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Wishful thinking? July 13, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.



I keep reading pieces like this – essentially blue sky thinking about the shape of the dispensation on this island post-Brexit proper. This time from Paul Gillespie.

Talks on Brexit opened this week in Brussels, bringing swift recognition of how complex the Northern Ireland dimension of the negotiations will be. Calls for imaginative and creative ideas to tackle them require well-informed research and debate.

Because they encompass the EU’s external border regime, talks on Ireland cannot finish until the UK decides whether it wants to leave the single market and the customs union. Its ministers insist this is their goal even though the election outcome as well as growing political and interest-group pressure make it increasingly unlikely they will end up there.


The binary choice between hard and soft versions of Brexit is politically necessary at this stage of the talks. But it obscures the possibility of more flexible, elastic or differentiated outcomes which would better suit Ireland’s complexity. There is an opportunity to influence those outcomes constructively through the dialogue process on Ireland agreed this week between the deputy EU negotiator Sabine Weyand and Oliver Robbins, the main British negotiator.

There’s a possibility but the power relationships are such that such ‘flexible’ ‘elastic’ or ‘differentiated’ outcomes are hugely difficult to achieve due to basic structural, constitutional and political reasons. Take the latter – the DUP input alone is going to be hugely problematic. The idea of a customs border around the island rather than on the island would be an easy way to solve the problem. Easy that is if we didn’t have the DUP in the picture.

As noted by An Sionnach Fionn and others that is the last thing they want. And hence it is unlikely to come to pass.

Special status for Northern Ireland? Ditto.

Some bespoke arrangement for NI – say in the EEA? Ditto.

And so on.

He continues:

Katy Hayward of Queen’s university argues that such complexity is really a strength if this opportunity is properly taken up.

The Brexit talks are centrally concerned with different versions of sovereignty. Whereas the EU model shares sovereignty, the UK wants to deepen it by restricting it to the UK. But this is discordant with the Belfast Agreement and its joint Irish, EU and UK citizenship provisions. That makes Ireland a unique “testbed for both the EU’s flexibility and the UK’s durability”.

It is, just, possible that a UK unencumbered by the sort of political issues mentioned above might indeed go for such flexibility, etc. But even so, the UK at this point is a state under unique stresses and pressures. There is the issue of Scotland – diminished perhaps in potency but no less real given the actuality of an SNP majority both at Scottish level and in terms of representation of Scottish MPs in Westminster. That’s got to hurt. And it will continue to do so, even if independence isn’t on the table quite yet.

So the room for give by the UK on sovereignty is limited – even assuming an appetite to do so.

Rather than pursuing a path of competing nationalisms Hayward argues it will be possible to explore how existing Irish-British institutions running North-South and east-west can be expanded to recognise the interdependencies which will survive Brexit. New cross-Border bodies dealing with electricity, environment, telecommunications or higher education research could be created to supplement those currently dealing with trade, food and waterways. Similar regimes can be imagined to deal with customs, immigration, agri-food and manufacturing standards. They would run east-west as well as North-South.

All this would be great. But again, is the DUP, a DUP which has been utterly antagonistic to the expansion or even much usage of the current bodies likely to agree to same?

I’d strongly recommend people interested in all this to listen to the latest Guardian “Brexit Means” podcast which touches on this very topic in the course of answering ‘What can we expect as the Article 50 talks begin?’. Excellent, thought-provoking, depressing.

A very interesting point is made that one of the things about post-Brexit options is that once one moves back from 100% hard Brexit then it all begins to collapse down – EEA/EFTA status is okay, but it seems, as one contributor described ‘a shabbier version of what we already have today’ with no input etc – ultimately leading to the logical conclusion that exiting the EU is too costly. In other words that the costs of leaving the EU come into sharp focus in terms of loss of control and (implicitly) only hard Brexit comes close to ‘justifying’ as it were that cost, even though, of course, it does no such thing.

Unfortunately – and I’ve said this from the day of the referendum result, the UK has to leave the EU, and that will of necessity incur costs. In a way it is for the UK to determine what cost it will bear. It would be depressing too if its decision was that


1. GW - July 13, 2017

“Unfortunately … the UK has to leave the EU”

I wouldn’t bet on that.

As the podcast notes, there are only a limited number of possible deals. The only two that would suit the Brexiteers on the Tory and dupper right – or among those on the left who believe that leaving the EU is a sine qua non for progress to some kind of socialism in one country or something, are:

a) Crashing out with no trade agreement with their neighbours
b) Getting something like Canadian or Ukrainian trading arrangements – a long shot that because they both took a long time to negotiate.

All forms of agreed ‘soft’ Brexit will be worse than staying in the EU, both for workers and capital.

So at the very least there should be free vote in the UK House of Commons on the real existing Brexit deal, come 2019.

If this is voted down, then there may be political space to go back and admit that a mistake was made. It’s hard to say how the EU 27 would react to the idea of continued membership of a chastened UK, possibly with a loss of some of the Thatcher rebates, but they might bend the rules.

If Labour whips its MPs into voting for a clearly damaging Brexit deal, then they can kiss the next couple of elections goodbye, because the young people and other remainers that voted for them last time will walk.

I hope there are back-channels discussing the possibility of calling the whole thing off.


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