that the term Ireland is referring to the 26-county state only.

          However, in contexts (like this thread) that are dealing with the effects of Brexit on the economy on either side of the artificial border, and where there is a risk of confusing the 26-county state and the 32-county country, the use of the term Ireland would be ambiguous. Would it be referring to the 26-county state or the whole island? In these circumstances I find it useful to clarify by using the easily-understood shortened forms of R. Ireland and N. Ireland. I could use the terms Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, but this would be unnecessarily tedious to type (and read). Once the decision to abbreviate is made, I find R. Ireland and N. Ireland the best abbreviations as everybody knows what they mean. Very few people outside this island would have a clue what RoI meant and I certainly have never met anyone to whom it mattered that RoI (rather than R. Ireland) be used.

  9. Another report from the House of Lords, this time on the issue of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU27.

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201617/ldselect/ldeucom/72/7202.htm

    The overall import of it is obvious. The noble lords consider that the UK is on the wrong path and seek to soften the impact.

    It also raises a more general point as far as Ireland is concerned and it is that it is the balance of UK interests that will decide the direction of UK policy, not particular issues. But the UK has very few cards to play. (Indeed, some of the evidence given e.g. in relation to interpretation of Article 50 is delusional. Of course, it was given before the press conference by Barnier).

    A way of looking at the coming year would be to view the issues in terms of of three distinct graph lines (i) developments the UK economy (ii) the reaction of voters to these developments in terms of how they are personally impacted and (iii) the progress of the actual negotiations. (One could add a fourth to cover the point made by John Browne above but the assumption that some country among the EU27 will act as stupidly as the UK has done is rather heroic).

    UK voters are followers of Keynes, apparently, when it comes to what happens when the facts change.

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/10/poll-public-will-not-accept-brexit-worse-off-tim-farron-ukip-lib-dem-yougov

    If the graph line on (i) above is positive i.e. the UK economy continues to largely shrug off the impact of Brexit and graph (ii) flat-lines as a result, proponents in the UK government advocating a hard Brexit will gain the upper hand in deciding the UK’s negotiating position. If developments are in the other direction, the situation will be different. It is hard to see any clarity one way or the other until late 2017.

  10. Paragraph 116 is probably the most significant for Ireland.

    “116.If it has not done so already, the Government should consider the merits of remaining a member of the EU’s customs union as an interim arrangement, until the terms of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU have been settled. We are also conscious of the practical challenges of introducing full customs controls within two years.”

    This is, of course, where the real policy divide in the debate within the Conservative party applies. It is also, in many respects, it seems to me, the crunch issue not just for this but another reason i.e. it cannot be left in limbo. The “interim arrangement” suggested has, for this reason, attractions for both sides and; needless to say, the EU27.

    The reported lack of any success whatsoever (by either May or the UK minister now – nominally at least – in charge) in promoting FTA’s for a new, liberated, buccaneering UK, must also be a significant element in deciding which way the UK government will hop.

  11. In the current maelstrom of confusion, and blatant weakness of the UK parliamentary opposition, the House of Lords’ cross party committee appears intent on filling a vacuum in British politics around Brexit policy. Its first report, advocating a separate bi-lateral UK-Ireland agreement – ostensibly to preserve existing arrangements between our two countries and protect the peace process – is complemented in the second report, published today, pointing to the naiveté of UK government ministers’ rhetoric and proposed approach to trade talks with the EU, also a matter of national interest to us.

    So far, we are consistently advised that our best interests lie in negotiating with the UK as part of the EU bloc. The EU 27 will speak with one voice on Brexit. Already, our diplomatic offensive is in full train to ensure that our EU partners are fully apprised of the direct implications of Brexit for the Irish economy and the Northern Ireland Peace Process. According to the FT last week, the UK is set to embark on a PR offensive of its own in Europe in the weeks to come.

    Our government’s position is clear. We are utilising the NI Agreement East-West institutions to good effect. We’ve staged a Brexit forum, however fleeting its impact. We emphatically don’t need a ‘Minister of State for Brexit’ to co-ordinate government Brexit policy formation horizontally. The existing cohort of Cabinet Ministers, led by the Taoiseach, is sufficient. We will play by the EU rules.

    This is all fine. But it presupposes a level of cohesion within the EU which may not exist in practice. And that the old rules still apply.

    For one thing, the reality of Brexit fractures the fundamental concept of EU ‘cohesion’. Does the concept have any real political meaning any longer? For another, from globalisation to climate change to international trade deals to conflict scenarios, the EU capacity in its external representations to ‘speak with one voice’ has varied historically.

    When it comes to internal policy cohesion, much has changed in the political balance of power among the EU institutional pillars over recent years. Successive Irish governments made much of the role of the EU Commission as the ‘protector’ of small countries within the EU against subordination to the policy dictats of the larger founder-member states. But the Commission clearly is no longer what it once was in that respect. Add to that the enhanced powers of the European Parliament since Lisbon, the influence of new institutions such as the ECB, and the effects which EU enlargement itself have had on the overall internal dynamics of the EU. It is apparent to even the most committed Europhile that, since 2008, the ultimate locus of authority within the EU has shifted considerably towards the Council, notably France and Germany.

    All of which raises a number of questions. How can we be sure that, in relation to the final terms proposed for a Brexit deal, our national economic interests will equate to those of the rest of the EU as a whole? Or will be congruent with our broader political strategic interests? What do we do if, as the negotiations progress, it becomes apparent that our patriotic economic interests must inevitably be compromised? Irrespective of the fine qualities and negotiating prowess of our national team of diplomats and politicians at every level in the EU, how well-positioned are we to ensure that Ireland’s ‘special relationship’ with the UK would supersede wider EU strategic considerations when push comes to shove at the deal-making table?

    Right now, the Lords’ report proposal might appear mischievous to some, since there is no likelihood that the current UK government would even countenance doing anything about it. Having our own government articulating a clear and consistent position on our own approach to negotiations as part of the EU 27 is logical and pragmatic. But the situation is fluid. It may all look very different in six to twelve months time.

  12. Indeed! But at this stage it would make little sense to even suggest that the UK Brexit tail will wag the EU27 dog. What Ireland will have in common with the other countries is that it will be defending the status quo. The extent to which the UK succeeds in disturbing it, and the impact this has nationally, will be an outcome of the negotiation.

    We might well be sent “into orbit” with the UK, of course, if the views of Juncker, as reported by the WSJ below, reflect wider opinion. To that extent, the change in national policy required is to act as a fully paid up member of the EU. There are worrying signs that the body politic in Ireland, media included, is, as usual, looking to someone else to resolve its difficulties.

    “European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday said a “different orbit” as an alternative to European Union membership should be invented for countries bordering the bloc such as the U.K. and Turkey.

    Speaking to an audience in the Dutch town of Maastricht, on the 25th anniversary of the EU summit that agreed to create the euro, he suggested that a special status be created for the U.K. in the wake of the country’s vote to leave the EU.

    “The Germans say that if it’s too hot in the kitchen, you have to change the room…The British, for instance, they don’t feel at ease in this European kitchen because it’s too hot,” Mr. Juncker said.

    “We have to invent a different orbit for those of our European countries who don’t want to be part of all the domains we are trying to work together,” Mr. Juncker said.

    “This will not be a tragedy, a crisis, this would be a chance; it would make things clearer,” he said.

    He said Turkey could be added to that equation, but didn’t elaborate.”

    This is, almost certainly, where the UK will end up. The question is to what extent the “orbit” coincides with (i) its existing EU membership and (ii) its bilateral relation with Ireland.

    1. @DOCM
      Seriously, I’d be surprised if the good Mr. Juncker is let anywhere near the real talks. In respect of his capacity to win friends and influence people etc., he would appear to have a lot in common with the current UK Foreign Secretary. Perhaps they might both ‘orbit’ the negotiations? Best place for the both of them.

      1. You would be mistaken. Witness the deftness with which he has placed Barnier in pole position as “chief negotiator” when no formal decisions have yet been taken on actual nominations. More than that, no member state has raised a peep about the negotiating strategy that the latter has set out.

        It was a French writer, as I recall, who described Ireland as an “island behind an island”. This perspective is centuries old. We will not get out of the shadow by any other means than sticking with the EU27. The extent of the desire of the electorate to do so when the going gets rough, which it inevitably will, is the unknown factor.

        1. For sure. We are an ‘island behind an island’. You can’t do much about geography. But the strategic importance attached to geographical location is hardly as relevant in the 21st century world of networked communication as it was when that phrase was first coined.

          Part of my concern, as reflected in earlier remarks, is that the impact of the UK withdrawal from the EU on the internal political dynamics of the EU itself is underestimated. There is an implicit assumption of a ‘robust 27’, which will prove capable of responding to Brexit with a hive mind. That seems improbable.

          There are lots of rocks out there, some of which remain well-concealed beneath the waves, as our little ship of state sets forth to steer a course through the choppy waters of Brexit negotiations. A further concern then arises about the competence of the crew. Maybe I’m alone in this, but persistent stonewalling by government representatives along the Noonan lines of argument is a little worrying. This ‘nanny knows best’ approach will hardly cut it with an ‘electorate’ for whom so much depends on a reasonable outcome to these negotiations in respect of our own patriotic economic interests.

    2. Orbits, unless either carefully maintained with large amounts of fuel and control time or unless exceptionally finely calibrated from the start, they decay. Then the orbiter crashes. Who would think that the future UK, or English, governments will invest time or that TM’s team will finely calibrate?

  13. text from Blind Biddy in orbit with Seven_of_9 … somewhere over These Islands:

    There is great disorder under heaven; the situation is excellent!

      1. Hi Veronica …

        Heaven was part of Confucian cosmology … and the quote is from Chairman Mao …. when the situation is chaotic possibilities present themselves ….

  14. Olivier Blanchard, ex-IMF economics chief, at a recent New York Times conference neatly summed up the UK’s negotiating position when he said that it will have zero leverage (towards the end of the video).

    https://piie.com/blogs/realtime-economic-issues-watch/olivier-blanchard-discusses-state-global-economy

    Yes, Ireland should not run parallel negotiations but there should be some discussions with the UK to prepare for the scenarios that could apply in respect of transhipments.

    It’s foolish to expect that some additional banking jobs would negate the impact on the food industry which has as many direct jobs as the pharma/medical devices sector and much higher economic linkages.

    Last May Tesco in the UK announced it would remove a section of its supermarkets specifically stocked with Irish products and reduce the amount of food brands from Ireland on offer.

    The Irish-UK food and drinks trade is already close to balance and big firms like Kerry can easily increase their presence in the UK to counter the sterling effect but smaller firms will be hit on both the export side and increased domestic competition.

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