Brexit and Ireland – North and South

The US journal, World Politics Review, carried a one-page interview with me last week, focusing initially on why the border is such a sensitive issue, but broadening out to cover some less obvious angles.

As the interview is behind a firewall, here’s a pre-publication draft:

WPR: The Irish border issue, specifically the prospect of a hard customs and immigration border going up between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, looks increasingly like the biggest snag in Brexit talks so far. What solutions or proposals are the different sides—in Belfast, Dublin, London and Brussels—offering?

Frank Barry: The substantive issue here is rarely spelt out explicitly. It is, as political scientists in Belfast have informed me, that if uniformed customs or immigration officers are placed on the Northern side of the border, they will have to be protected by armed police, who will in turn require the protection of the British army. This is because the border areas are the stronghold of dissident republican factions that have consistently rejected the peace agreement of the 1990s that achieved a high degree of consensus across these islands. Stationing troops in the border areas will inevitably lead to clashes, which raises the specter of a return to conflict in Northern Ireland.

The economic problems associated with Brexit are also substantial. Agribusiness, which is of major significance to both the Northern and Southern Irish economies, is the sector likely to suffer most damage from Brexit. Supply chains are highly integrated across the border, so Brexit of any form will be hugely disruptive.  Businesses on both sides of the border have been restructuring vigorously in advance of Brexit, but restructuring is costly and there are some problems that cannot be surmounted by cross-border tariff-jumping investments.

The Irish government and the European Union have advocated what essentially amounts to moving the international frontier into the Irish Sea between Britain and the island of Ireland. This proposal is anathema to both Northern unionists and the British Conservative party as it affects the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the Conservative government in the United Kingdom is dependent on the parliamentary support of Northern unionist parliamentarians for retaining its majority—giving it strong reason not to upset this part of its coalition. The British side has suggested that the problem can be resolved by technology to monitor the cross-border flow of goods. At least some customs officers and random checks would continue to be required however, and it is difficult to see how Britain can regain control over immigration without a heavy presence of immigration officials. I can see no solution to the danger of a return to civil strife other than the one being advocated by the Irish government and the EU. The constitutional issue lay at the heart of the Northern conflict however, and unionists are prepared to risk a lot rather than see their constitutional position within the United Kingdom jeopardised.

WPR: How likely is a “hard Brexit” as a result of these negotiating hangups?

Barry: Either the British deny the unionist community in Northern Ireland a veto or the EU and the Irish government accept a land border on the island of Ireland. If this circle cannot be squared, the UK will exit the EU without a deal. This is the ‘hardest’ of the ‘hard Brexit’ possibilities. A hard Brexit typically entails defaulting to World Trade Organisation rules, involving a very significant deterioration in the  trade relationship between the UK and the EU. But the bad blood engendered if the UK would to leave the EU without a deal being struck would spill over into other areas. Nor is Northern Ireland the only stumbling block in the negotiations of course.

WPR: Does Brexit pose a bigger economic threat or political threat to Ireland and Northern Ireland, given the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement?

Barry: The political threat is the one that frightens the Irish side the most, because of the danger of a return to civil strife on the island. The economic threat is substantial, particularly for, though not confined to, agribusiness. In the past, one might have hoped for EU structural funding to offset some of the damage to businesses and the economy. The UK however is a major contributor to the EU budget, and competition between remaining EU countries over the reduced budget will be intensified. Irelandwhich is by now one of the richer EU member stateswill face an uphill battle in accessing adequate compensation to alleviate the damage.

A further problem is that up to two-thirds of Irish exporters use Britain as a bridge to their continental European markets. For users of this route, Brexit will entail higher transport costs and significant time delays. Two new sets of customs frontiers will have to be crossed, as goods enter the U.K. and then re-enter the EU.

On the economic front, there are some offsetting benefits, though these pale in comparison to the costs. Britain will become less attractive to firms from the U.S. and other non-EU countries selling into the EU market, and Ireland will attract a share of the foreign investment diverted away from the U.K. British firms, too, are likely to establish in Ireland to retain free access to the EU market. Paradoxically, the harder the Brexit the stronger this effect will be. Loss of access to the Single European Market will be particularly significant for financial services firms. A large number of London-based firms are currently exploring the option of establishing operations in Dublin as a way to retain market access, though Frankfurt, Luxembourg and other locations are also competing vigorously for this business.

To the extent that Ireland is successful in attracting a share of financial services firms, however, another dilemma arises. The financial services sector in Ireland is almost entirely Dublin-based, while agribusiness is largely based outside Dublin. Regional disparities are thought to have played a role in the Brexit vote, and in the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. A widening of regional disparities could lead to a similar anti-globalization backlash in Ireland.

Brexit has not, so far, resulted in any significant weakening of Ireland’s commitment to full EU membership. But the U.K. has played a strong role in resisting the centralizing instincts of some powerful EU member states. An EU minus the UK is likely to be more strongly committed to some form of corporation tax harmonization. Yet Ireland is highly dependent on the foreign-owned multinationals, for which it serves as an export platform. These account for over 80 percent of Irish exports and have been a major factor in the rapidity of Ireland’s recovery from the financial and eurozone crises of the late 2000s. If Ireland’s attractiveness to multinational investment was to be severely diminished, its integration into the EU economy, and its ongoing commitment to the EU, could be substantially weakened.

 

On Dividing Large Numbers by Other Large Numbers

Conservative backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, welcoming today’s Economists for Free Trade report predicting a bright post-Brexit future for the UK economy, remarked that the loss of the UK’s £9 billion per annum net contribution to the budget would render the EU ‘effectively insolvent’, according to the Guardian.

They should therefore be threatened with immediate suspension of the UK’s payments, forcing the EU to do a deal. Nine billion divided by the EU-27 population of 450 million works out at £20 per capita per annum.

Mr. Rees-Mogg has been described as a possible future leader of the Conservative party and has performed strongly in straw polls of party activists.

Is it OK if I lie down for a while?

Household Credit Market Report 2017 H2

The Bank published the 2017 H2 edition of the Household Credit Market Report last week. The report collates information from a wide range of internal Central Bank and external sources into one document to give an up-to-date picture of developments in the household credit market in Ireland.  It covers both mortgage and consumer credit. Among the highlights in this edition, mortgage credit grew at an annual rate of 1.4 per cent for private dwelling homes in Q2 2017 but remains negative for Buy-to-Let purposes (-8.6 per cent).  New mortgage approvals and drawdowns continued to increase in Q2 2017, with First Time Buyers continuing to account for roughly half of all approvals and drawdowns.  For the period January to June 2017, the average originating loan-to-value (OLTV) ratio on new lending for FTBs was 79.4 per cent and the average originating loan-to-income (OLTI) ratio was 3.0. The corresponding figures for Second and Subsequent Borrowers (SSBs) were 67.6 per cent and 2.5 respectively. These ratios increased slightly in comparison to the second half of 2016. On average, FTBs and SSBs borrowed €199,414 and €229,332 respectively during the period January to June 2017. In terms of consumer credit, growth remains positive at 5.4 per cent year-on-year in August 2017, reflecting growth in loans of a maturity of between 1 and 5 years.  More details from the Report can be found here.

Teagasc PhD Walsh Fellowship Opportunity

Economic Modelling of Agricultural Land Markets

The objective of this project is two-fold. Newly available data on agricultural land structure and tenure in Ireland will be exploited to assess (i) the impact of new taxation measures on land mobility between farmers and (ii) the impact of land tenure and mobility on the economic performance of farm businesses. Specifically, economic modelling techniques will be used to examine the relationship between land fragmentation, tenure and farm productivity and efficiency. The effectiveness of recent tax incentives around long-term leasing of land will be explored and the impact of long-term leases on farm performance will be measured. Overall this project will contribute to a greater understanding of how the agricultural land market in Ireland operates, how policy measures can influence mobility and how land tenure impacts on the performance of the agricultural sector.

Requirements
The successful candidate should be highly self-motivated with an ability to work independently and be willing to undertake recommended coursework where necessary. Strong quantitative skills and good communication skills, both written and verbal, are essential requirements. Applicants should have a good primary degree (First or Second Class Honours) or M.Sc. in an appropriate discipline (Economics, statistics or related).

Award
The Ph.D. Fellowship is a joint research project between Teagasc, Rural Economy and Development Programme, Athenry Co. Galway and the Cork University Business School, University College Cork. The student will be work under the supervision of Prof. Thia Hennessy (UCC), Dr Robbie Butler (UCC) and Dr Emma Dillon (Teagasc).
The fellowship provides a stipend of €22,000 per year. University fees are paid by the student from the stipend which is tenable for 4 years.

Further Information/Applications
Prof. Thia Hennessy, Dean, Cork University Business, University College Cork. Phone +353 (0)21 490 2868 Email: thia.hennessy@ucc.ie
Dr. Emma Dillon, Rural Economy and Development Programme, Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway. Phone +353 (0)91 845 294 Email: emma.dillon@teagasc.ie
Dr. Robbie Butler, Cork University Business, University College Cork.
Phone +353 (0)21 490 2434 Email: r.butler@ucc.ie

Application Procedure
Submit an electronic copy of Curriculum Vitae and a letter of interest simultaneously to: Prof. Thia Hennessy (thia.hennessy@ucc.ie) and Dr. Emma Dillon (emma.dillon@teagasc.ie).

Closing date 5pm Friday 17th of November 2017.

Muiris MacCarthaigh on Budget 2018

Guest post below from Muiris MacCarthaigh from Queen’s University Belfast:

Budget 2018 and a tale of two Departments

The budget to be published this Tuesday will be the first since 2010 to be prepared and delivered by a single Minister, Paschal Donohoe T.D., who holds both Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform portfolios.

As will be widely remembered by readers of this blog, following the 2011 general election the Department of Finance was essentially split in two, with that Department retaining control over taxation and reform of the financial services sector. (Indeed for a while consideration was given to renaming it the Department of Finance and Taxation). The ‘spending’ side of the Department was removed and combined with public service reform and industrial relations into the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER).  As well as providing for a significant reallocation of central government functions, and an organizational focus for administrative reform, DPER served the useful political purpose of allowing the Labour Party hold another central government portfolio.  This also gave it co-equal status with Fine Gael at the Economic Management Council or ‘War Cabinet’.

What is not widely appreciated is the enormity of the task faced by officials in the Department of Finance over the pre and post-election period to prepare for and then execute the process of creating the new Deparment, all in a matter of weeks. When beginning the research for my recently published book on DPER over the 2011-16 period, the sheer scale of this undertaking quickly stood out.  Led by a small group of officials, it involved trawling the Irish statute book for all primary and secondary legislation concerning the responsibilities of the Minister for Finance in law from 1922 onwards (as well as some pre-1922 treasury-related functions), before that Department could be disaggregated into two.

The range of responsibilities for which the Minister for Finance had a legal responsibility included such diverse issues as provisions for compensation applications arising from property damage during the 1921-23 Independence and Civil War period, to consenting on borrowings for capital investment for commercial state enterprises. All told, it resulted in a process involving the transfer of over 4000 specific legal functions originally assigned to the Minister of Finance.

In respect of Budgets, a number of interviewees for my study identified how the institutional split between revenue-raising and expenditure functions had created a useful ‘buffering’ effect on demands for increased expenditure by line Departments. Prior to DPER’s existence, the relevant section in the Department of Finance assessed new expenditure proposals from a line Department, and the merits of raising taxation or other forms of revenue to support the measure were also considered in that same Department. With the decoupling, appeals to DPER for extra resources fell largely on deaf ears as the Department and its Minister had no say in taxation matters.

The quality of engagements between DPER and other Departments were also deemed to have taken a step change by virtue of the economic evaluations provided for them by the IGEES.  Additionally, the strong relationship between Ministers Howlin and Noonan were consistently referred to as being vital to the Irish crisis response, including budgetary coherence, and by proxy to the stability of the government as a whole.

At the launch of my book, Minister Donohoe identified that the Taoiseach had been keen to maintain the two Departments when announcing his Cabinet following his election in June. Whether this was to preserve the integrity of DPER’s reform agenda, to place coordination of fiscal and budgetary policy in one Minister, or to avoid accusations of a return to pre-crisis arrangements for government departments is hard to say. As is how long DPER will continue to operate as a separate Deparment .The economic crisis may be a decade old, but its effects on budgetary policy and the organisation of Irish government continue to be felt.

Dr Muiris MacCarthaigh is Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Administration at Queen’s University Belfast. His new book, Public Sector Reform in Ireland: Countering Crisis, has just been published by Palgrave.

What could the UK say on the border before getting to the second stage?

You sometimes hear the British say that they can’t make progress on the border before getting to the second stage of talks. While superficially plausible, the claim strikes me as disingenuous: there are surely several things that they could say right now that would make a lot of difference. For example, they could pledge that

  1. The United Kingdom will remain in an equivalent of the customs union and the single market, if that is required in order to avoid a hard border
  2. Northern Ireland will remain in an equivalent of the customs union and the single market, if that is required in order to avoid a hard border
  3. They will change their red lines regarding the nature of their exit from the EU and their future relationship with it, if that is required in order to avoid a hard border

As I think about it though, perhaps the key thing they should say is that (a) they accept that a customs union is defined as a group of countries surrounded by a common external tariff barrier and border; (b) that in addition, the European Single Market has always been and needs to be protected by an external border of some sort in order to maintain its product standards and so forth; (c) that they accept that Ireland will remain a full member of the EU, and hence of its customs union and single market; and (d) that there will therefore continue to be a border between Ireland and all third countries or regions not belonging to the European Single Market and a customs union with the EU.

None of these points is a matter of opinion, or subject to negotiation. (1) to (3) are a matter of fact or definition, and (4) is a logical consequence of (1)-(3). And it is very difficult to accept that you are negotiating with someone in good faith if they refuse to accept that black is not white and that 2 + 2 = 4. Right now the UK seems to most outsiders to be talking out of both corners of its mouth, claiming it doesn’t want an Irish border, while preparing to do things that will require one. How can you negotiate seriously with such a country?

If the UK were to accept (1) through (4), publicly, then its claim to want to avoid a hard border in Ireland — including any physical infrastructure, something that Mrs May very helpfully added in Florence — would sound rather different. (Right now, it sounds like hypocritical posturing.) Publicly accepting (1) through (4), and saying that they were willing to do whatever it takes to avoid a hard border, involving any sort of physical infrastructure, would mark a big step forward in my opinion. And it doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for.