Thursday, 1 March 2018

What republic?

Last December, the UK Prime Minister agreed a joint statement with the EU27 which said, in relation to a border across the island of Ireland, that “…in the absence of a later agreement, the UK will ensure “full alignment” with the rules of the customs union and single market that uphold the Good Friday agreement”.  Yesterday, the EU27 published a draft treaty to implement the December agreement in which one option (Option C) is that Northern Ireland remains aligned with EU rules in a number of areas.  I am struggling to see why the first of those was presented as a great triumph for Theresa May, but the other is something to which she says “no United Kingdom prime minister could ever agree”. 
Of course, my inability to see the enormous difference between these two things might be entirely my problem.  I am, after all, someone who still fails to understand the huge significance of swapping a burgundy passport for a blue one.  On the other hand, it is at least possible that I might be right and there is no real difference - other than that three months have passed since then, during which the EU was supposed to have forgotten what the UK agreed to last December, because it was, in reality, simply a negotiating ploy to allow talks to progress, and not something which they were ever supposed to take seriously.
There are two underlying problems highlighted by the Irish border issue.  The first is that the Prime Minister has managed to make three very clear promises:
·         She has promised the EU and the Irish that she will do nothing which necessitates a hard border across Ireland,
·         She has promised the DUP that there will be no border between the island of Ireland and the island of Great Britain, and
·         She has promised her own backbenchers that the UK will leave the Customs Union and the Single Market and make its own regulations and trade deals.
It is perfectly possible for her to keep any two of those promises; the delusion is to believe that there is any conceivable way of keeping all three.  The question which I find myself asking is why that delusion is so strong, not just for her, but for all the others who continue to insist that they can do all three.
That brings us to the second, and perhaps more important, underlying issue.  I believe that they really don’t understand that Ireland is an independent sovereign state, and continue to regard it as some sort of semi-detached part of the UK, inextricably bound up with the rest of us, with a leadership which is currently being awkward but which will fall into line eventually.  And at the moment, I’m not sure that the English nationalists running the UK at the moment, with their entire philosophical outlook firmly rooted in the days of empire, is capable of developing the understanding which will be necessary if they are ever to reach an agreement.  Mere facts can’t convince people who prefer their own ‘facts’, a perspective which means that the inevitable failure of the current approach will always be someone else’s fault. 
The cliff edge awaits.


Spirit of BME said...

As an independent and neutral onlooker on the debate between the Realm (this Sceptred Isle) vs The EU (The Fourth Reich) I was interested to see your words in the last paragraph “Ireland is an independent and sovereign state” – Are you sure? They have signed the treaty of Rome and in these negotiation`s about their border, Brussels will take on their concerns, but the Irish government will not be face to face at the top table closing the deal with the UK, nor will they have a veto on this issue in these negotiation`s. The main concern will be governed not what might be for the best interests for the North of Ireland, but the impact such a deal might be to the EU border as a whole.
Anyway, the Irish government will vote against any deal in the parliament, when the total package is put to the 27 members.

John Dixon said...

“Ireland is an independent and sovereign state” – Are you sure? It all depends on definitions, doesn't it? Only independent sovereign states can join the EU, and Ireland qualifies. It's a point on which I've posted before - what 'independence' means isn't something set in stone for eternity, it's a concept which changes over time, depending on context. I'd certainly be a lot happier if Wales were to have the same degree of independence as Ireland enjoys. I guess you would be too.

... the Irish government will not be face to face at the top table closing the deal with the UK No they won't. Nor will any other member state government. The Irish government, like all other EU27 members, have delegated the detail of the negotiations to their representatives in the EU Commission. They were, though, very much 'at the top table' when the EU's negotiating stance was agreed. And they had a great deal more input into that than Wales has had into the UK's negotiating stance (insofar as it can be said that the UK actually has one).

... the Irish government will vote against any deal in the parliament If by that you mean the European parliament, then no, they won't. The Irish government, like all other governments, has no voice in the parliament; the Irish representatives have their own direct mandate in that body. Whether those Irish MEPs vote for or against that agreement in due course is out of the control of the Irish government, and will depend on their view of how well it serves their interpretation of the interests of Ireland.

Spirit of BME said...

As you have OD`ed on this subject for some time and have far great knowledge than I ever wish to have. Do you know what machinery there is in place if the MEP`s reject the deal?
Does the Commission say -Try another vote or do they say tough , and get on with it?

John Dixon said...

I don't know for certain, but I suspect that the answer is in two parts.

The legalistic answer is that the UK has given due notice of its intention to leave, notice which contains within it a contractual expiry date. That decision is entirely one for the UK and the EU have no rights or powers to frustrate it. The UK is seeking an agreement with the EU27 over the terms of that as well as the future relationship, but the EU27 do have the right to accept or reject the deal made on their behalf by the negotiators. If they accept it, it comes into force; if they don't, it gets binned and the Uk leaves without a deal.

The more pragmatic answer (and the EU is a lot more pragmatic in practice than many seem to think) is that following such a rejection, the EU and the UK would come to a rapid agreement to extend the date of application of the Article 50 notice. They are not obliged to do so, but on the balance of probability they probably would. The ball is then in the UK's court to decide what to do next. They won't - indeed, can't - tell the UK to hold another vote (again, contrary to popular belief they've never 'forced' anyone to hold a second vote, merely encouraged it), but a wise UK government (assuming that we might have one by then, unlikely though that seems) might well be disposed to consider that option.