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Analysis

‘Stormont lock’ means whole UK will slavishly follow EU

by Hugo Dixon | 17.03.2019

The DUP wants Great Britain’s rules to stay in line with Northern Ireland’s as part of its price for backing the prime minister’s deal. And it wants this commitment written into primary legislation.

If it gets its way – and hardline Brexit Tories such as Boris Johnson sell out as well – the whole of the UK will be turned into an EU colony. We will be slavishly following not just EU trade rules but its rules on goods and agriculture too.

How could this be the right choice for a proud nation? How could this meet the referendum promise to “take back control”?

If the Brexiters buy this, they are not true patriots. They are merely ideologues who are out of their depth, haven’t a clue what they are doing and are now running scared.

The DUP is negotiating a so-called “Stormont lock” with the government. The basic idea is that, if Northern Ireland has to change its rules to keep them in line with EU rules, so will the rest of the UK. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, outlined the gist of the scheme on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show today – while at the same time refusing to rule out bribing the DUP with cash as well.

The notorious “backstop” forces Northern Ireland to keep its rules in line with the EU’s. If you combine that with the Stormont lock, the whole UK would have to follow what Brussels decides.

The backstop on its own is bad enough. It would keep the whole of the UK in a bare-bones customs union with the EU, without any vote on the bloc’s trade policies. Add in the Stormont lock and we’d be following a whole raft of other rules too.

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DUP should be careful what it wishes

One can see why the DUP is tempted by this scheme. It doesn’t want Northern Ireland to be treated differently from the rest of the UK. But such a scheme isn’t in its long-term interests because there’s no guarantee that it would last.

The combination of the backstop and the Stormont lock wouldn’t even allow goods to flow freely from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. The EU would insist on border checks to ensure that we were following its rules.

On the other hand, the UK government says it would let goods flow from Northern Ireland into Great Britain – and the backstop ensures that goods could come from the EU into Northern Ireland without any checks. So the whole EU could get access to Great Britain for its goods by the back door.

We would end up with a “one-way street”. EU exports could come here freely, but our exports to the EU (and Northern Ireland) would still be gummed up by border checks. And this would happen despite us following EU rules slavishly.

After a few years of such nonsense, the UK government might decide enough was enough. A new prime minister could repeal the Stormont lock. They could decide to get rid of the backstop too – but do so only for Great Britain. Earlier this month, the EU’s chief negotiator made clear this was an option.

Some Brexiters are looking for a way to abandon their principles and support the prime minister’s deal. Their latest wheeze is to sign the treaty and then pull out of it if the EU doesn’t do a trade deal that gets rid of the backstop. The snag is that the EU will only do a deal with us that is, from its perspective, at least as good as the backstop.

Meanwhile, tearing up a treaty with our biggest trading partner would turn us into a pariah state and destroy the economy. If push comes to shove, Great Britain is much more likely to pull out of the backstop on a consensual basis and leave Northern Ireland stuck in it. The DUP should be careful what it wishes.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

10 Responses to “‘Stormont lock’ means whole UK will slavishly follow EU”

  • The trouble is that they are clueless, out of their depth and running scared, so they probably will vote for it.

  • I do not understand how the same ‘deal’ can come back three (or possibly four) times when it has already been decisively defeated in two occasions. Is this normal? I don’t think it can be otherwise nothing would get done. At the same time she ruled out a second vote claiming it would undermine democracy (what demiocracy I would argue?). Double standards and hypocrisy.

  • That is exactly what will happen. Britain’s writ doesn’t effectively run in large parts of NI anyway and most people support the backstop…60% by the last poll…so Britain will not be pulling NI out of anything against its will. In the end the English yearning to break away from vassalship will result in exactly that…NI with the rest of Ireland in a hermetically sealed island in the EU and British who in the words of Fleetwood Mac will be ‘Going its own way’.

  • Main lesson: let half the nation unthinkingly and on the basis of some feeble ideology, apparently dating from about 1900, shaft the other half and watch the pigeons coming home to roost. No one had the faintest idea how just over 50% of the population against just under 50% would create the of lack of power to go one way or the other; in which nothing decisive was possible any more. Did the “people of Britain” really vote for this mess? Anyway, watch the Scots and the Welsh quickly dump the United bit of the Kingdom as soon as this ridiculous travesty of a “liberation from oppressive EU rules” turns into poverty, loss of jobs and capital running as fast as it can back into the EU. Dear of dear, what’s the most sickening bit is that all of it happened voluntarily.

  • And what do words like “patriot” and “proud nation” in this context actually mean any longer? What patriot runs unthinkingly and with the eyes open after people who spread palpable untruths? Misused, stupid, clueless and weak-brained runners for capital-hungry and tax-hating wide boys, who turned out smart enough to precisely know what boxes to tick to get the thicko’s to run, thinking they served the country.

  • The government assert again and again that the backstop is “temporary” Nothing could be more misleading: ###he back stop can only be superseded by any free trade treaty or the like if this treaty contains an irrevocable obligation for the UK to keep the same customs rules as those applied by the EU towards the rest of the world. And it is for EU alone to negotiate and conclude about these arrangements.

    The DUP and the brexiteers should not believe that divergence from EU’s customs rules towards third part can be allowed after some years when some technological ###have magically emerged. This is not only a practical question:

    Because it is a conceptual misunderstanding that technology could solve the problem: Technology can help to make a border invisible to some degree, but there will still be a hard border, as long as there is a line over which the passage of certain goods is subject to restrictions, and where people can be punished for transgressing. It would make no difference if the control were technological, physically invisible and placed away from the border: If there are different economic systems on the two sides of a border, it will be felt as a hard border.

    The government assert again and again that the backstop is “temporary”. Nothing could be more misleading: The backstop can only be superseded by any free trade treaty or the like if this treaty contains an irrevocable obligation for the UK to keep the same customs arrangements as those applied by the EU towards the rest of the world. And it is for EU alone to negotiate and conclude about these arrangements.

    The DUP and the brexiteers should not believe that divergence from EU’s customs arrangements towards third part can be allowed after some years, when some technological devices have magically emerged.

    There are not only practical reasons for that. Indeed, the reasons are quite unsurmountable: It is namely a CONCEPTUAL misunderstanding that technology could solve the problem:

    Technology can help to make a border invisible to some degree, but there will still be a hard border, as long as there is a line over which the passage of certain goods is subject to restrictions, and where people can be punished for transgressing. It would make no difference if the control were technological, physically invisible and placed away from the border: If there are different economic systems on the two sides of a border, it will be felt as a hard border.

    Sten Hansen
    Denmark

  • And what does anyone suppose the EU/UK long-term arrangement (only to be negotiated after we have left the EU, and so will have zero negotiating leverage) will look like as regards N. Ireland? The border issue will be there as much as ever, and the only solution to it that can avoid a massive smuggling industry will be for NI to remain, actually or effectively, in both the Single Market and the Customs Union. As, therefore, must the rest of the UK. Yet the Government and the Conservatives generally say they are against the Labour party proposals for exactly that. Are they stupid, deceitful, or both?

  • Actually, the ever venal DUP have specifically stated that the Stormont Lock is needed by them in order to be able to reject EU legislation, not embrace it.
    The last thing they want are to have to abide by any EU regulations.

    They have been consistent in power in Stormont in their pursuit of personal profiteering through criminal exploitation of both the environment and tax law regulations through their ruthless use of the St Andrew’s Agreement Petition of Concern. Which has effectively given them carte blanche to legally do whatever they like to anyone and everything here. The last thing they want is this criminal gravy train being derailed.

    They have effectively intimidated and bullied everyone in Westminster, with the aid of a few other criminal John Bull extremists , into submitting to their personal desires, just as they have been doing in Northern Ireland for the past 48 years. Especially tyrannically with the help of a neglectful Westminster and Dail, between 2007-217.

    Anyone gets in their way and as you can see from the simmering civil strife mess they have made of Britain since they came to rule over it in 2016, they will sneeringly show you just how loyal worshippers of the Lord of this World – NEVER lose, by sowing the seeds of political chaos and civil war and then forever playing one side off against the other for material gain.

    They are not known here in N.I. as the closest thing to the Taliban west of Istanbul for no good reason.
    As long as they are in power it is Goodnight UK.

  • Mr. Dixon, or Hugo, if I may, I know you are a (very) very busy guy and I know that you write for other sites too but could you help me please. Could you ‘explain it to me like I was five’ why revoking A50 rarely gets a mention as a legal option available to the UK? The options now being proposed by various factions are unbelievable for the most part and do not even come close to the promises made before the referendum.

    Withdraw A50, the quickest and least expensive way out of this mess we are in. How can conditions that exist in the UK right now be preferable to resuming our seat at the top table as a respected and honourable member of the world’s largest trade group? Don’t forget, we would not forfeit our right to decide to leave at a later date. When we have a plan and are better prepared, but not now.

    A trade deal with the US would almost certainly exclude us from having any trading relationship with most of the rest of the world. Due to the nature of our exports to be and the US legal system who would control us completely as part of any contractual commitments. Madness to even consider this option.

    Thank you

  • The interests of the DUP and Brexiteer Torys could cease to align because the DUP are much more concerned with (i) permanently preventing NI-GB regulatory divergence than (ii) enabling future UK-EU divergence.

    If a “Stormont Lock” policy was followed to prevent NI-GB regulatory divergence it would have to be a treaty-level provision that could not be subsequently superseded by ordinary legislation enacted by a new UK Government/Prime Minister. This would require the entire withdrawal treaty to be renegotiated so that the whole UK was subject to all of the single market provisions of what is now the “NI backstop”. However, because of the size of the UK economy it’s highly likely that the EU would insist on additional elements of the single market (or perhaps the entire single market acquis) being applied to the new “UK-wide backstop” because of the risks of asymmetric regulation being exploited by the UK to the detriment of the EU.

    This would make the revised withdrawal agreement less and less attractive to Tory Brexiteers.