John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

MAY SHOULD HAVE DUG INTO DETAIL OF EU RULES, BEFORE WRITING HER ARTICLE 50 LETTER

At his meeting with Simon Coveney last week, the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, expressed enthusiasm about “digging into the detail” of the future EU/ UK relationship.

It is a pity he did not dig into the detail, before his Prime Minister wrote her Article 50 letter, which set the clock ticking.

Given that Brexit is a unilateral British decision, the first responsibility for spelling out how the British government’s decisions might affect the border in Ireland, and movement between Ireland and Britain, rested, and still rests, with the British government itself. The failure of the UK to do this has placed both the Irish Government, and the Democratic Unionist Party, in an invidious position.

The nature of the border will be determined by the long term permanent relationship the UK will have with the EU.

So far, apart from saying that it wants a “tailor made” deal between the UK and the EU, the UK has not set out any detail of what this relationship might look like. This is a fatal omission on the part of the UK and explains why the UK is in difficulty.

One would have thought that, once it had decided to reject the customs union and the single market, which it did over a year ago, the UK government would have immediately worked out a detailed blueprint for the proposed new relationship it wanted with the EU, taking into account what it knows well are the fundamental parameters of all EU relationships with third countries.

AFTER ALL BRITAIN HELPED WRITE THOSE RULES

The UK knows what these parameters are because it had a hand in drawing them up.

They were approved of by the EU Council of Ministers as far back as July 1978, with full UK participation and have been adhered to ever since. They are well understood by the British Foreign Office.

They are known as the Interlaken principles. They were set out for the EU at a meeting in Interlaken between the EU and the countries of the European Free Trade Association. They were accepted by all as the basis for negotiating any relationship, short of EU membership, for the countries of EFTA, or for any other country.

The Interlaken principles say that any arrangement with a third country (which the UK now aspires to become) would have to meet the following requirements

+ priority for the EU’s own internal integration

+ the safeguarding of full decision-making autonomy for the EU, and

+  a balance of benefits and obligations between the EU and the third country in question.

These principles have been respected in all EU arrangements made since, with countries like Norway, Ukraine, Georgia, Switzerland, Canada, and Turkey.

There is no way an exception from these principles can be made for the UK.

After all, the UK is leaving the EU of its own free will. Any breach of the principles would be a precedent that would undermine the EU’s relationships with all other non member countries. It would set a precedent. It would reward a country for leaving the EU, and thus it would discourage any new applications.

If the UK government had devoted serious time to thinking itself into the EU mind, before writing its fateful Article 50 letter , it would have seen all this.

If the UK Government had worked up a blueprint of its own for UK/EU relations, that met, or at least attempted to meet,  these Interlaken criteria, it  would have flagged all the  negotiating problems the UK negotiators are now facing.

If it had done this, it would have seen, for example, that refusing the jurisdiction of the ECJ, and attempting some parallel bilateral judicial arrangement to arbitrate EU/UK disputes, would have broken the second Interlaken principle (autonomy of EU decision making).

It would have seen that any attempt by the UK to opt into the bits of the single market that it liked, but not others, would offend against the third one (balance).

BRITAIN HELPED DESIGN THE SINGLE MARKET LEGAL ORDER, AND NOW WANTS TO BLAME THE EU FOR DEFENDING IT

Some people in UK politics knew this all along.

I heard a prominent pro Brexit Minister admit a couple of weeks ago that the EU single market is a “legal order”, and that a country cannot be” half in and half out of it”.   That is the way the Single Market was designed by the UK and other EU countries when it was set up. The UK knows the rules, because it helped write them.

But it will still try to blame  other EU countries and the Commission for applying the rules the UK itself helped to write, when it was an EU member.

The nature of the Single market was concisely explained, in a UK newspaper last week, by the former Director General of the EU Council Legal Service, Jean Claude Piris, as follows.

The Single Market, he said

“aims to abolish all regulatory obstacles to exchange and binds participating countries to strict conditions. These include the norms and standards for goods, the primacy of EU law over national laws, and the exclusive final power of interpretation by the EU Court.”

Other countries, that have never been EU members, and are trying to negotiate access to the EU market, might be excused for not understanding these basic principles of EU policy, but the UK cannot plead this excuse, because the UK was at the table when these rules were laid down.

Once the UK “takes back control”, it’s norms and standards for goods and services will inevitably diverge from EU standards. That will mean customs controls and inspections. It does not much matter whether these controls are on the border itself or not, they will involve delays, bureaucracy, and extra costs. The friction may or may not be at the border itself, but there will be plenty of friction!

UK DECISION TO QUIT SINGLE MARKET AND CUSTOMS UNION WILL CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR ORGANISED CRIME AND THE FINANCING OF TERROR

Controls, of the kind that will have to be introduced, will create glorious new opportunities for organised crime, which is an entirely foreseeable consequence of the UK government choices. Meanwhile the UK is taking itself out of the European Arrest Warrant!

For cultural and historical reasons, the UK has never allowed itself to understand the EU. It is not now ready for Brexit. It needs time to think out properly about what it wants, and what it is giving up.

That is why I have suggested that a six year time frame for the Withdrawal negotiation replace the two years allowed in Article 50. That could be agreed by unanimous consent of the 28 EU states. It would give everyone the breathing space necessary to see where they are going, and  make sure it really is where they want to go.

 

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DONAL CREED RIP

I wish to pay tribute to the memory of Donal Creed, long time Fine Gael TD for Mid Cork, who has died.

When I first entered the Dail in 1969, Donal was the Fine Gael Spokesman on Agriculture. He had a deep understanding of farming matters and was a highly credible spokesman. I was secretary of the party’s Agriculture Committee, and I learned much from him.

As Minister for Sport in Garret FitzGerald’s government, he pioneered the creation of the National Lottery, which helped transform cultural and sporting life in Ireland and continues to do so to this day. Donal Creed’s name deserves to be remembered by all those who have benefitted from Lottery funds.

My abiding memory of Donal Creed is of a courteous, honourable, and dedicated public servant.

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Eurofound Forum

 

It is an honour to be invited to address the topic of convergence at this major event The goal of European convergence will not be achieved by experts or elites.

It will require the whole hearted support of the broad mass of the peoples of the European Union. In what say tonight, I will try to tackle that.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has outlined to you today Ireland’s approach to the Brexit negotiations. I support all he said.

Tonight I would like to move beyond Brexit.

POST BREXIT EUROPE

I would like to talk about what the European Union might look like in 2025, the date by which I expect the UK will finally have settled on its relationship, as a non member, with the EU.

I do not, of course, exclude the possibility that the UK will change its mind about leaving, but the two year time limit of Article 50 has, unintentionally, created a hot house atmosphere in which a re examination of proclaimed positions is almost impossible, politically.

I have advocated that the 2 year period in Article 50 should be extended to 6, but, for the purposes of this presentation tonight, I will assume that we stick with the 2 years and that the UK will be out in March 2019, and have finally agreed a permanent relationship with the EU by March 2025.

Ireland will remain a full member of the EU, notwithstanding the fact that a large non member country will, from 2019 on, constitute a large geographic, cultural and political barrier between Ireland and the rest of the EU. This geographic difficulty can, and will, be overcome but it will require extra commitment here in Ireland, and in the rest of the Union.

REDUCING CULTURAL BARRIERS WITHIN THE EU

For the service sectors of our economy, this geographic barrier will be manageable, but it will be much less so or the goods sector, particularly for food, where UK and EU tariffs and standards may diverge. Assurances on the permanent arrangements this point from the UK will be a key point for Ireland in any framework for a future relationship that might be agreed with the UK.

The potential cultural gap between Ireland and the rest of the EU is of equal long term significance. Irish people consume their news through English, and what we see that the English language media about the EU  is dominated by suspicious, and often under informed, Anglo Saxon notions about Europe, which go back hundreds of years. Yes, many Irish people do read French, German and Italian papers too, but they are in a minority.

In this context of avoiding cultural isolation, there are  two  of the aspects of President Macron’s excellent Sorbonne speech, which I especially welcome.

One was his setting a goal that all students should speak two EU languages by 2025.

The second one was and all EU 25 year olds should, by 2015, have been assisted to spend six months working in another EU country. This could be described as an “Erasmus for All”.

In practice, in the Irish case as far as language is concerned, that means being able to speak English and a continental European language as well.

If President Macron’s suggestion is taken up by the EU, each EU country should be benchmarked between now and 2025 on how far it is from the 2025 goal and EU funds allocated on a results basis.

As the European Parliament starts work on the next seven year budgetary perspective, it should allocate substantial funds to these goals and to the broader cultural unification of the European Union. We need to build a strong European Union sense of identity among people to go alongside their already strong national and regional identities.

The Erasmus for all idea is particularly important. Ultimately, in building the European Union, we are aiming to build a sense of shared identity among the peoples of this vast continent.

Among the minority of university students who have benefitted from Erasmus, I believe that has been a great success. But these students are part of an elite, and many are drawn from socio economic groups that that are pro EU anyway.

Extending the opportunity of Erasmus across the entire under 25 population would widen horizons for young people, and create a sense that the EU does good for everybody, and not just for the upwardly and outwardly mobile section of the community.

I hope the fact that educational policy is a primary function of the member states ( and in some cases of regions) will not be allowed to be an obstacle to action by the EU on these two activities, from which Ireland could gain,  and from which Ireland  needs more than most, because of the separation from the EU that Brexit will otherwise create.

BUILDING A COMMON EUROPEAN PUBLIC OPINION

It is said that Brexit will also create something of a political barrier between Ireland and the rest of the EU.

The absence of the UK at the table will create some difficulties on some regulatory issues, but even in my time in government, I felt that UK Ministers were beginning to disengage psychologically from the common EU goals, and to adopt a purely transactional, issue by issue, approach.  If everybody had done  that the EU would not last long.

The isolation of Irish public opinion from some of the thinking and ideas on the future of Europe in other countries is relevant.  It is natural that different countries want different thing from the EU, and their needs will change over time.  How much thought do Germans give to Greek public opinion about the EU, or vice versa? What Estonia expects of the EU will differ from what France expects.

If the EU is to work, voters in each country need to begin to understand, and take into account, the public opinion in other EU countries, and not just in their own.

We cannot just leave the job of building that better understanding to Ministers and diplomats alone.

One way of making the public opinions of all 27 member states aware of the public opinions in the other 26 states would be to have a genuine European Election for some of the seats in the European Parliament. This could be done by allocating the seats, soon to be vacated by UK MEPs, to a single constituency to elected on an EU wide basis. These seats could be filled from lists led by prominent figures who would have to campaign in all 27 EU states, and whose electoral programmes would have to be informed by the thinking in all of them too. It would harness democratic competition to build a shared understanding across national boundaries.

SECURITY THREAT AFFECT US ALL

In his speech, President Macron laid great stress on the security threats facing Europe, from terrorism of which France has had more than its share, and from the inevitable, if gradual, disengagement of the United States from European military security. He also raised the threat to EU security from civil wars in our neighbourhood and the resultant refugee flows.

As an island of an offshore island, Ireland has been able to take more relaxed view on some of these matters.

But there are fewer and fewer threats nowadays, from which the sea is a sufficient protection.

Cyber attacks can be used to disable critical infrastructure, to alter medical records, to spy on personell files  and thus to create opportunities for blackmail.

As a highly internationalised high tech and  service economy, Ireland is vulnerable to these threats, especially now that so much of our energy supply will come to us through a non EU member state.

Ireland should work to through the EU and Partnership for Peace to strengthen its cyber defences. President Macron envisaged a European Intelligence Academy, which is also something from which smaller EU states could benefit.

WORKING CONDITIONS

This conference is concerned with working and living conditions. These will come under increasing stress as our population ages, and as proportionately fewer people of working age find themselves  having to pay for the health and pension entitlements of a ever increasing retired population.

Germany, the dynamo of the EU economy at the moment, will be hit by this problem sooner than most of us. The median age in Germany is 47, whereas the median age in the US is 38, and that affects relative dynamism. Like Italy it is getting older faster, and this is not fully taken into account by some commentators when they look to Germany to loosen its purse strings  for the good of Europe.

President Macron suggested a European Labour Office to help achieve fair and equal pay for the same work. I expect your discussions here today will have made suggestions as to what this office might do.

He also recognised the competitiveness challenge that the EU economy faces.

THE NEED FOR INVESTMENT

Competitiveness is enhanced by investment, more so even than it is by wage restraint. In the past ten years in Europe, we have had wage restraint, but not enough investment.

One area of investment for the EU is the electricity grid. If renewable energy is to replace fossil fuels, we will have to greatly enhance our electricity grid across the EU quickly, and in a cost effective way. Ireland has something to learn here.

We will also need to ensure that the EU is in pole position in R and D. That is not the case now. Rand D spending is 2% of GDP in Europe as against 2.8% in the US and 3.5% in Japan.

The spin off from R and D is best if it takes place in clusters. These clusters are usually around big cities, where people can move from job to job, without moving house. And Europe has no technological clusters of this kind, whereas the US had two or three.

President Macron suggested the following, and I quote

“  I want Europe to take a leading role in this revolution through radical innovation.  I propose that, over the next two years, we create a European agency for disruptive innovation in the same vein as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the United States during the conquest of space.  This must be our ambition.  Today, we have a unique window to do it.  We must drive this ambition, finance research in new areas such as artificial intelligence, and accept risks.  Such an agency would make Europe an innovator and not a follower.”

Objections will be raised to this.

Is a European Agency the best body to pick winning technologies? Will it become prey to national rivalries within Europe? Will firms that have non EU parents, of which there are many here, be eligible to participate?

But the idea is forward looking and its adoption would suggest that Europe is awake to the challenges of the modern world.

INCOME INEQUALITY

Another theme at the conference here today is the growth in income inequality across the world, not just in the west, but also in Socialist China. This divergence has been most rapid since 1988

The European Parliament’s Global Trends Report 2035 puts it this way

“Economic inequality has grown in the United States and Europe for most of the last thirty years in real terms and in political salience. The gap between the rich and poor was described as a “very big problem” by a majority of respondents in France, Italy, Spain, and Greece in a 2014 Pew survey.”

They measured this by comparing the share of income earned by the top 1% with the rest of society. From 1949 to the mid 1980’s that share actually fell slightly, but, since 1988, the gap has widened.

Of the countries surveyed the growth in inequality has been fastest in the United States and the UK, but significantly less in France , Netherlands and Sweden. I believe Ireland would be somewhere in between.

The factors causing increased inequality are identified, by IMF researchers ,as

  •  technological change,
  •  globalisation,
  •  less union protection and
  •  tax policies.

Their view is that this problem will not solve itself over time. In fact it could get worse. New technologies, like artificial intelligence and driverless cars, will hit lower income jobs first.

A big challenge will be designing a combination of tax and social security measures that mitigate inequality without leading to the flight of capital and talent from the countries that take a lead in this field. I do not see the EU taking a prescriptive lead in this matter, but I do believe it should disseminate best practice.

It should also use its competition and state aid policies to ensure that the tax base is as wide as possible. The wider the tax base the lower can be the tax rate.

CAN EU POLICY MAKING BE IMPROVED?

I would like now to say a word about how the EU sets is policies.

Increasingly the agenda of the EU is being set by the 28 or 27 elected Heads of State and Government (HOSG), rather than by the European Commission, as might have been envisaged with the Monnet method.

This is because HOSGs face their electorates in way that Commissioners do not, and because much of the EU’s work combines EU and national action.

But there is a disadvantage, in that HOSG’s are part time Europeans. They have heavy domestic agendas. With 28 of them around the table, it must also be very difficult to brainstorm and avoid the tyranny of a pre set agenda.

Commendably, the Council President Tusk has set out a detailed rolling agenda for all the meetings right up to June 2019.

That gives civil servants time to prepare, but does it allow Leaders enough time to think?

Thankfully President Tusk has also increased the frequency of meetings, and that will give HOSGs more time to think together about the longer term issues.

THE EURO

Finally I will say a word about the euro. A lot has been done to underpin it. But private and public debt levels are still considerably higher than they were before the 2008 crisis.

I do not believe the EU needs an ongoing transfer union to underpin the EU. Transfers are already reaching 4% of GDP in some recipient countries.

But a facility is needed to help euro member countries that are hit by an asymmetric shock (a big migration surge, a technological shock, or even Brexit).

Some form of temporary top up from EU funds for Unemployment Relief might help.

A Limited form of European Bank Deposit Insurance would be good. It should be combined with a restriction of banks buying too many of their own countries bonds and thereby creating the risk of banks dragging down their own governments if they get into difficulty.

It is much better to allow the markets to discipline governments that borrow unwisely through interest rate differences than it would to try to achieve the same goal by threatening fines after the country that is already in trouble.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I thanks Eurofound for the contribution it has made to the EU since 1978 .

I pay tribute to our late President Paddy Hillery, whose initiative Eurofound was when he was Commissioner for Social Affairs.

I hope the deliberations today will help make a big success of the Social Summit of the EU in Gothenburg next week

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach and former EU Ambassador to the United States,  at the Gala Dinner  of the Eurofound Forum in the State Rooms, George’s Hall, Dublin Castle at 7.30pm on Tuesday 12 November

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HOW THE IRISH CONSTITUTION OF 1937 CAME ABOUT, AND WHY IT HAS PROVED SO DURABLE.

A study of all constitutions promulgated since 1789, by the Chicago Law School, found that the average constitution lasted a mere 17 years before it was replaced. By that measure, the Irish Constitution, which will be 80 years old next month, has been a remarkably durable document. Indeed it is now one of the world’s oldest written constitutions.

Eugene Broderick, the author of this book on the subject, attributes the durability of the Irish constitutions to the fact that it can be amended by referendum and reinterpreted through court judgements. In that sense, the present constitution lives up to the standard set for a constitution by Eamon de Valera, in 1933 before he started preparing it, that it should be “not a cast iron constitution, but a flexible constitution”.

According to Broderick, most of the actual drafting of the articles of the constitution was done by the then legal advisor to the Department of External Affairs, John Hearne.

A REDMONDITE WHO WORKED WITH DE VALERA

Hearne is an unusual character. A native of Waterford City, he was a strong supporter of John Redmond, and helped his son, William Archer Redmond to defeat the Sinn Fein candidate in the Bye and General Elections of 1918. Hearne was a prominent public speaker in the campaigns, and earned a name as “the boy orator” of the Irish Party. He was one of a generation of young men, who would have risen to prominence in a Home Rule Ireland, but who had to find another way forward when Home Rule was buried by the violence initiated in Easter Week of 1916.

Hearne’s way forward was initially as a barrister, and then as a legal officer in the Free State army. In 1924, he joined the civil service and remained a civil servant until he retired in 1960. His first post was as Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman in the Office of the Attorney General. He became an expert in international constitutional law, and helped Free State Ministers, like Paddy McGilligan, and Kevin O Higgins, to loosen the bonds set in the Treaty and thereby move Ireland towards full independence, by exclusively constitutional methods. Many of the issues Hearne dealt with in the 1920’s, like the court that should decide final appeals, are coming up again, as the UK tries to unravel its 40 years of legal commitments with its EU partners.

When de Valera won power in the 1932 Election, he admitted that he was surprised by the amount of progress he found had already been made by his predecessors in enhancing the sovereignty of the Irish state.

DE VALERA FELT A NEW CONSTITUTION NEEDED TO A  SOVEREIGN, AND PURELY IRISH, ACT

But he still adhered to his Civil War opinion, that the Free State Constitution, under which he had come to office, was something imposed on Ireland by the threat of force.

Therefore he saw a new constitution, freely adopted by the Irish people in a referendum, as the ultimate expression of sovereignty.

When de Valera sat down to prepare a draft constitution, he did so within a very narrow circle of advisors, and the principal one was John Hearne.

This is surprising given Hearne’s political antecedents. But Hearne had unequalled expertise in the constitutions of other countries, and fully accepted de Valera’s goal of shaking off the remnants of British influence. De Valera and Hearne worked into the late hours, often in Hearne’s home, drafting and redrafting the articles of the proposed constitution.

Broderick deals with the external influences brought to bear on the draft. Ministers, other than de Valera himself, seem to have played little part. De Valera preferred to work with civil servants over whom he had more control, rather than Ministers.

RELIGIOUS ASPECTS SHOULD NOT CAUSE SURPRISE, GIVEN THE VIEWS OF IRISH PEOPLE AT THE TIME

Religious thinking about social matters influenced the constitution for the simple reason that it influenced the Irish people in their daily lives. In the 1930’s, Ireland was a very religious country. In the destructive and nihilistic aftermath of War of Independence, the Catholic faith was seen by many as a better expression of the people’s distinctive identity. That is why it influenced the constitution. Fianna Fail, and all the other parties in the 1930’s, were profoundly influenced by Catholic Social teaching ,so it is not surprising at all that this teaching would have been taken into account.

As a practical politician, de Valera did not want the Catholic Church to oppose the proposed constitution.

This explains the Constitution’s acknowledgment of the Catholic Church’s special position. Some  Catholic church leaders wanted the constitution to say that the Catholic Church was the one true church, but de Valera resisted this.

Broderick says the ban on divorce was not controversial with other Christian churches at the time.

John Charles McQuaid, not yet a bishop but the Headmaster at the time of De Valera’s old school in Blackrock, played little part in drafting the constitution.

BUT THE CONSTITUTION DID NOT ACCOMMODATE THE POSSIBILITY OF A UNITED IRELAND IN ANY PRACTICAL WAY.

This was a constitution written for the 26 counties which de Valera actually governed. It was not designed for a 32 county Ireland. If it was it would have been drafted differently.

As Broderick puts it “Sovereignty took precedence over reunification”. This was realistic, and therefore right, in the circumstances.

Unrealistic aspirations, like reunification and the restoration of the Irish language, were included in the constitution in order to garner support for it in the referendum. The difficulties with these aspirations were ignored and this inevitably led to disappointment and cynicism.

One fault I would find with this book is that it tells us little or nothing about John Hearne’s subsequent career, as Irish Ambassador to Canada, and to the US, and his time as legal advisor to the new Nigerian government in the 1960’s. Apart from the fact that his wife provided sandwiches for Dev for the late night drafting sessions, Hearne’s marriage is hardly mentioned. It is almost as if his life stopped, once the constitution was adopted.

That criticism aside, anyone who wants to understand the genesis of our constitution, should read this important and well-written book.

It is entitled  “John Hearne, Architect of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland” , the author is  Eugene Broderick and the book was published by the Irish Academic Press.

This review appeared in last week’s  “Irish Catholic “ newspaper.

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OPPORTUNITIES FOR IRELAND, AS DIVISIONS OPEN UP IN WESTMINSTER ON BREXIT……. BUT SINN FEIN STILL STAYS AWAY

Very slowly, the UK public is beginning to learn the implications of the decision they took to leave the EU.

Some of the realities were revealed in the contrasting evidence given last week by the Brexit Secretary of State, David Davis, to one Committee of the House of Commons, and by Sir Ivan Rogers, recent former UK Ambassador to the EU, to another Committee.

The contrast in the two testimonies was remarkable.

David Davis said that he believed the UK could wrap up a Customs and Trade deal with the EU before March 2019.

DUP WOULD TOLERATE A NO DEAL SCENARIO

Pressed by the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, he said that “No Deal” was still an option. “No Deal” would involve the immediate imposition of severe border controls in Ireland from 1 April 2019. Sammy Wilson gave the strong impression that he did not particularly care about this and that he wanted “No Deal” to remain a live option, presumably in the hope that it could be used b the UK as a threat.

There was no Nationalist MP present to point out the devastating effects “no deal” would have on border communities, both unionist and nationalist. This is because elected Sinn Fein MPs refuse to take their seats.

Their absence leaves “No Deal” tolerant MPs, like Sammy Wilson, a clear field to present a false impression of the true interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein ought also ask themselves if the issues on which they are delaying the re-establishment of the Northern Executive are more important to their people than Brexit.

Since the Good Friday Agreement, abstentionism is an out of date policy and undemocratic policy. It deprives the nationalist inclined people in Northern Ireland of a voice or vote when key decisions on Brexit, affecting their livelihoods, are being taken in Westminster.

BREXIT WOULD DEEPEN PARTITION AND SINN FEIN ARE NOT THERE TO VOTE AGAINST IT

Sinn Fein MPs are staying away, even though their votes could swing the decision on key votes in Westminster on the Bill that will take their constituents out of the EU, and deepen the partition of Ireland.

Sir Ivan Rogers, in his testimony, told the MPs that a “no Deal” scenario would be very bad for the Irish economy. This was because 80% of Irish exports go to market either through, or to, the UK. A hard Brexit, that involved heavy controls at ports and border posts, would be devastating for Irish trade.

In contrast to Secretary of State Davis, Sir Ivan Rogers said in his testimony that, far from a UK/EU trade deal being wrapped up by March 2019, negotiations on the detailed contents of such a deal could not even START until the UK had actually left the EU, in other words not until April 2019!

He went on to point out that the “Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement” that the UK would have to negotiate, in substitution or EU membership, would probably have to run to thousands of pages, every line of which would have to be haggled over with the Commission and with the 27 remaining EU states.

This negotiation of a detailed Trade Agreement would have to be foreshadowed in Framework for future relations document, to be agreed between the UK and the EU, alongside the divorce agreement.

UK GOVERNMENT CANNOT EVEN DECIDE WHAT SORT OF FINAL DEAL TO ASK FOR

But the UK government is not in a position to agree within itself on what it would want that Framework to contain. It cannot even discuss the question at Cabinet meetings because it would split the Tory Party irrevocably.

Sir Ivan speculated that, because of this, it would, therefore, be the EU side that would draw up the first draft of the Framework, on which the eventual Trade Deal would be based. But even that can only happen if the UK had agreed to pay its share of all bills incurred by the EU while the UK was still a voting member. That would add £13 billion to UK liabilities.

There is likely to be a big bust up over this money issue in December.

Assuming that is overcome, Sir Ivan said that there was a huge difference between the sort of trade agreement that might eventually be offered to the UK, and the access the UK would have had if it stayed in the Single Market.

The Single Market covers standards as well as tariffs. It has, embedded and agreed, mechanisms for making, enforcing, and adjudicating on the meaning of, those standards. Once the UK leaves the Single Market, the compliance of UK originating goods and services with EU standards could no longer be assumed by EU countries, like Ireland.

This would create immediate new barriers to commerce of all kinds. It could even apply to acceptance of the safety of aircraft owned by UK based airlines.

UK court judgments would no longer be automatically enforced in the EU, and extradition would become more difficult.

This makes the casual attitude of the DUP and Sammy Wilson to the possibility of “no Deal” all the harder to understand, given the DUP’s long standing concerns about paramilitarism.

IMPLICATIONS OF BREXIT BEING HIDDEN

In his testimony, David Davis said that his Department had done studies of the impact of Brexit on 57 different sectors of the UK economy. He said he would not publish these because to do so might “weaken the UK’s negotiating position” with the EU. This means that the UK Parliament and the public are being kept in the dark about the known consequences of decisions they are taking, or are being taken on their behalf.

And there is no MP, and no Executive, from Northern Ireland there to challenge this!

The EU 27 are now beginning work on the sort of Framework agreement it might offer the UK, if the UK first comes forward with adequate proposals on money, EU citizens rights, and the Irish border.

Drawing up the Framework to offer the UK is going to be exceptionally difficult work for the EU, including Ireland. Preserving the integrity of the EU Single Market, and all the investment our continuing membership of it has brought to Ireland, will have to be balanced against access to the UK market and making practical arrangements to take account that the UK and Ireland are beside one another and have a long and porous border.

The trade offs will be really difficult, but it would appear Ireland is better prepared for the discussion than are our neighbours in the UK.

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CHRIS PATTEN

I have just finished reading “First Confession, A Sort of Memoir” by Chris Patten, which is published by Allen Lane.

Chris was a Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s and John Major’s governments, and was the Director of Elections for his Party in the 1992 General Election, when the Conservative Party under John Major won an unexpected victory. But Patten himself lost his seat in Bath in the same election.

Patten writes in an easy conversational style.

I particularly liked his description of his childhood, his parents, and his school years. He received his secondary education in St Benedict’s in Ealing, from which he won a scholarship to Oxford.

His father’s family came from County Roscommon shortly after the Famine, and Chris Patten, to this day, identifies strongly with his Irish and Catholic roots. His childhood was a happy one and his love for his parents shines through in this book, as does his devotion to his wife and his daughters.

Chris Patten is comfortable in his identity, and sees no need to bolster it by any form of hostility to people with a different identity. Unfortunately the Brexit vote shows that not every English person is at ease to the same degree.

He is a political conservative in the sense that he is uneasy with grand theories and overarching generalisations, whether of the left, or of the right.

He served as the last British Governor of Hong Kong, and is not flattering about China.

While its rate of economic growth continues to be remarkable, this is, in a sense, a return to the natural order of things. After all, in 1800, China was the largest economy in the world. He believes the Chinese version of Leninism has allowed the rich to get richer, and that it has had to “fall back on nationalism to justify its control of everything”.

On the other hand, he has a very high opinion of India, reminding his reader that India “had already established a rich tradition of tolerance and debate when Europeans still believed in the divine right of Kings”.This may explain why Indian democracy has survived so well.

Chris Patten served as EU Commissioner for External Relations. He argues that the UK blames the EU for failings closer to home, that have reduced British productivity below its potential, like poor second level education and unduly restrictive planning laws. But he seems to be opposed to the euro, and claims the results have been “terrible” for most members of the euro zone….a view I believe to be seriously exaggerated, if not simply wrong.

He is comfortable in his Catholic faith, and says “As a Christian, I believe in an afterlife” and that this life is not the end of the story. He says that the attempt to use science to discredit religion often assumes that science itself is infallible.

Science deals with empirical issues, whereas religion deals with values, morality and meaning. There is no necessary conflict between them, he argues. I agree.

This a good book and well worth reading.

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A RECKLESS GOVERNMENT, INFLICTING DAMAGE ON ITS OWN PEOPLE, AND ON ITS NEIGHBOURS

Tony Connelly begins this book about Brexit,

“Brexit and Ireland, The dangers, the opportunities and the Inside Story of the Irish response”

with an apt quotation from the recently deceased American novelist, James Salter, describing a passenger leaving home on a liner pulling away from the quay:

“ a fatal space has opened, like that between a liner and the dock, which is suddenly too wide to leap; everything is still present, visible, but it cannot be regained”.

In 2017, the UK has decided to leave, but is still fully in the EU. We are living the past, but it is over.

Since June 2016, a fatal space between the UK and the EU has opened, and is getting wider every day. The captain of liner feels obliged by a majority of the passengers to leave port, but she is unclear where her ship might dock next. The decision of the majority of the passengers is all that matters to her now.

Tony Connelly’s book thoroughly explores all the possible consequences of Brexit, with particular reference to Ireland.

These will, in some measure, affect every country in the EU. The book deserves to be read in every one of the 28 EU capitals and by everyone whose livelihood depends on trade relations with the EU or the UK. But the effects of Brexit will, of course, be most intensely felt in Ireland.

Geography matters. After Brexit, Ireland will be geographically isolated from the rest of the EU.

Ireland has to export 90% of the food it produces, and 43% of that food goes to the UK. Meanwhile, Ireland imports virtually all its energy via pipelines and cables coming through or from the UK. As Connelly puts it, Ireland feeds Britain during the day, while Britain keeps Ireland warm at night!

All this interdependence would not be possible without agreed standards, and agreed systems for enforcing and adjudicating upon, those standards. These all emanate from the EU and the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The same applies to cross border arrangements for chemicals, aviation, the sale of television programmes, and even transporting horses to and from race meetings.

Once the UK “takes back control” from the EU, and rejects a common adjudication system under the ECJ, the basis of this profitable, and uniquely convenient, mutual traffic between the UK and Ireland, will erode.

Tony Connelly examines how this process will affect every part o the Irish economy, from medical device makers whose UK suppliers will no longer be EU certified, to the mushroom exporters whose perishable products could ace fatal delays getting to UK supermarkets in time.

This book is particularly good in describing the effect of Brexit on the dairy and beef sectors.

It is no mere desk exercise. The author has spoken directly to those involved in each sector. Half the “at risk” jobs in the food sector are in parts of Ireland where incomes are well below the EU average, even though Ireland itself is above that average. In Ireland, the effects of Brexit will aggravate existing inequalities.

Outside the food sector, there is more room to adjust. Connelly cites the example of a Wicklow software business which has been able to reduce its export dependence on the UK market from 70%, to a mere 15%…in just one year.

Meanwhile, based on numerous interviews, he traces the reaction of the Irish government to Brexit.

Initially, there was a focus on discussions with the British, but it soon became clear that there was a limit to the usefulness of this.

The UK did not have a plan.

The collective mind of the UK Civil service did not fully grasp the relationship between the Good Friday Agreement and membership of the EU Single Market by both Ireland and the UK.

This gulf, between the agreed Tory rhetoric about Brexit, and the realities on the island of Ireland was worsened by UK General Election called by Theresa May. Virtually all the MPs, elected by Northern Irish constituencies, either refused to take their seats or are now committed to a deal to support the Tory government on all Brexit issues. Although legally still part of the UK, Northern Ireland has no effective voice or vote, in Westminster, on the Brexit legislation.

The Irish government has inevitably turned to its fellow EU member states, and to the European Commission, to find a way to mitigate the damage of Brexit.

Connelly describes the intense contact between every Irish interest group and the Barnier negotiating team. Barnier understands the Irish issues thoroughly. But that does not mean he can provide reassuring answers.

This is because, as Tony Connelly puts it,

“Everything about the reality, from the EU’s non negotiable Customs Code, to Britain’s determination to do trade deals around the globe, to the phyto sanitary (disease control) requirements, all scream “hard border”.

According to Theresa May, It remains “overwhelmingly and compellingly” in Britain’s interest that the EU succeed.

But the EU is a voluntary Union, and it can only continue to exist if there is willing implementation of agreed rules. As this book shows, the UK Brexit policy is testing that, in a reckless way.

I am convinced that the only way to avoid a really hard Brexit is for the time for the negotiation under Article 50 to be increased from 2 to 6 years.

Yesterday in Parliament, the UK Prime Minister said that a transition period only made sense if there was an agreed concept of what one was transitioning towards. It is impossible for an agreement to be reached on that concept in the next twelve month, especially as there is no agreement within the UK government on what they are looking for! Her statement evoked surprise on the part of people who should have known better.

It was fundamentally reckless of the UK Government to write its legally binding Article 50 letter, without having first agreed within itself on the outline of a viable deal for the UK, that would enable to EU to maintain the integrity of the EU Single Market.

Instead, the UK wrote the letter, and then proceeded to rule out all the viable options that might achieve this, like the Norway model, or the UK remaining in the Customs Union. All ruled out without proper examination or public debate. Meanwhile, studies that the UK Government itself has done on the impact of Brexit on individual sectors of the UK economy are being concealed from the public.

This recklessness of the UK Government will inflict immense collateral damage on Ireland, as Tony Connelly’s book shows in painful detail.

 

 

 

 

 

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As there are no “good” solutions to the Brexit conundrum, it’s time to focus on the practicality of the least “bad” one.

Article By Paul Goldschmidt, October 17, 2017 @ the Globalist

It is becoming clearer by the day that even if “sufficient progress” is made on a divorce agreement by December this year, the time remaining for negotiating and ratifying a “transition deal” will prove insufficient.
If there is not a rapid radical shift in the framework of the Brexit negotiations, the process will die unresolved on March 29th 2019. This will lead inexorably to a deep crisis that is as predictable and therefore unnecessary.
It will undoubtedly cause considerable damage to the UK, but also Britain to hurt the European Union as well.

The least bad solution
It is in this context that the ideas expressed recently in Brussels by the former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton deserve careful consideration. Recognizing that there are no “good” solutions to the Brexit conundrum, he focuses on the practicality of the least “bad” one.
His proposal is to trigger immediately the clause of Article 50 of the Treaty that allows prolonging the initial two year negotiating period (starting from the official notification on 29 March, 2017) by a further 4 years (until 29 March, 2023).
It requires the unanimous approval of the EU 27 (and of the UK) as well as a majority vote by the European Parliament.
There are of course serious drawbacks to the proposal but the advantages seem, nevertheless, far more compelling:

On the negative side:
• It will be difficult for the Brexiteers to swallow as it means a painful delay in – and a possible reversal of – the government’s commitment to implement the results of the referendum.
• It risks splitting the conservative party, leading to a political crisis and open the way for a Labor government. (This might happen anyway, but would become unmanageable if constrained by the current negotiating timetable).
• It postpones for four more years any possibility for the UK to negotiate trade deals with third countries.
• It will be difficult to accept by all the EU 27 because it prolongs the full “membership” of the UK with all its “privileges and obligations.”
• It might prove difficult for the European Parliament (and the 28 Members) to envisage the participation of the UK in the spring 2019 European Parliamentary elections (though there is no legal impediment if the UK remains a member).
• It might interfere significantly with other EU priorities, such as the need for carrying out comprehensive reforms, in particular if the UK is in a position to obstruct such initiatives.

On the positive side:
• It removes immediately the time pressure allowing a more serene atmosphere for continuing negotiations and a more realistic timeframe to conclude them.
• It allows the sequencing demanded by the 27, leaving sufficient time to negotiate and implement the EU-UK future relationship while hopefully removing the need for a “transition period.”
• It allows the UK the necessary time to recruit and train the additional staff it will require to assume tasks previously carried out by the EU, which appears extremely difficult to carry out under the presently defined timetable.
• Removing the need for a formal negotiated and ratified “transition agreement” will save a significant amount of time and effort. Indeed, even if the terms of a transition are agreed, it does not provide any assurances of a successful outcome concerning the future relationship, thus prolonging the uncertainty and encouraging actors to take “irreversible” decisions sooner.

Necessary amendments
If John Bruton’s proposals are to be considered seriously, they will nevertheless require certain amendments to the “status quo ante” that should be included in the Article. 50 prolongation procedure:
• The UK should be granted the formal option to withdraw “unilaterally” at any time during the negotiations, the Article. 50 notification in order to remain an EU Member after 29 March, 2023.
• In exchange the UK would agree, if it exercised its option, to forgo its budget rebate, join Schengen and abandon all of its other opt-outs (including from the Eurozone). Furthermore it would undertake not to trigger Article.50 for a minimum period (15-20 years).
Such demands will certainly be deemed “outrageous,” but an agreement along these lines presents considerable advantages for the UK: the government could offer its citizens (or Parliament) a new referendum with three clear options:
• Approval of the deal as negotiated with the EU.
• Withdrawal from the EU rejecting the proposed deal.
• Exercise of the UK’s option to withdraw the Article. 50 notification in full knowledge of the consequences (see above).

Weighing the options
The third option should be weighed carefully in the light of the problems associated with leaving the EU, the negative consequences of which have so far been muted but are expected to increase significantly as time goes by.
Within the reality of an interdependent multipolar world, it boils down to a choice between exercising a largely “virtual independent sovereignty” and sharing with the other Member States a truly “effective joint sovereignty” in promoting the highly correlated interests of Europe’s citizens on the world stage.
The proposed procedure would also allow the feelings of abuse that have been hurled by both Brexiteers and Remainers at each other, to heal.
It would provide a solid base for facing the future – whether in or out of the EU – with a reunited sense of belonging, overcoming the deep splits that have appeared between generations as well as between various parts of the United Kingdom.
A fully informed consultation of the population would restore the necessary balance between “democracy,” “the rule of law” and “human rights” which are each indissociably intertwined in the pursuit of “freedom” which, as was so well expressed recently by Commissioner Frans Timmermans in relation to the events in Catalonia, form the bedrock of the Union’s values.
An additional benefit of this approach is to put at the center of the discussions the interests of millions of citizens, be it those residing in each other’s territory (whose status will remain in jeopardy until a final agreement is reached) and those – both nationals and aliens – employed by companies whose business is affected by Brexit.

Putting the interests of citizens first
It should be the main purpose of any self-respecting government to put the interests of its citizens ahead of dogmatic or ideological party political prejudices or interests.
Rather than pinning one’s hope on the collapse of the EU as a weak ex post justification for Brexit, it is high time for those responsible for the future of the United Kingdom to think of serious “damage control” and consider calmly solutions, such as the one presented by John Bruton.
If it appears initially to be totally unacceptable, it provides, however, a sensible way of implementing the democratically expressed views of British citizens.

 

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Liam Cosgrave put country before politics

Article on The Irish Times

His election slogan in the 1973 general election campaign sums up what Liam Cosgrave’s political career was about.

It was: “Cosgrave puts the nation first”.

Before ever he became taoiseach, he had lived up to that claim . . . twice.

In 1970, he obtained information that some ministers in the government led by Jack Lynch had been involved in the illegal importation of arms into the State with a view to their supply for use in Northern Ireland, and that public funds were involved.

It was sensational information, with which he could have gone public to his own advantage, as leader of the opposition and would-be taoiseach. He could have brought the matter to the floor of the Dáil, precipitating a full-blown political and constitutional crisis, and possibly a general election.

He did not take that course. He realised that the institutions of the State are inherently fragile. This was especially so in 1970, when nationalistic passions and political violence were on the increase. Cosgrave wanted this dangerous situation to be dealt with in the most orderly possible fashion, by a government in place.

So he decided privately to notify Lynch of what he had learned, and allow him some space to take action, which he did.

It is impossible to know exactly what might have happened if Cosgrave had never brought this information to Lynch’s attention, but it is certain that the interests of the State would have been put at grave risk.

The second occasion on which Cosgrave put his country’s interests before his own was even starker. This was when, in 1972, he was determined to support the Offences Against the State legislation, promoted by the Fianna Fail government, but opposed by a majority of Fine Gael TDs.

The Fine Gael deputies preferred the approach of the party’s justice spokesman, Pat Cooney, who argued that the legislation involved too great an incursion into basic civil liberties. Cosgrave was on the brink of being ejected as party leader on this issue when public sentiment was altered by a bombing in Dublin which highlighted the risk of subversion. Fine Gael rowed in behind its leader and his position was vindicated.

Cosgrave was not a conventional, consensus-hugging politician. As in the case of the Offences Against the State Act, he was prepared to take great risks on issues on which he held strong beliefs.

He also stood out against his own party in the matter of the electoral system. He did not like proportional representation, believing it led to weak government.

He may have come to this view because of his experience as chief whip of the interparty government of 1948 to 1951, which consisted of five parties and several Independents.

While open to criticism, his decision, in a free vote, to vote against the contraception legislation introduced by his own government showed he was willing to step outside convention on matters on which he held a firm position.

Yet he was a very effective chairman of government.

He was meticulous in ensuring that the commitments given to the LabourParty to induce it to form the coalition with Fine Gael were honoured. He had a good relationship with Labour leader Brendan Corish, forged during their long prior years together as parliamentary colleagues, and their shared interests, particularly in horse racing.

He was a deeply religious man, attending Mass every day, and he believed this life was a rehearsal for something greater.

His stances in 1970 and 1972 showed that had a strong sense of the integrity of the State and its democratically controlled institutions, such as the Army and the Garda. He had no time for paramilitarism of any kind. The State alone had the right to use force. He understood that chaos would arise if that was brought into question. This probably derived from the experience in 1922 of his father, WT Cosgrave, when, before the Free State was properly established, order broke down completely in many parts of the country.

As Fine Gael leader, Cosgrave was tolerant of free speech, dissent and debate within the party, to a degree that would be surprising to modern eyes, which expect political parties to present a smooth veneer of unity at all public party events.

I remember being involved, as secretary of the Fine Gael youth group in the 1967- 1968 period, in tabling publicly controversial motions, with others, seeking to change the name of the party and promoting slates of candidates to oppose outgoing officers supported by the leadership, and then having these matters openly debated and voted upon at the party ardfheis. No attempt was made by Cosgrave or the leadership to close down such debates, presumably because he felt strong enough not to have to do so – very different from the careful message management prevalent today in all parties.

Undemonstrative

Cosgrave’s undemonstrative, matter- of-fact style of leadership was one I sometimes sought, as best I could, to emulate.

But it was the private aspects of his party leadership that I admired most of all. He was exceptionally kind to less experienced colleagues and understood the human vulnerability that is part of political life. I can testify to this from one personal example

In 1976 I had had a particularly torrid day at parliamentary questions, when I was standing in, in succession, for two senior ministers, Dick Burke and Justin Keating, who were away .

My performance was roasted in the following morning’s newspaper by John Healy, then parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times. I was sitting disconsolately in my office reading this bad review when I was told the taoiseach was on the line. My immediate thought was that he was going to tell me he had found someone who could do my job better that I could. I was wrong. Cosgrave had seen the paper, knew exactly how I would be feeling, and phoned be just to tell me not to worry about “all that stuff” and keep on with my work. I have never forgotten that kindness.

Something else is lodged in my mind. It is the pride and togetherness he was able to engender among his followers when he rose to address a party meeting. He gave voice to their thoughts and made them proud to be part of Fine Gael. There was a timeless quality to his oratory. It was almost as if one was listening to history. He was his father’s son, and his father had founded this democratic state. There was a deep continuity.

But there was nothing predictable about his oratory. He could be biting and funny in the same sentence. He was indiscreet and sharp sometimes, but, fundamentally, you knew where you stood with Liam Cosgrave.

For me, and those like me who came into political life under his leadership, there is a deep sense of loss today.

For Mary, Liam T and Ciaran, the loss is all the more intense. To them, to his grandchildren, and to all the extended Cosgrave and Osborne families, I extend heartfelt sympathy.

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TIME LIMITS RISK A BREXIT CRASH

RIGID TIMELINES COULD LEAD TO A BREXIT DISASTER…..SCOPE AND TIME FOR CREATIVE THINKING NEEDED

In his book “Fateful Choices”, which describes how country after country tumbled into what became the Second World War, the British historian, Ian Kershaw wrote

“The fateful choices that were made were not predetermined or axiomatic. But they did reflect the sort of political system that produced them.”.

A Global War was not anyone’s preferred option, but a combination of ideology, a fear of being encircled or pre empted, and miscalculation of the intentions or reactions of others, gave the world the most destructive war in human history.

Similar blind forces are in play in the Brexit negotiation.

The current UK political system, and the anxieties and obsessions it has generated, determine the UK position on Brexit.

This expresses itself in an artificially inflexible, and brittle, interpretation of the meaning of the 2016 Referendum result.  

The UK Government has so far been unable to convert that into a detailed, legally viable, and constructive, outline of its desired future relationship with the EU.

If it got into detail, the disagreement between Cabinet members is so deep that the Conservative Party would split and the Government would fall. The Labour opposition has a similar problem.

It suits both of them that the EU side in the negotiation is insisting that substantial progress must be made on other issues, before negotiations about the future relations between the EU and the UK begin, because if the UK Government had to set out a detailed position on the future relationship, it is liable to split. UK party and public opinion has been polarised and is unready for compromise. The Conservative Party is consumed with its leadership struggle and cannot be relied upon to make a deal that will stick. The Foreign Secretary’s four ”red lines” make compromise impossible.

Likewise the EU political system determines the EU’s approach. There is quite understandable annoyance that the UK, for whom so many special deals were made in the past, now wants to leave the Union it freely joined over 40 years ago. The EU negotiating position is necessarily inflexible because it has to be determined by 27 countries. It can only be changed by consensus among them, and that can only be arrived at very slowly.

Yet the time limit set in Article 50 of the EU Treaty is very short. It will require immense speed of negotiation, on a vast range of difficult questions, not only between the EU and the UK, but also potentially with the World Trade Organisation and perhaps with EFTA, which the UK would have to join if it wants to be in the European Economic Area, like Norway. All this will have to be done between January and November of 2018.

Both sides in this negotiation should ask themselves this question……Are they at risk of finding themselves on rigid tramlines, heading straight for a cliff, and if so, should some rail sidings be put in place, into which the two trains might pull, for a moment of reflection, before they go over the edge in March 2019?

A  former Judge in the European Court of Justice, Franklin Dehousse recently  argued that separating  trade issues from those concerning the  Irish border  artificially disconnected connected topics, and thus  limited the possibility of constructive tradeoffs.  

But he also insisted that the UK must first come up with “precise proposals on all withdrawal matters”.  

He is right. There is no point in the UK asking for the EU to move on to trade matters,  unless and until the UK itself is capable of spelling  out in substantial detail  what it wants, and says exactly what  trade, environmental, and consumer safety policies it will follow post Brexit. It is because the UK is unable even to say what it wants, in the long term, on these issues, that there has been no progress on discussing Irish border issues.

Meanwhile  the UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO), in an article by Professors Alan Winters, Peter Holmes and Erika Szyscak, has suggested that Theresa May’s idea of a “transition” or “implementation” period of two years, after the UK had left the EU, might be very difficult to implement. If so, the UK will crash out of the EU in March 2019.

They saw several problems with Theresa May’s transition idea. They are not trivial issues..

One was that, when the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, it will also be automatically out of the EU Customs Union too. Therefore they claimed it would have to negotiate a new temporary Customs Union with the EU, for the transition period. It would have to notify the WTO of this new temporary Customs Union, which could potentially lead to protracted negotiations with WTO partners.

The UK and EU would also have to agree on how all EU Regulations and Directives would apply in the UK during the transition period, with complete certainty on how mutual recognition of testing and certification,  and the free mobility of labour, would work.

According to the UKTPO authors, the status of such an agreement under EU law would not be certain, but because it would cover issues on which EU member states retain competence. This might mean that the transition agreement itself might require ratification by all EU member states too. That would take time, and meanwhile the UK and its EU trade partners would be in limbo. The UK might be already out of the EU,  while its transition deal had not yet been ratified and was inoperable.

Given the delays ratifying the EU/Canada deal, which got bogged down in the politics of the French speaking part of Belgium, this is a daunting prospect.

Imagine going through all that for deal that might only last two years, and then going through the same process ALL OVER AGAIN for the final deal!  

So negotiating and ratifying a transition deal could be almost as difficult as negotiating the final permanent deal!

The UK needs to engage itself seriously with the complexities of Brexit.  If it looks at all these complexities thoroughly, sense is that it may then conclude that, despite Boris Johnson’s anxiety to leave quickly, the time limits are far too severe and that more time is needed.

If the UK was wise, it would ask its EU partners to extend the negotiation time from two years, to (say) six years.  That extension of the negotiating period could be done by unanimous agreement among the 27 EU states and Britain.

With a longer negotiation period, the UK would need no transition deal and would remain a member of the EU, until the final exit deal was done. There would be only one deal to negotiate and ratify, the final deal.

There are really no good options here.

.It would be politically difficult for any UK government to ask for an extension of the negotiation time. “Leave” supporters would suspect betrayal.  There would be very deep reluctance on the EU side to grant such a request.. Some EU states would feel that extending the period was being far too easy on the UK, and that the UK needed a reality check.  Others would argue prolongation of the exit negotiation might destabilise other EU members, and distract the EU from other urgent work.

These are valid objections, but they are arguably less damaging than the real likelihood that the UK will crash out of the EU without any deal.

Lengthening the period to six years would, however, allow the UK electorate to consider, in a more informed way, the full implications of the course they are following.

The present tight time frame minimises the opportunity for creative thought.

Instead, it maximises the influence of blind bureaucratic and political forces.

It increases the likelihood of miscalculation, and of the UK leaving the EU with no deal at all. That would be very bad for Ireland, or for the EU as a whole.

 I hope more negotiating time can be agreed.  If not, the tempo of the negotiation must be immediately and dramatically increased.

Unfortunately, there is little sign that the current UK government, the originator of Brexit, sees this.

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