It seems that the UK Government has resigned itself to paying the “divorce bill” on the EU’s terms, although some of the Brexiteers don’t seem to realise this yet. It’s also rumoured that considerable progress has been made regarding the “children”.
The Irish rightly want a cast iron commitment that there will be no “regulatory divergence” between the North and the Republic and “muzak” like utterances from the UK do not cut the mustard. There is sadly substantial mistrust of the UK government on the border, both from historical precedent and a belief that the current Brexit group are not to be trusted. Ireland have the full backing of the EU. Donald Tusk, made that obvious in Dublin on Friday: “Let me say very clearly. If the UK offer is unacceptable for Ireland, it will also be unacceptable for the EU.”
The UK have been ignoring this issue for months (apart from producing a childishly inadequate position paper) and seemingly just hoped this issue would go away. At least the intellectual heavyweight of the Brexit team, David Davis, now seems to be aware that the Republic of Ireland is no longer part of the UK. At 11am frantic talks were still going on behind the scenes. But breaking news as of 12:00 seems to indicate that the UK has backed down and has accepted something very similar to the Irish position. The spin on this will be very interesting!
One obvious answer is an Irish Sea border and a special status for Northern Ireland as outlined for example in the study from the European Parliament AFCO committee
A “visible” border between the two parts of Ireland will certainly be unavoidable, however politically unwelcome it may be, if there is no trade agreement between the EU and the UK, if the UK adopts a cheap food policy, or if the UK lowers phytosanitary standards or other quality standards for agricultural or industrial products. If an economic border is needed for any of these reasons, it cannot be avoided by electronic surveillance methods. Since it seems likely that the UK will wish to be free to choose its future policies in these respects, a “visible” border will come into existence unless the UK is willing to adopt a free trade area solution, such as the European Economic Area or something like it, at least for Northern Ireland.
The DUP of course claim that they will veto any solution that gives NI special status, but with the latest Survation poll showing an 8 point lead for Labour over the Conservatives and a prediction that Labour will gain 55 seats are they really going to pull the plug? It would be ironic if we had a Labour minority government with the support of SF. (Corbyn is one of the few UK politicians they might trust enough to drop their longstanding boycott of Westminster and the offer of a border poll might be sufficient to tempt them). A Labour/SNP deal might be possible also.
It seems the NI public are far less concerned than the DUP by special status and according to a recent QUB poll there was acceptance about an Irish Sea border:
Surprisingly, willingness to accept such controls was stronger among Leave voters (64 per cent agreed), supporters of unionist parties (59 per cent) and Protestants (54 per cent). We might put this down to a willingness to live with east-west border controls as the price of getting Brexit across the line. Lower levels of agreement from Remain voters (44 per cent), nationalist party supporters (47 per cent) and Catholics (43 per cent) probably reflect hostility to any kind of new border controls.
So an interesting few days in store.
In all the noise and bluster from the UK press it is easy to forget that the EU will not formally talk about a future trading relationship until the UK has actually left the EU. A very good summary on the real state of play is on Tom Hayes BEEERG Brexit Blog and the eventual trade deal will have to be ratified by the EU27 and Wallonia, for example, who famously delayed the Canadian trade deal, as Hayes points out.
A country like Ireland may even consider that the deal would have to be ratified by referendum to establish the “will of the people”. Funny thing this “will of the people” stuff. Apparently it is not just limited to the UK and other people in other countries might have other “wills”.
That would be irony indeed.