Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Accidentally cancelling Brexit?

Unsurprisingly, the Brexit fanatics are taking their ire out on the Republic of Ireland over the issue of a border across the island.  For those who have never really understood, let alone accepted, the idea that the Republic is an independent state rather than still part of, or a vassal to, the UK, this is only to be expected.  It overlooks the fact, however, that there is a sense in which what is being presented as an ‘Irish problem’ is only the specific and obvious example of what is in fact a generic issue.  That issue is, as Ian Dunt puts it here, that a divergence of regulatory regimes means that “you need to check that goods and services are of the required regulatory standard, that the correct tariffs have been paid and that products originated where they say they have”.  It only looks like a specific ‘Irish’ problem because it’s only in Ireland that there is a land border between the EU and the UK.
The solution proposed by May, guaranteeing no regulatory divergence between the North and the Republic, is a neat solution to the specific, but it does nothing to resolve the generic.  It merely shifts the issue from a line drawn across an island to a line drawn in the sea – it is the Brexiteers’ desire to opt out of the EU regulatory regime which causes the problem, not the Irish Government.  The only thing surprising about the opposition of the DUP to anything which effectively puts the North outside the UK regulatory regime – which is the apparently inevitable consequence of what the proposed agreement said – is that it did, indeed, seem to come as a surprise to May.
The call from Scotland, Wales and London to be given the same deal as Northern Ireland makes eminent sense politically.  As Nicola Sturgeon put it, “If one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with EU and effectively stay in the single market (which is the right solution for Northern Ireland) there is surely no good practical reason why others can’t.”  Whilst I wholly agree with the sentiment, I don’t agree with the bit about there being ‘no good practical reason’.  For the reasons referred to above, putting Wales or Scotland in a different regulatory regime from that operating in England requires borders between those countries; and doing the same for London requires a border around that city.  Theresa May – or any other UK Prime Minister – is not going to ‘solve’ the problem of the Irish border by creating three new borders within the island of Great Britain.
There was one phrase in the proposed agreement which has received scant attention, and that was that the continued regulatory alignment would happen only "in the absence of agreed solutions".  I’m sure that May thought that would be enough of a fudge to be able to move on to the next phase, during which she and her team still fondly believe that they can negotiate a deal which gives the UK all the advantages of, and access to, the single market without being a member.  If they could pull that off, then of course the deal that she almost agreed to yesterday would become irrelevant; there would be no need for a border at all.  It would probably signal the end of the single market and possibly the EU itself (why would anyone want to remain a member if they can get as good a deal outside?) and for that reason alone it won’t happen.
There is, though, one other way in which May could honour the agreement she so nearly made yesterday, and that is to retain regulatory alignment with the EU for the whole of the UK – to remain a member of the single market and the customs union, cancelling Brexit "in all but name".  Did she effectively, albeit accidentally, come close to committing to that yesterday?


Jonathan said...

As a lawyer, one of the most vivid and lurid spectacles you experience is the total collapse, failure and demolition of one side of the argument. It has a Gothic fascination about it, like the fall of the House of Usher or Dracula disintegrating when Van Helsing throws open the curtains to let in sunlight. It has happened to me and my case, and I have watched it happen to my opponents as well.
Truly spectacular is the case that dies from its own flaws, contradictions, non-sequiturs and folly. The flames take hold, the timbers creak and crash as if by magic. It dies, it is not killed. It is Gotterdammerung. There was no outside Agency.
So with Brexit.
The £350m, dismissing the best trading bloc in the world (500m people, a civilised and enlightened system), the notion that a USA led by Trump would give us more valuable deals, and now the claim that the UK needed to and would get back control of its borders.
Despite this, we cannot just sit back and watch the flames consume May, Farage and the rest. We must look after Wales. Somebody must
- remind Welsh farmers (and the rest of the Welsh) that farmers need the EU
- do much much better when EU money comes to be spent in the Valleys
- blow the UKIP arguments away.
Labour cannot do these things. The existing Plaid leaders bleat and wring their hands but do no better than Labour.
Wales will get a General Election or Second Referendum on the terms of Brexit and must finish Brexit off. But who will fight this fight? And then rebuild Wales on the smouldering ruins of Brexit?

Anonymous said...

After the BREXIT vote we were told that we would now control our borders.That people had voted to control immigration.Now we hear that the objective is to have a border in Northern Ireland that is frictionless and there will be no border controls. It is clear that the leaders of the leave campaign had a ragtag of arguments that had no coherence. We are now living with the consequence of a referendum that both sides thought would result in us remaining and the consequences of a leave vote were notvexplored in any detail.