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From the Mid-Atlantic to the Irish Sea

by Frank Schnittger Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 10:29:22 AM EST

As noted in previous diaries here and here, the Brexit talks (phase 1) are reaching a climax. Two of the three main issues have been more or less resolved. Agreement has been reached in principle on the UK contribution to outstanding obligations to the EU budget, and the status and rights of EU emigrants to the UK, with Theresa May essentially capitulating to EU demands on both issues. However one issue remains unresolved: the Irish border question - to the acute embarrassment of the Irish government which has an almost neurotic wish to avoid the limelight as being the one holding up the talks process in general.

The UK side have been convinced firstly, that the Irish government could be fobbed off with vague assurances of an invisible, frictionless border enabled by new technology. Then the UK side were convinced that the EU side would abandon the Irish government once it had settled the two other issues of most concern to the rest of the EU 27. Now that Donald Tusk has stated, in no uncertain terms, that the Irish government's position is the EU position, and that there will be "sufficient progress" to move on to trade talks when the Irish government says there is, the UK side has taken to denigrating the Irish government.

Varadker is said to be weakened by internal scandal, threatened by his deputy leader, Simon Coveney, and fearful of being outflanked by Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. He is said to be young and inexperienced, without the convivial emollient manner of his predecessor, Enda Kenny. The UK appears to be going through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Having been in denial that there was any Irish border issue at all, we have had the anger at the impertinence of the Irish government for even raising it. We may now be about to move into the real bargaining phase.


Paul Goodman, the editor of Conservative Home, has an interesting article in the Irish Times in which he takes up a suggestion from former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (and suggested by me previously) that large companies could pay border tariffs remotely, in the same way as they fulfil their VAT obligations, while small companies and private individuals could be given a waiver: effectively paying to tariffs at all. But first, here is a snippet of his take on the current state of British Irish relations:

Standoff over Border is classic Irish-British misunderstanding

Brexit is bringing a golden age of Anglo-Irish relations to an end - a period stretching from joint EEC entry through the Belfast Agreement to Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland. It would be melodramatic to claim that a dark age may succeed it. But there is now a serious risk that the Brexit negotiations will collapse over the two countries' land Border, followed by years of mutual recriminations.

We are where we are partly because of a classic Irish-British misunderstanding - born of a failure of interest on the British side and, if I dare say so, a failure of imagination on the Irish one.

From the start, Britain has shown a lack of interest in the deleterious effects of Brexit on Ireland. There is almost no upside to it. Economically, the negative impact is undisputed. Politically, it tilts the balance within the European Union towards more protectionist and interventionist countries in Europe's south and east, leaving Ireland exposed as an English-speaking, free-trading and America-friendly economy. And culturally, Brexit disturbs the Irish psyche at an elemental level. To become an EU member has become synonymous in much of Ireland with being a modern country. Britain leaving raises memories of a troubled past.

There are two exacerbating complications. First, Border mapping has found 142 areas of North-South co-operation. This has clearly reinforced a sense in Ireland that maintaining anything like the status quo will be next to impossible. Second, to unpick the present arrangements has thus come to be seen as compromising the Belfast Agreement. Ireland tends to see continued EU membership as implicit in the agreement; Britain does not.

On the UK side of the Irish Sea, we have largely missed this development of the Irish position. When we speak of a hard Border, we have in mind checkpoints, watchtowers - all the paraphernalia of the Troubles. When a hard Border is spoken of in Ireland, it seems now to mean any significant departure from the present arrangements.

---<snip>---

Which brings me to that failure of imagination. I suspect that a significant slice of opinion in Ireland doesn't really believe that Britain will actually leave at all. May's government is weak. There is a lively pro-Remain media in Britain, which is well read in Ireland. Britain wants a transition in any event. Put the three together, and it is easy to convince oneself that Brexit won't happen. If Ireland pushes hard enough at this moment of maximum vantage, some might think, perhaps Britain will at least give up on leaving the customs union.

I have responded to his piece in the comments as follows:

On the one hand, this is a brave attempt by a British conservative to come to grips with the differences in perspective in Ireland and the UK, and on the other hand, it is pure bullsh1t. There is no lack of imagination on the Irish side, and few doubt that the UK is intent on leaving the EU. The Irish position isn't based on wishful thinking that the UK will change its mind. It is simply that Brexit has major implications for our vital national interests, and we are every bit as entitled to fight for these interests as the UK is for theirs.

Chief of these is the maintenance of the Peace Process and the ongoing process of greater economic and social integration on this island. This trumps even the importance of our trade links to Britain, which are being terminally damaged by Sterling devaluation in any case. We will simply have to find other markets for our agrifood exports - ideally in the EU where they can replace existing UK exports soon to be damaged by WTO tariffs and possibly rendered impossible by regulatory divergence or lack of mutual recognition.

If it were simply up to Ireland, the fudge Goodman suggests would be all well and good, a classic Irish solution to an Irish problem. Charge the big import/exporters tariffs, and grant waivers to everyone else. It would even work in practice, as charging the tariffs could be done in the same way as charging VAT. But the EU is a rule bound system - and has to be if 27 often conflicting national interests aren't to cause absolute chaos. Try persuading the Germans and other Europeans that Ireland should be granted this unique trading advantage.

Rules are rules, and have to be the same for everyone. Every bit as much as Brexit means Brexit.

So yes, British and Irish relations are about to hit an all time low - or at least the lowest since Bloody Sunday. And it is because of the bloody arrogance of the British that they can pursue their own national interests (as they perceive them) and that everybody else has to simply like it or lump it. Opposing the impact of Brexit - which means moving the existing EU customs border from the mid-Atlantic to the middle of the island of Ireland - is absolutely against our national interest and so absolutely must be opposed. This is not disrespecting the British Brexit vote, it is respecting the Irish one, North and south, which is resolutely against moving that border onto our island.

The DUP is a sectarian party intent on imposing its agenda on the people of Ireland despite the fact that the Brexit referendum was defeated in N. Ireland by 56-44% - and N. Ireland is the only place the DUP has a mandate of any kind. If the Conservative government wants to be led by the nose by DUP that is their prerogative. But the Irish government will have no truck with it. If that leads to a complete breakdown in Brexit talks, so be it. If it leads to a general election and the formation of a UK government not dependent on the DUP, so be it. It is not the Irish government's job to prop up a disastrous Tory regime.

The alternative is a simple one: Move the external EU customs border from the mid-Atlantic to the Irish sea. If it can be made to be so frictionless, invisible, and trouble free as Tory and DUP propagandists claim, then what's the big problem with having it there? It need have no implications for national sovereignty whatsoever. Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but not part of the EU.

Northern Ireland can have a special economic zone status with an external relationship to the Customs Union and Single Market even if Britain does not, while remaining part of the UK. All the UK will be offered if the Brexit talks move on to trade will be a Canada like trade deal, and guess what? There is a hard customs border between Canada and the EU. This is the same customs border which will in future lie across the English channel and the Irish sea if N. Ireland is granted such special status.

The UK side in the Brexit negotiations fondly imagine that the EU will grant the UK a trade deal which will provide special access to the Single market which will be equivalent to being in the Single market in all but name - whilst still allowing the UK to "take back control" and make its own regulations and negotiate trade deals with third parties. NOT. GOING. TO. HAPPEN. Sorry, but the best the UK will be offered is the Canada deal with minor tweaks.

And this is precisely why the UK wants to postpone the border solution until after a trade deal is concluded, because then the UK would be able to use the argument: "ah but we have to have full and untrammelled access to the single market to avoid a hard border in Ireland." The EU is not going to submit to such moral blackmail, and that is why it has stood full-square behind the Irish position. No trade negotiations until the Irish border position is settled. Then you can get a Canada like deal (which otherwise would have required a hard border in Ireland).

The UK position is essentially based on the fiction that the EU doesn't have external borders, or if it does, that they can be made to be invisible, frictionless, and painless to administer and navigate. But the reality is that the EU has very real customs controls at its borders, even with respect to countries like Canada with which it has recently negotiated its most comprehensive trade deal.

The UK appears to be under the illusion that it will be able to negotiate a trade deal with the EU equivalent to membership of the single Market and Customs union, without the concomitant restrictions on their freedom to do their own regulation, control immigration, and negotiate their own trade deals. It is hoping to use the Irish border issue as leverage to force the EU to concede such a deal, as otherwise border controls would be needed at the N. Ireland border. It is thus in the EU's interest, every bit as much as it is in Ireland's interest, that the border issues are resolved before the trade talks even start. Hence Donald's Tusk's support for the Irish government position.

Whichever way you dress it up, the only way that the border issue can be resolved is by moving the EU's external border from the Mid-Atlantic to the Irish Sea. Anything else would, effectively, be a repartition of Ireland which provoked a bloody civil war the last time it was done. Theresa May has to choose between appeasing the DUP or progressing the Brexit talks. Her choice.

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No-deal Brexit and hard Irish border, here we come!

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 03:28:48 PM EST
There is no such thing as a hard border in Ireland. It will be a smugglers paradise and as Unionist commentator, Newton Emerson, has written, it will also give rise to widespread civil disobedience even amongst the most bourgeois elements in society.  We will show Catalonia how it is done...!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 04:28:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How did the Austria-Germany hard border work before Austria joined the EU? I actually managed to cross it (at the top of the Untersberg) without realizing I was so.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 04:34:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is much over much over rated!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 05:19:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"You will not be abandoned."

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 03:39:58 PM EST
Thanks Cat! I wish I had as much faith in our "allies" as you seem to have!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 04:22:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That there is no honor among thieves is a common fallacy.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 05:44:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If it can be made to be so frictionless, invisible, and trouble free as Tory and DUP propagandists claim, then what's the big problem with having it there?

It is indeed easy to disassemble the UK position. But more important is to understand that trade is only but a small aspect of the border, it primarily concerns regulatory and jurisdictional divergence, and to a still unknown extent freedom of movement and cross border funding. Practical aspects: Northern Ireland is leaving the jurisdiction of Eurojust and Europol, what will replace them in the framework of the Good Friday Agreement? What will replace the role of the European Arrest Warrant? Ireland and the UK can fall back to the Common Travel Area, but that is a step backwards from the existing EU framework, what will exactly happen to the movement of people? And what will replace the EU funds towards cross-border cooperation and reconcilement?

It is worth reading or re-reading this article, published before the referendum:

The RUSI Journal | Who Will Speak for Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland is rarely mentioned in the debate on the UK's membership of the European Union (EU). However, a potential Brexit may have a significant impact on the social and economic situation in the country. Edward Burke argues that politicians in Westminster and Stormont have failed to address the risks associated with the UK's departure from the EU. These may adversely affect the region's prosperity and the delicate peace process.

 

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 07:03:43 PM EST
There has been a very rapid divergence between the North and south's demographic profile, economy and societal outlook. I would caution against assuming all Catholics are Nationalists and all protestants are Unionists, but nevertheless the figures are instructive:

Northern Ireland and the TripAdvisor index of economic vibrancy

In the over-90s the religious split is 70 per cent Protestant and 28 per cent Catholic. There are just over 10,000 people over 90 in the North. Children of the 1920s, they are the first generation born in the newly created Northern Ireland, and the religious split in this age group demonstrates the demographics that underpinned partition.

Now look at the population in Northern Ireland, from the same census, of children under five. There are 147,000 under-fives, and this age group is 48 per cent Catholic and 37 per cent Protestant.

So between the births of these two groups, 90 years apart, the Catholic population of children, as a percentage of the total, has nearly doubled while the Protestant population has practically halved.

---<snip>---

Extrapolating from these figures, I calculate that Catholics will become the absolute majority in Northern Ireland around 2036, and this majority will only strengthen from then on. That's less than 20 years away. The Belfast Agreement was signed 20 years ago, and it seems like only yesterday.

---<snip>---

In 1920, 80 per cent of the industrial output of the entire island came from the three counties around Belfast. Belfast was the biggest city in Ireland in 1911, larger than Dublin, and was home to Ireland's innovation and technology.

At partition the North was industrial and rich, the South agricultural and poor. Fast-forward to now, and the contrast couldn't be greater. The collapse of the Northern Ireland economy compared with that of the Republic has been unprecedented. East and West Germany come to mind.

Economically, the Union has enfeebled the North while independence has enriched the South - particularly since the peace process. Commercially, there was a huge peace dividend, but it went south.

The Republic's economy is four times larger, generated by a work force that is only two and a half times bigger. The Republic's industrial output is today 10 times that of the North. Exports from the Republic are 17 times greater than those from Northern Ireland, and average income per head in the Republic, at €39,873, dwarfs the €23,700 across the Border.

Immigration is a traditional indicator of economic vitality. In the Republic one in six people are immigrants, the corresponding figure for the North is one in a hundred.

Dublin is three times bigger than Belfast, far more cosmopolitan and home to hundreds of international companies.

Sinn Fein were already within 1,000 votes of the DUP at the last Legislative Assembly elections. Many Unionists do not support Brexit, or at least are opposed to a hard border. The DUP, the dominant expression of Ulster unionism may be on the point of collapse, or at least of rapid decline. Thus "who will speak for Northern Ireland" is rapidly changing...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 08:24:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Orange Lodges, UVF, and UDA aren't going to go quietly into demographic oblivion.  The IRA was capable of organizing "campaigns" under similar circumstances, without the help from UK military and intelligence services the UVF, etc., could get.  

IMO, car bombs going off in Dublin are a very real possibility when it becomes clear Northern Ireland is not a viable entity.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 09:39:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It all depends on how the tensions are managed and alleviated. That's what good politics is all about. I think we will manage ok.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 2nd, 2017 at 10:35:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wonder if a referendum in NI on the "custom border in the Irish sea" plan would be a way to circumvent the DUP? It would of course entail both a UK government willing and brave enough and an EU that feels a possible no vote could be accepted, both quite tall orders. However I would assume that even the DUP would be somewhat hard pressed to oppose holding such a vote.
by Anspen on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 01:08:10 AM EST
I think both level of government that could possibly call such a referendum are beholden to DUP. The local government of North Ireland, if it could be formed, would consist of DUP and Sinn Fein. And the UK government needs DUP for parliament support. So I don't see who would call the referendum.

And I have a suspicion that DUP would indeed oppose any such vote. After all, the precedent that the majority in North Ireland can decide is a potentially dangerous one for them. In the future a majority might want unification with the south, and I don't think DUP would risk that.

by fjallstrom on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 10:51:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The other problem is that almost all elections/referenda in N. Ireland tend to become sectarian head counts rather genuine plebiscites on the merits of the issue at hand. "Its all a Sinn Fein plot" would be the story-line. The bottom line is that N. Ireland has had its referendum and the vote was 56-44% against Brexit. The DUP is pursuing a policy that doesn't have popular support, and they know it.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 01:41:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, parties based on sectarian divides are wrecking Ulster. I've never really understood why neither the Tories nor Labour organise there.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 08:57:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Simple. They are British parties and don't get much support in Ireland - even from Ulster Unionists who claim to be British.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 09:33:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If it were simply up to Ireland, the fudge Goodman suggests would be all well and good, a classic Irish solution to an Irish problem. Charge the big import/exporters tariffs, and grant waivers to everyone else. It would even work in practice, as charging the tariffs could be done in the same way as charging VAT. But the EU is a rule bound system - and has to be if 27 often conflicting national interests aren't to cause absolute chaos. Try persuading the Germans and other Europeans that Ireland should be granted this unique trading advantage.

And the waiver system would be wide open to abuse if it wasn't carefully policed. Anyone could get goods across the border tariff-free as long as they could create a paper army of Irish (or Northern Irish) small businesses and hide who really owned and controlled them.
by Gag Halfrunt on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 03:59:22 PM EST
The main argument in favour would be that cross border trade is dominated by giants such as Tesco, Guinness, Baileys, Dunnes Stores, Aldi, Lidl, Penneys, Marks & Spencer etc. who are already heavily policed by tax and customs authorities. The residual trade by small traders, private individuals, and small businesses is miniscule as a proportion of the EU economy and not really material to anything. I think it would work quite effectively while giving the depressed border and N. Ireland economies a minor and much needed boost.

But you are still asking the EU to set up a preferential regime for a particular area, and if in N. Ireland, why not poor areas of Latvia, Romania etc.? Perhaps they are already smuggling Russian and Ukrainian goods on a minor (in EU terms) scale but it is not a precedent the EU is likely to want to encourage. It's a neat way for the UK to play havoc with the EU/German obsession with rules, exploit Irish  principled objection to the border, help N. Ireland/border economic under-develoment, while at the same time keeping their own hands clean.  Essentially they are asking the EU to bend their rules to help solve a problem of their making.

Ireland would be fools to buy into it unless the EU agreed, because otherwise the EU will be threatening Ireland with enforcement proceedings/fines if that situation were allowed to develop without formal legal sanction. But if the EU really want a Brexit deal, that is the sort of concession they might have to make at the eleventh hour in order to bring a deal over the line.


Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 05:44:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is that, as you say, the UK Govt has a fanatical belief in magical solutions tailored for their advantage, based on non-existent technology requiring a benevolence undemonstrated anywhere else in the world.

All for the convenience of some of the most dishonest fools in the political world.

They're going for Hard bexit as destroying the economy because you're pretending to uphold your (non-existent) principles is emotionally easier than making the compromises necessary for mutual benefit, but which will expose the hypocrisies involved.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 08:56:13 PM EST
I am fascinated that the Brexiteers haven't gone ape-shit over May's capitulation on the exit payment and the rights of EU citizens in the UK. Are they keeping their ammunition dry for another battle or are they paper tigers who will roll over when push comes to shove?

The issue is of relevance now, because there is some debate here as to whether the DUP would really bring down the May government when to do so would almost certainly bring Corbyn into power and jeopardise the extra funding they negotiated for N. Ireland and which is their main claim to to relevance right now.

I am undecided on how much hard ball Varadker and Coveney are capable of. The UK scorn being heaped on them is weird because they are the most pro-British and least nationalistic of all potential government leaders in Ireland right now.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 09:58:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think they follow the tabloid's lead as that's their voting base. So, if the sun and Mail grumble, but don't go overboard on the £50 billion, neither will they. The issue of paying something was always there, so the actual sum was mere tittle-tattle. As Bill Cash said in Parliament, as far as they're concerned, £500 billion would have been fine if it helped them be rid of the EU.

And also the citizen's thing was never going to be a deal breaker, they all know that there are UK citizens staying in the EU, so a bit of quid pro quo makes the leavers feel generous, even if they're not.

As for their attitude to the Irish govt, for the head-banging leavers, every Irish govt is just the IRA in a suit. So, there's never a chance they're going to applaud one part or another for being well disposed towards us.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 10:22:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So you're saying a few Tabloid editors and journalists (or their proprietors) are basically running the country right now. We all knew that was the case, but it's never been more obvious.

I'm waiting to see how ape shit they'll go if the Irish Government does hold up the talks. They do have Irish editions with significant sales and a clientele that mostly wouldn't appreciate being lectured by UK political journalists, so we'll see.

My real concern is the Irish government may not have the guts to see this one out.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 3rd, 2017 at 11:23:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They're quite capable of taking opposite sides of an argument in U.K. and IE editions. They've done it before. There is no integrity, just the hard copy version of click baiting.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Dec 4th, 2017 at 10:36:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I read this article as the DUP going on the defensive, having been gratuitously offensive up until now. Perhaps the DUP senses it will shortly be put in its place.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Dec 4th, 2017 at 12:12:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ha, I thought the opposite.

I don't know how it is in the rest of the world, but when a UK politician says they want a "sensible" agreement, what they mean is that they end up with everything they want without having to do any more than throw the odd bone by way of a concession to the other side.

And I heard dictionaries sceaming in pain trying to make the stretch of associating the DUP with the word sensible.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Dec 4th, 2017 at 07:51:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here we are again, as so often before, ULSTER SAYS NO !!

So, finally the hypocrisies in the Tory position are revealed, all of the lies and humbug stripped away. The Tory opportunism has defeated them.

They either abandon the DUP or they abandon any hope of a negotiated brexit.

Of course, there are ways of squaring this circle if they were to be more interentionist, perhaps even offering generous re-location packages for bringing people back to the mainland.

But they won't, cos that's not how conservatism works.

But if they don't, then true, real, utter disaster awaits. And the owrst of it is that there's a noisy minority on the tory backbenches and fleet St who would welcome it.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Dec 4th, 2017 at 06:18:57 PM EST
As I predicted, the crunch time in the Brexit negotiations has come early, and has indeed become a crisis: see my diary Anglo-Irish Agreement on Border strangled at birth.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Dec 4th, 2017 at 06:49:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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