Knotty Problem

30 November 2017


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Breakthrough in Brexit Irish Border Talks? 

The idea of the UK leaving the EU is plain stupid, but to actually implement such a departure will require creative, legal and financial genius. The biggest problem of all in this regard is the border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. With the violence of the last century largely abolished thanks to the Good Friday Accords, the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland have co-mingled their economies. The ties are deep and real, and they are in part responsible for the continued stability and peace there. So, what kind of border must there be when the UK part of the island leaves the EU while the Irish Republic stays in? Talks have gone on for months, but reports are that the two sides are moving closer together.

If the UK leaves the single market and customs union as Brexit demands, then taxation and rules are going to vary. Enforcement will be necessary, and that implies some kind of border. No one wants to go back to the hard border with checkpoints all over as used to be the case. No one wants smuggling and other rule-breaking either. As one EU diplomat told The Guardian, “If there is no border we might as well do away with the internal market. The UK is already the biggest source of counterfeit goods. It brought ‘mad cow disease’, it is not like they have a glorious past to lean on. Everyone is very worried about this for very good reasons.”

The Independent reports, “British officials are said to have suggested further devolution of power to the Northern Ireland power-sharing executive in order to prevent regulatory divergence between the north and the Republic …. The European Parliament and Commission have suggested that NI could stay in the customs union and that customs checks could instead of carried out at Irish sea ports when travelling to Britain.”

The next meeting of the European bigshots is December 14, so this matter needs to be settled (or close to it) by then. If there is no deal or outline of one by then, the second phase of the Brexit negotiations will not go forward. Phase one covers the divorce bill (what the UK is financially still on the hook for), the Irish border issue, and the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa. This gives Ireland a de facto veto over the beginning of the second phase of talks.

Complicating all of this is the fact that the minority Tory government in London rests on the support of Ulster unionist MPs. Anything that looks like the province moving closer to the Republic and away from the UK could threaten Theresa May\'s government.

If the British government had any creativity, it would seize this opportunity to make Ulster a special economic zone, its entrepot into the EU. The EU would be wise to adapt its rules to accommodate such. Wealth generation would ease the sectarian issues that remain as well as improve the financial position of the Republic. China and India have done this sort of thing for decades, and the record is clear. If anything good is to come of Brexit, it will have to include Irish development on both sides of a barely visible border.

© Copyright 2017 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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