jump to navigation

Brexit and the threat to the GFA/BA June 28, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Newton Emerson is pushing a very very implausible line again in the IT this week. As before he takes umbrage at the idea that Brexit is a problem in the context of the GFA/BA, to the extent that he describes the ‘mapping exercise’ carried out, not by Uncle Tom Cobbley or some randomer plucked from the street, but the sovereign governments of the ROI and the UK, the NI civil service and the EU Commission into impacts on the GFA/BA due to Brexit as ‘open to dangerous misinterpretation’ Why so? Why is the understanding of the two governments, the NI civil service, and the EU commission so at fault?

Of the 142 policy areas, only seven relate to the cross-Border bodies established under the agreement, covering topics such as inland waterways, food-safety promotion and languages.
The next 44 are “priority” or “potential” interests of the agreement’s North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC), covering topics such as health, education and benefit fraud.
The next 70 areas are “co-operation beyond NSMC” and therefore beyond the agreement. This includes the all-Ireland electricity market.
The final 19 are described as “avoiding a hard border” and include all customs union and single-market issues. This is again beyond the agreement, which says nothing about trade or the nature of the Border.

This is disingenuous at best, and at worse simply flat out incorrect. Indeed he undermines his own case when it is noted that of the 142 areas examined some are unaffected or unlinked to EU membership. But the point is that the mapping exercise was necessary precisely in order to determine impacts – and of course in some instances there would be impacts, in others there wouldn’t. That though, is in a sense a subsidiary issue.

To argue that the broad and narrow context of the policy areas is ‘beyond the agreement’ because the agreement does not mention trade or the nature of the Border is an interpretation so narrow and so self-serving that it is remarkable that a columnist in a national paper is offered the opportunity to make it. He writes;

A common EU legal and regulatory regime may have been assumed but there is nothing in the agreement to require it, or even to harmonise what laws and regulations exist. Co-operation is to be about “action within the island of Ireland on matters of mutual interest and within the competence of the administrations, North and South”.

But as noted by Tony Connolly of RTÉ previously…

…the ROI government and the European Union, and indeed the British government heretofore have all argued that the way in which the GFA/BA is framed in the context of an all-island economy means that ‘if you’re abiding by the GFA you’re not putting any of the achievements into reverse because we know Brexit does put it into reverse because you throw this big border across the island all fo the north south cooperation which is facilitated by mutual membership of the EU in terms of health, in terms of education…science… all of that is thrown into reverse if the UK is out of that system… well the way to do this is through the withdrawal agreement and the backstop…and if they’re rejected it is up to the UK to live up to its obligations’.

Or as is noted in comments BTL on the Emerson article, Emerson ignores the manner in which matters have developed not simply on foot of the text of the GFA/BA but in its implementation. Any change as we know will represent, in this context (it’s not inevitable in all contexts), a diminution of the status quo ante (Ivan Rogers was explicit about this in a speech only this week).

Arguably, though, it goes further than that. Another commentor BTL notes that the settled reality of UK and ROI EU membership in 1998 was such that it was unthinkable for one or other party to be outside the Union (and as Emerson surely knows, it was only with the Lisbon Treaty that a mechanism came into being allowing for a state to leave the EU). It is as if one assumed the UK would retreat from the UN and all UN agreements. Even today that seems implausible in the extreme. So it was taken as read, albeit the EU is mentioned in the text of the GFA/BA, that common membership would be yet another underpinning of the Agreement and its workings.

But all this is in a sense irrelevant – all the handwaving from Emerson about the GFA/BA – because Emerson has to implicitly admit, as it is so blindingly obvious, that Brexit does generate significant negative impacts on the status quo ante…

In other words, North-South co-operation is largely what North and South decide. Brexit cannot breach this – it becomes merely another challenge on the agenda, albeit a vastly difficult one.

A vastly difficult one? Really? Has he deigned to follow the news from London recently where the Tories have imploded as a party of government precisely because the mechanisms required to retain a frictionless border on this island have become not simply vastly difficult to accept but frankly beyond the capacity of the British political system to even entertain.

It’s this dislocation between the narrowness of Emerson’s analysis and the realities which impact on the ground, on politics and so on which is so frustrating. Emerson is an intelligent person but he seems genuinely unable or unwilling to accept that Brexit does indeed undermine the GFA/BA, that tomorrow is going in the context of Brexit to be worse than today. I’m at a loss as to why he seems locked into a perspective that seems almost blithely unconcerned about that simple reality.

I don’t want to do him a disservice, but perhaps it is that accepting that would in some ways underscore the problems in a political system that could allow matters to reach this pass. Easier to pretend there is no problem in this instance than to accept that from start to finish the British political system is currently not fit for purpose.

And his solutions are no solutions at all. For him it is not apparently hugely problematic if the Agreement is reworked to who knows what end.

Extending the definition of the agreement so widely instead imperils it.
A hard border might be avoided through a future trading relationship but demanding all conceivable forms of North-South co-operation be fixed in their exact present state makes the backstop truly inescapable.

One might add that there’s a certain degree of delusion given the lack of working the agreement in its North-South context by the DUP. Though in fairness to Emerson he does acknowledge that ‘Unionists have got away with sidelining it’. But even that itself shows up another problem with his argument which is that given the partial manner in which the GFA/BA has been worked it demonstrates yet again that anything that can impact negatively upon it is a threat to it. That’s the basic truth at the heart of this.


1. EWI - June 28, 2019

it is remarkable that a columnist in a national paper is offered the opportunity to make it

Sadly not, for any of the three national rags (IT, Indo and Examiner). The Irish Times has been hobbled on the issue by its defining obsessions.

I never thought the day would come when I would say this, but the late Oirish edition of the London Times was miles ahead in terms of journalism.


WorldbyStorm - June 28, 2019

Agreed and what’s the betting at least one of the usual suspects on Sunday will pick up this line and run with it?


Daire O'Criodain - June 28, 2019

You do him no disservice at all. Perhaps even too generous. A mischievous, self-serving article suffused with motivated reasoning.

Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: