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Analysis

6 things to say if EU holds up transition over Ireland

by Hugo Dixon | 16.03.2018

The UK and EU are locked in talks to nail down a transition deal before next week’s European Council summit. Our government is so desperate to cushion the blow of Brexit that it has been making concessions at “supersonic speed”, an EU diplomat told the FT.

But the one area where we haven’t made progress is on the Irish border. Indeed, things have gone backwards. Theresa May agreed back in December that one solution could be for Northern Ireland’s rules to remain aligned to those of the rest of the EU post-Brexit. But when the EU put that commitment into legalese, our prime minister rejected the text.

Ireland is insisting that the UK isn’t rewarded with a transition deal unless we make progress on the Irish border. If it persuades the other EU countries to back it, there may be no deal next week. And, if that happens, UK business will go ballistic. The next summit isn’t until June 28-29. More and more companies will be so scared that the economy will fall off a cliff next March that they will shift operations across the English Channel or Irish Sea so they can still access the EU’s single market.

If there is no transition deal next week, pro-Europeans should say six things:

1. We are only in this pickle because the government hasn’t come up with a viable solution to keep the Irish border invisible, despite saying this is what it wants.

2. Miraculous technology is not an option. As the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which is chaired by a Tory Brexiter, said in a report published today: “The government’s proposals for technical solutions represent blue sky thinking but it will not have the time to implement anything substantial before withdrawal day.”

3. A sea border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is unacceptable, as we need to keep the United Kingdom united. The prime minister is absolutely right now to reject the sea border idea – but she should never have accepted this was a possibility back in December.

4. Keeping the whole of the UK in a customs union with the EU would help avoid border controls in Ireland. But it would not be enough. We would also need to agree that we had the same regulations as the EU does for all physical products – whether manufactured goods or agriculture. Otherwise, sub-standard products would be free to criss-cross the borders.

5. Following the EU’s single market rules and its rules for trade with the rest of the world without a vote on them would turn us from a proud European power into a vassal state.

6. The only way to avoid border controls in Ireland, stop a sea border in the Irish Sea, protect our economy and prevent us from becoming a vassal state is to cancel Brexit. That’s what we should do.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

6 Responses to “6 things to say if EU holds up transition over Ireland”

  • You’re still talking about a Vassal state. It’s well established that “vassal state” is a term dredged-up by arch-Brexiteers like Rees-Mogg. And yet, despite it being incorrect, you continue to use it.
    – A vassal state pays tribute money to its master: are we clear that the UK is just paying its historical debts or not??
    – A vassal state submits fighters and funds to its masters, to contribute to its foreign military exploits. Are you saying UK will do that??
    – A vassal state cannot make significant laws of its own. UK has made significant laws on a huge number of areas these past 44 years.

    This is starting to look like InFictions.org, isn’t it.

    InFact you’re making the Moggian argument that for the sake of a small handful of conceivable laws (if any) which begin and end during the transition period (even if it’s 5 years!) and the UK would seek to change, UK is a vassal state. But even by that definition, it’s not a “vassal state”, is it… because vassal states don’t have the option of quitting. UK could leave the transition period if it decided it better suited its purposes.

    Why do you not just deal with the actual issues and can the populist rhetoric? And if you want to make “vassal state” comparisons, why not make them in respect of NATO, to whom the UK has pledged its greatest subjugation of sovereignty: a guarantee to defend a fellow NATO Member who is under attack. And currently, that commits us to protect Erdoğan’s Turkey!

  • About “the government’s proposals for technical solutions”… supposing by some miracle they achieve it. Does it mean that smugglers are required to pre-register their shipment before crossing the border, in either direction? Does it mean illegal immigrants (of the type we’re having Brexit to avoid) have to pre-register too?

  • we are not a vassal state when we sell to the US without having a say on its rules

    so why would we be if we were to have some sort of associate membership with the EU?

    its all very well to say ” cancel Brexit” but this is unlikely to happen immediately We need a half way house before we get back in ; decrying that half way house as ” vassal status ” following JRMplays into Brexiteers hands and is politically naive

  • I’ve read the British government report, linked above. It talks about replacing the current country road between UK and Northern Ireland with an e-flow system where red-light needs to be checked and green-light means no check needed. This is a technological solution to a hard border? I would call it simply, “a hard border”.

    Some other ideas considered in the document concern (Swiss solution)
    – Cross-border policing controls. (Hmm, that doesn’t sound invisible)
    – Control points away from the border itself. (Ah, crafty… all the check-points, in duplicate, but now they’re not border checkpoints any more, they’re pre-border and post-border checkpoints, with a No Man’s Land in-between? Nice, I’m sure that won’t hurt the Good Friday agreement.)

    Anyway, next we need the technological solution to address the fact of the border between Ireland and Southern Ireland being 500km long. And 200-300 crossing points it seems. Will we also need a fence? Or a wall?

    Personally, of course, I think the Northern/Southern Irish border problem can be solved very satisfactorily. In a word: unification.

  • It may not be an outcome that “In Fact” desires, but a border in the Irish Sea is in fact perfectly feasible, except for May’s need for support for her bankrupt regime from the DUP.

    Such an outcome would have the beneficial effects of freeing England from the financial burden of NI, freeing England from one of it’s now unnecessary colonial ties, and giving greater heft to Scottish independence – so getting rid of the last major colonial state. England would then be free to develop in a more natural way, without these distorting legacies.

    Sure, the dissolution of the UK would diminish England’s clout in the world, but this has already been accomplished by Brexit. Scotland must become free.