by Frank Schnittger
Fri Jun 15th, 2018 at 07:30:38 AM EST
noun British informal;
- a cat, typically one that does not have a pedigree or is otherwise unremarkable.
Brexit: `call Ireland's bluff' on Border, Rees-Mogg tells May
The European Union could ignore its own rules if it wants to avoid a hard border in Ireland after Brexit and simply agree not to create one in any circumstances, the leading backbench Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.
Mr Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Tory MPs, said Theresa May should call Ireland's bluff rather than allow the Border issue to hold Brexit to ransom.
"Will the Irish put up a border? Will a government that has always believed there should be a single government across the whole island of Ireland suddenly put up a wall? Is it going to be a Trump-like wall built by Mr Varadkar?
The British government has repeatedly said it will not impose a border, so it is entirely up to Mr Varadkar, " he told The Irish Times.
"I think we can easily negotiate a deal on trade across the Border, but I don't think this issue should hold us to ransom on doing everything else, which is what it's currently being used for.
"I think we should simply make it clear that we will not put up a border and that is our position. And what would the Irish do if the EU insisted? I think that is a really interesting question. I think we should call that particular bluff."
Britain and the EU have agreed that there should be no return to a hard Border, and Ms May, the prime minister, has acknowledged that a unilateral British commitment not to create new barriers was not enough to resolve the issue.
Mr Rees-Mogg said he disagreed with the prime minister and dismissed the EU's argument that its rules demanded that it should police its external borders and protect the integrity of the single market and the customs union.
"It wasn't possible for Italy to join the euro. But lo and behold the rules were waived. It was not possible for Greece to join the euro, but lo and behold Goldman Sachs fiddled the figures and Greece joined. The four freedoms are indivisible, except when it comes to the association agreement with Ukraine, when lo and behold the freedom of movement of people - oh dear, we are not going to have that," he said.
"This is one of those things we must not fall for. The EU says this is EU law. It is holy writ. Moses has brought it down from the Alps, when he was not busy in the Sinai, and therefore it must be obeyed. Whenever it is convenient to the European Union, European law is adjusted. It is political rather than legal.''
It would suit Brexiteers just fine if they could use Ireland as a back door to by-pass the Customs Union and access the Single Market free of all the obligations and charges that Norway is subjected to. I somehow doubt Angela or Brussels would wear it.
Rees-Mogg is right about one thing, though: It would be politically suicidal for Varadker to agree to erecting customs controls at the border with N. Ireland. A bloody civil war was fought in Ireland between those who accepted a de facto border and those who didn't. We do not want to revisit those dark times. This goes beyond politics.
The best the Irish government could do would be to erect outward bound customs controls at Irish air and sea ports ensuring no UK originating goods could enter the rest of the EU that way without the appropriate tariffs or inspections being carried out.
That would leave the island of Ireland in a sort of no man's land - part of both the Single Market and the Customs union, but also part of a free travel and trade area with the UK - as was historically the case prior to EU entry in 1973.
For all the bigoted, sectarian stupidity of the DUP, there might also be some method to their madness: It would put N. Ireland in the extraordinarily privileged position of providing British firms with an alternative gateway to the EU and access point for EU imports free of any tariff/import controls the UK government might seek to impose, given their absolute opposition to customs controls in the Irish sea.
Of course the UK government could always implement the "friction free", "imaginative" technological solutions it has been attempting to sell to the Irish government, involving "trusted trader" schemes and customs collection mechanisms in companies similar to VAT returns. No one has ever done it before, but then neither has anyone left the EU before.
I actually think such a scheme could work for larger companies like Guinness or Tesco. Guinness already has customs officers on site to ensure that the correct amount alcohol is declared for duty purposes. Tesco has systems in place to ensure tax compliance in many jurisdictions in the world.
It would be feasible, if not exactly simple, for those systems to be programmed to charge the correct amount of duty on goods originating in different jurisdictions depending on whatever tariff regimes need to be applied, less of course for any exemptions due to tariff free quotas being applicable. Similar to VAT in some respects.
But what of smaller firms, sole traders and private citizens? Effectively, Ireland would become a tariff free zone - or smuggler's paradise - depending on your point of view. In an overall EU context, the amounts concerned might well be negligible. If few tariffs are applicable in any case, the impact within Ireland might also be small, but provide a welcome boost to smaller businesses trying to compete with global giants.
Given that Ireland is the economy most exposed to the impact of Brexit, the EU might even take a sympathetic view and tolerate any such boost as reasonable compensation for the other adverse effects of Brexit.
However the EU is not quite as laissez faire with its own rules as Rees-Mogg seems to imply. There are plenty of anomalies if you look hard enough - e.g. Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but no longer part of the EU - but they all have one of two things in common: They are either small enough to be immaterial, or the EU has learned to rue their occurrence - as in Greek entry to the Eurozone.
Rees-Mogg may well be right and an exception for Ireland may be made - at least until the longer term future of EU/UK terms of trade are clarified. But there is no way the EU will allow Ireland to become a back door providing UK goods with an opportunity to by-pass customs controls and gain entry to the Single market without Norway style terms of membership being applied.