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Referendum in Ireland on EU UK Trade deal?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 02:16:07 PM EST

Draft Letter to the Editor

I'm sure most people breathed a sigh of relief that an EU UK Trade agreement was finally concluded just before Christmas, and everyone appears to assume it will be approved by the EU Parliament and ratified by governments on all sides within a matter of a few days or weeks.


But will there need to be a referendum in Ireland to approve the deal?

The Irish people gave up their territorial claim to Northern Ireland when Articles 2 and 3 were removed from our constitution by a 94% vote of the people in 1998 as part of the deal to ratify the Good Friday Agreement.

The peace process has survived for so long because the Good Friday agreement guaranteed "equality of esteem" for those who aspired to Irish unity and those who aspired to union with Britain. It was conceived in the context of both Ireland and Britain being members of the EU and of national borders and differences becoming ever less significant in the context of "an ever closer union" amongst the member states of the EU. There was no Article 50 procedure for any member state to leave the EU when the GFA was signed.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, there was to be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without approval by a majority by referendum there. In was in that context that 56% of the people of N. Ireland voted to remain in the EU in 2016.

Instead, with Brexit, Northern Ireland is out of the EU and all its people now have is a free trade deal on goods, some regulatory alignment, and a customs union with the EU. There is no agreement on trade in services, no Fundamental Charter on Human rights, no recourse to the European Court Justice. The Erasmus programme is gone too unless N. Ireland citizens opt for Irish citizenship and apply through the Irish scheme.

As the UK and EU diverge in the future, so too will Northern Ireland and Ireland - no doubt to the satisfaction of some unionists. But this is a far cry from the "equality of esteem" promised in the Good Friday agreement. Instead, a unionist minority got the Brexit they demanded, and the overwhelming majority who voted to remain in a Union with Ireland and the EU got little more than free trade in goods.

Surely this changes the relationship between Ireland and Northern Ireland in quite fundamental ways and requires that the people of Ireland have the opportunity to have their say as to whether the EU UK trade deal should be ratified and become the law of the land in this state?

If it took a referendum in this state to enact the changes required by the Good Friday Agreement, surely it will take another referendum to validate a situation where Northern Ireland is no longer part of a Union with this state and other member states of the EU?

The whole basis on which the people of this state gave up their territorial claim to Northern Ireland in 1998 has been fundamentally altered. The Government should not ratify the EU UK trade deal unless it is formally approved by a referendum of the Irish people.


Just to be clear: The case I make for a referendum in the Republic on the EU UK trade deal is primarily a political one, based on the changed relationship between Ireland and N. Ireland post Brexit Withdrawal and Trade deals and how this is different from the relationship which existed prior to and post the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Not being a constitutional legal scholar I cannot speak to whether there will be a technical legal requirement for such a referendum: That is an issue which may ultimately have to be decided by the courts if a legal challenge is taken to any government decision to ratify the deal without a referendum. Alternatively, the government can decide to hold a referendum to pre-empt any such legal challenge.

The legal question at issue will probably be whether the UK government had the right, under the Good Friday Agreement - which is an international Treaty lodged with the United Nations - to take N. Ireland out of the EU against the expressed will of the majority there. As the Good Friday Agreement expresses the need for a referendum to effect a change in the constitutional status of N. Ireland specifically in the context of any move towards a united Ireland, it is quite possible that a legal challenge on that basis will fail.

But there is a second basis for a legal challenge, and that is that the people of Ireland approved the removal of articles 2 and 3 from our constitution (our territorial claim to N. Ireland) specifically in the context of the "equality of esteem" provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, and the fact that the EU membership of both parties guaranteed "an ever closer Union" and reduced significance of any border or other differences between the two states.

The Irish people could justifiably feel cheated that Brexit has removed the basis on which they gave up their territorial claim to N. Ireland and replaced a gradual convergence with the promise of ever greater divergence between the UK and EU, and hence between N. Ireland and Ireland.

The UK government could mitigate this grievance by offering to hold a referendum on a united Ireland, under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, but this is somewhat beside the point. The Irish people didn't vote for a united Ireland when they approved the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but for a peace process which recognised the status quo (of N. Ireland as part of the UK) in return for a promise of equality of esteem for Irish nationalists and ever greater convergence between N. Ireland and Ireland.

It is doubtful whether a majority in N. Ireland would vote for a united Ireland now, and even in the Republic a majority might only vote for it in the context of a comprehensive peace deal which specified in great detail how the transition would be managed, how a united Ireland would be governed, and how the costs would be funded.

Very few in Ireland want to take over a divided society, a failed economy, and the possibility of widespread violence in the absence of an agreed plan as to how these challenges and difficulties would be overcome. The consensus is probably that it is best "to let sleeping dogs lie" until such time as Brexit has been fully played out in perhaps 10 years time, the constitutional future of Scotland has been decided, and a clear majority for a united Ireland exists in N. Ireland.

This sort of long term thinking and planning may not fit well with short term media narratives and political imperatives, but is essential if any transition to a united Ireland is to be a peaceful and mutually prosperous one.

Your comments and views on this would be appreciated.

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If there is a referendum, those supporting it will have to talk about how the UK lost with the deal, and hope this doesn't get reported in the UK....
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 02:18:12 PM EST
Contrary to rumour, the Irish people are not obsessed with the notion that Britain should lose with the deal. They will, however, be rather more interested in how Ireland will gain.

If the comparison is with the Status quo, Ireland will lose its "Union" with N. Ireland, some access to fish, and increased red tape around trade with Britain. The loss of the UK's net contribution to the EU will also mean Ireland's net contribution will have to go up.

However if we take Brexit as a given (and the right of the UK people), the more correct comparison is with NO DEAL, under which Irish agricultural exports to the UK will be subject to swingeing tariffs of up to 70% and a whole lot more red tape.

So it will be about economic self interest versus anger that the peace process has been desecrated so wantonly. The UK may even offer a referendum on Irish unification in N. Ireland to defuse the latter, although I doubt this will be helpful at this time.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 02:28:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For Brexiters, trade is a zero-sum game. If Ireland gains, that means that England loses.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 07:04:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In practice, a referendum takes at least two months to organise and validate, so this would delay final ratification of the deal until March. I wonder how the Boris Johnson Government in the UK would react to the ratification of "their" deal being delayed and subject to the approval of the Irish people...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 02:19:33 PM EST
tbh I think there's an opportunity here for Ireland to win. Yes, I think that you're gonna have to gloss over the change in the Constitutional arrangment of Ulster because it seems quite evident to most of the UK that the divergence of Ulster from the UK is going to be far greater than than from Ireland.
Ulster really has gotten out from under. Great Britain has jumped off a cliff and managed to not drag Ulster down with it.
Ulster Unionism  has only thrived on the basis of the economic advantage for the protestant population of allegiance to Westminster. But now the economic advantage goes the other way.
Sure, there will be the fanatics, the "Identity British" who will never accept, but most people aren't like that. Given a choice of an economy that's growing over the one that is imploding, most Ulster people are gonna vote with their wallets.
Maybe not in 2021, but by 2023 most of the 6 counties are gonna be begging to be let into the house of sanity.
I just don't see what the problem is, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Brexit could enable the righting of a terrible wrong.


keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 05:24:33 PM EST
Agree. Better to focus on joining NI to Ireland than to keep arguing the already-lost Brexit case.
by asdf on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 05:44:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No one in Ireland is trying to re-litigate the pros and cons of Brexit. The question is how the fall-out can be best managed.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 05:52:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for your insight Helen. Personally I don't see a United Ireland in the next 10 years, come what economic carnage that may come. The divisions are much more deep rooted than that, and it doesn't take a lot of people to mount a terrorist campaign.

I don't think most unionists yet realise just how dis-engaged most Brexteers are with the union of Britain & N. Ireland except in a purely ideological and symbolic way. It will take the £10 Billion p.a. economic subsidy to come under threat for them to realise this.

And even then Ireland would have to come up with a credible plan for how that £10 Billion will be replaced and how any new political arrangements will be to everyone's benefit. This is all doable but requires a lot of vision, hard work and good will on all sides which may not be available in the short term.

Given the choice between the devil they know (the status quo) and some uncertain future, a majority will always opt for the status quo. The challenge is to create a vision of the future almost everyone can believe will be better. I don't see many people working on that atm.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 05:50:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what status quo?

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 06:49:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The status quo established by the NI protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement and the EU UK FTA.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 07:04:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, but that particular status quo is exactly the one that is will prise ulster away from great Britain.
The status quo ante was membership of the UK, looking to Westminster. However, being separated by customs barriers for an increasingly disinterested Westminster which will have many more urgent problems closer to home to deal with.
Over time, London will simply expect Dublin to step up and Belfast will look that way as well.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 09:12:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is remarkable the degree to which unionists look to Dublin to solve their problems, even now, while lambasting Dublin in the net breath. No one does cognitive dissonance like an Ulster unionist!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 11:34:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank: The Erasmus programme is gone too unless N. Ireland citizens opt for Irish citizenship and apply through the Irish scheme.

Actually, the Irish government had a similar idea: Ireland to fund Erasmus scheme for Northern Irish students

by Bernard on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 07:27:03 PM EST
Just to be clear: The case I make for a referendum in the Republic on the EU UK trade deal is primarily a political one, based on the changed relationship between Ireland and N. Ireland post Brexit Withdrawal and Trade deals and how this is different from the relationship which existed prior to and post the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Not being a constitutional legal scholar I cannot speak to whether there will be a technical legal requirement for such a referendum: That is an issue which may ultimately have to be decided by the courts if a legal challenge is taken to any government decision to ratify the deal without a referendum.

The legal question at issue will probably be whether the UK government had the right, under the Good Friday Agreement - which is an international Treaty lodged with the United Nations - to take N. Ireland out of the EU against the expressed will of the majority there.

As the Good Friday Agreement expresses the need for a referendum to effect a change in the constitutional status of N. Ireland specifically in the context of any move towards a united Ireland, it is quite possible that a legal challenge on that basis will fail.

But there is a second basis for a legal challenge, and that is that the people of Ireland approved the removal of articles 2 and 3 from our constitution (our territorial claim to N. Ireland) specifically in the context of the "equality of esteem" provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, and the fact that the EU membership of both parties guaranteed "an ever closer Union" and reduced significance of any border or other differences between the two states.

The Irish people could justifiably feel cheated that Brexit has removed the basis on which they gave up their territorial claim to N. Ireland and replaced a gradual convergence with the promise of ever greater divergence between the UK and EU, and hence between N. Ireland and Ireland.

The UK government could mitigate this grievance by offering to hold a referendum on a united Ireland, under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, but this is somewhat beside the point. The Irish people didn't vote for a united Ireland when they approved the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but for a peace process which recognised the status quo (of N. Ireland as part of the UK) in return for a promise of equality of esteem for Irish nationalists and ever greater convergence between N. Ireland and Ireland.

It is doubtful whether a majority in N. Ireland would vote for a united Ireland now, and even in the Republic a majority might only vote for it in the context of a comprehensive peace deal which specified in great detail how the transition would be managed, how a united Ireland would be governed, and how the costs would be funded.

Very few in Ireland want to take over a divided society, a failed economy, and the possibility of widespread violence in the absence of an agreed plan as to how these challenges and difficulties would be overcome. The consensus is probably that it is best "to let sleeping dogs lie" until such time as Brexit has been fully played out in perhaps 10 years time, the constitutional future of Scotland has been decided, and a clear majority for a united Ireland exists in N. Ireland.

This sort of long term thinking and planning may not fit well with short term media narratives and political imperatives, but is essential if any transition to a united Ireland is to be a peaceful and mutually prosperous one.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Dec 28th, 2020 at 01:52:43 PM EST
I have added the comment above to the body text of the diary, as it provides some context and clarification to the Letter to the Editor, which I have now sent to various papers.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Dec 28th, 2020 at 02:05:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, Ireland has form on awkward referenda : Nice (2001) and Lisbon (2008/2009)...

If it's a means to put a knife to Boris's throat and wring some useful concessions or clarifications... then go for it. But I tend to think that constructive ambiguity on all-Ireland matters is the best we can hope for in the current climate.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Dec 30th, 2020 at 09:29:52 AM EST
It would create an interesting dynamic vis a vis the UK. The Brexiteer narrative has been that its always all about them with everyone else in Europe expected to rubber stamp whatever they agreed. The idea that "THEIR deal" should be subject to approval by Ireland is anathema to them, and might force them to become more aware of how other people think about the issues from their own point of view.

I personally think any such referendum would probably pass and strengthen the governments hand in dealing with the fall-out from Brexit, but as you say such things can be unpredictable and depends on who turns out to vote. If it is only Sinn Fein voters who are motivated to turn out, the vote could be very interesting indeed. It might make any ratification of the deal contingent on further UK concessions on N. Ireland, although, as I have said before, I don't think a N. Ireland referendum on Irish unity would pass in the absence of a comprehensive peace treaty setting out exactly how a united Ireland would be structured and funded.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Dec 30th, 2020 at 10:25:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Northern Ireland: as an integral part of UK market and able to trade with EU

by Bernard on Mon Jan 4th, 2021 at 07:23:17 PM EST


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