John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: BREXIT (Page 1 of 4)


My first reaction, watching Theresa May’s speech, was that The UK is going to put itself, and all the other EU countries, to a lot of trouble, so that it can leave EU, and then simultaneously rejoin it in selected areas.

It wants a partnership with the EU on Customs, on state aid and competition, on transport, on energy, broadcasting, financial services, atomic power, aviation,  on the enforcement of court judgements and a long list of other fields.

As an EU member today, it already has a partnership with the 27 countries of the EU on all these things. This was worked out painstakingly over 45 years of UK membership of the EU. It now wants to tear that up and negotiate a new partnership on all these different questions. And it wants to get the job done within two years.

All this is being done in the name of “taking back control”, but it looks to me that, in many areas, control is being taken back, only to be given away again immediately. A lot of work, for very little product!

Just as Gordon Brown had five “tests” for joining the Euro, which were so loose that he could interpret them any way he liked, Theresa May has five tests for an acceptable Brexit outcome, which will mean different things to different people. In fact, they sounded more like the introduction to an election manifesto, than a prism through which to measure the success of a negotiation on some of the most technical and specialist of legal topics.

Originally the UK was promising a frictionless border in Ireland. Yesterday, Mrs May seemed to retreat from that, speaking of a border that would be

“as frictionless, as possible”.

Her idea of a Customs Partnership, to avoid a hard border in Ireland, seemed like a smuggler’s charter.

She envisages the UK having different rates of tariffs on goods entering the UK, to the tariffs charged on goods entering the EU.  That is the whole point of leaving the Customs Union. She then suggests that the UK would charge the UK tariff on goods “intended” for the UK, and the EU tariff on goods passing through the UK but “intended” for an EU country (most likely Ireland).

In this way, she hopes no customs checks would be needed at the Irish border, or in Irish ports. The scope for abuse, and exchanging of goods, seems to be unlimited here.  Consignments could be substituted for one another, and there would be no check on them when they crossed the Irish border. Such an arrangement would very difficult to police, and is unlikely to satisfy the EU Customs Code.

If the EU and the UK are to have different rates of tariff,  her idea of exempting what small businesses along the Irish border from any control at all seems like an invitation to smuggle.

Presumably, Mrs May will want the EU Customs Code amended to take on her ideas. But if that is done, similar concessions will be demanded along all the other borders to which the Customs code applies, such as the EU borders in Eastern Europe. Mrs May should not forget that whatever she negotiates will have to be approved by all 27 EU countries

The most valuable test that Mrs May wishes to apply to a Brexit agreement is that it should be one that would endure, and not require constant renegotiation.

But she said things elsewhere in her speech that will make it very difficult to pass that test.

She stressed that any Trade Agreement with the EU could be changed afterwards by the UK Parliament. That is a recipe for instability. At the moment the UK Parliament cannot over rule an EU rule to which the UK had previously agreed. After Brexit, that would longer be so, and, as result, business would know that everything about any future UK/EU trade agreement would be subject to the vagaries of British politics. British politics has already forced the UK to renege on 45 years of Treaty based agreements with the EU. So a mere Trade Agreement in future will not be a solid base for investment.

Every time the UK Parliament tries to go back on something in the Agreement, there will have to be a new negotiation.

Furthermore, Mrs May ruled out the UK Courts accepting the decisions of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on many disputed matters. The best she could say is that the UK Courts would “look at” ECJ rulings, before making their own British decisions.  That means that UK interpretations will gradually diverge from standard EU/ECJ interpretations. When that happens, renegotiation will be inevitable.  

She advocated, instead of accepting ECJ jurisdiction, the idea of an “arbitration mechanism” that would be independent of the EU and the UK. That might work for a country which trades a limited number of products with the EU.  But Mrs May herself said that she wants an agreement with the EU that would cover more subjects that any trade agreement anywhere else in the world.

An arbitration mechanism, covering the vast range of EU’s dealings with the UK, if it is to be truly independent, would soon become a rival to the ECJ. It could develop a different interpretative philosophy to the ECJ.  That would undermine the common legal order of the EU, and is unlikely to be accepted.

One of the tests that Mrs May set for an acceptable Brexit, was that it would be one that would strengthen the Union between the four “nations” that make up the UK.

But the process of Brexit itself is having the opposite effect.  In the way the referendum was set up, a majority of English and Welsh “leave” voters were allowed to overrule “remain” majorities in the two other “nations”, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Brexit Referendum was a crude exercise for English power, to satisfy a purely English political agenda.

There is growing dissatisfaction in the devolved Assemblies, including even in Wales, about the way Westminster is making decisions on EU related matters, that are the prerogative of the Assemblies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

It is good that Mrs May’s speech, at last, got into some detail in her speech. This will have had some educational value for her Party. But the text of the Withdrawal Treaty is not yet agreed, and that must be done before the substantive negotiation can begin.

But the fact that the UK has not come up with a legal text of its own, to reflect the agreement Mrs May made in December  on the Withdrawal Treaty with Michel Barnier, but is still criticising the EU version virulently,  shows that we have long way to go on this unproductive and time wasting road to Brexit



Can the forced march, towards a hard and deeply disruptive Brexit, be stopped?

Part of the difficulty with the Brexit crisis is that the two sides are approaching the negotiation with radically different assumptions.

For the UK government, it is a purely political exercise. This explains why the UK government is setting out its negotiating position, to the extent that it has one, in political speeches and briefings. It is as if the whole thing was a PR exercise. Thus UK leaders are attracted to ambiguous political buzz words like “bespoke solutions”, “frictionless borders” and “imaginative thinking”

For the EU side, things are very different.  For the EU, the issue is a legal one, where understandings reached with the UK must be converted into legal texts, which will be watertight, and able to stand scrutiny in the European Parliament, and in Ministries of all 27  EU states. The EU will insist that precedents not be created for the UK, that would lead to similar demands either from existing or from prospective new, EU member states

The EU sees the European Treaties, which the UK signed 40 years ago, as a contract between nations. The EU sees them as similar to a contract between private parties. Withdrawing unilaterally from a private contract is not something you can do for free, especially if the other parties to the contract undertook costs expecting you would keep your side of the contract. In private business, the party unilaterally pulling out of contract would be the one offering compensation.

The UK does not see it this way at all. It sees the EU as a sort of club, where one can just decide not to renew one’s subscription and leave. The UK sees things like this because the nature of the EU, and of the political obligations the UK undertook when it joined it, have never been explained to the British public by British politicians.

Any country wishing to join the EU, and there are numerous candidates, is told, at the outset of the negotiation, that it must bring all its relevant legislation, including its customs rules, into full compliance with the EU “acquis”. So a precedent, that granted exceptions from this, to a country that was voluntarily leaving the EU, would undermine the EU position in future enlargement negotiations.

The UK approach to the issue of the border in Ireland illustrates the UK’s superficial understanding of the EU Customs Code, even though the UK had a hand in drafting it. For example, some in the UK think one can comply with the code, simply by checking electronically the number plates of goods vehicles crossing the border.

As I understand it, the Code requires that a sample (2/3%) of goods, crossing into the EU Customs Union, must be physically examined.  Whether this happens at the exact geographic border, or some miles away at a depot, the effect will be highly disruptive.

Many cargoes will contain a mixture of components, from different countries to which different rates of EU tariff may apply, so these cargoes of mixed goods will have to be checked.

Food imports to the EU will have to be examined with particular care, to see that they comply fully with EU rules in regard to pesticide residues, additives, GMOs and hygiene. Food safety is a highly sensitive issue politically.  Even if the UK, once it has left the EU, has the same, or similar, rules on food safety, it will no longer be subject to EU enforcement of these rules within the UK.

So the EU will have to check UK originating goods rigorously for itself, on its own territory. “Good faith” will not be enough, because the EU writ will no longer run in the UK.

The tragedy of what is happening on Brexit is that it is an abandonment of a fundamental UK constitutional principle, which is the ultimate sovereignty of Parliament.

Under this principle of parliamentary sovereignty, no Parliament can bind its successor.  There is thus an inbuilt capacity for Parliaments to change their minds over time, in the same way as voters can change their minds. This flexibility, inherent in Parliamentary sovereignty, used to be an expression of historic British pragmatism.

Now that is gone.

A referendum decision, taken without a full understanding of what a “Leave” vote meant, is being deemed by both major Party leaders in Westminster, as holding Parliament in a vice like grip.

MPs are no longer free. They will be presented with a fait accompli, and told by the two leaders, on pain of deselection, that they may not reopen the referendum decision.

The only place in which this fateful march towards disaster can be stopped is in Westminster itself. It cannot be stopped in Dublin or in Brussels.

Here the politicians of Northern Ireland bear a heavy responsibility, on which they will be judged by history.

Brexit changes the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, without the consent of its people. But the politicians that Northern Ireland voters elected to Westminster, either refuse to take their seats, or back Brexit uncritically, in defiance of the balance of opinion in Northern Ireland.

There is no voice or vote in Westminster for the majority of Northern voters who voted to remain.

If Sinn Fein took their seats in Westminster they could change the dynamic of Brexit  and of the future these islands for generation to come. This is what Irish Nationalist MPs were able to do in 1910.

Just as today’s historians still debate who did what, between 1910 and 1922, similar questions will be asked for years to come about who rose to their responsibilities on Brexit in 2018 and 2019.

Do Sinn Fein MPs really want to be asked, in twenty year’s time,

“Where were you in 2018, when Westminster broke its word, and voted to reimpose a border in Ireland, because it insisted on leaving the EU Customs Union?”

and to have to answer,

“I was sitting at home, because my principles would not allow me to use the vote that I had”.?

The welfare of the people of this whole island, at this critical moment in history, is at stake.

 That should prompt rexamination of republican abstentionist doctrine. Of course this is not easy. But  the policy has  been changed before, for arguably far less immediately important reasons.


Bruton calls for Brexit negotiating extension

John Bruton, Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today.

Former taoiseach John Bruton has called for the two-year Brexit negotiating period to be extended.

Mr Bruton, who is also a former EU Ambassador to the United States, said the time limit is too short and any agreement reached will have to be ratified by the UK and EU parliaments, which also takes a lot of time.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Bruton said that pressure for negotiations is too great and that mistakes are inevitably made, when insufficient time is given to negotiations.

Mr Bruton added that the time pressure is adding to a “fevered atmosphere” in British politics, with just over a year left before the negotiating period ends in March 2019.

He warned that Ireland would suffer as much as the UK, if the right deal was not reached.

Mr Bruton said there is a provision for the extension of the two-year negotiating period in Article 50.

He said that there are some downsides to the idea of extending the period and it would have to be reached unanimously.

However, he said the possibility of extending the period would allow for more rational discussion and a better outcome.




I am delighted to be invited to speak at this important launch.  I congratulate Skoda on the recent rapid growth in sales in the Irish market.

I would like to talk this morning about Brexit.

I believe that Brexit will do disproportionate damage to the motor industry, which is one of Europe’s premier industries. It depends for its efficiency on complex supply chains, and these will be disrupted if the UK Government persists with its intention to leave the EU Customs Union and Single Market.

The risk of the UK simply crashing out of the EU remains high. The fact that Mrs May has had to postpone her planned speech on Brexit, points in that direction.  So does her slap down of Philip Hammond for saying that the changes in the EU/UK trade relationship would be “modest”. That slap down is hardly consistent with her promises in regard to the Irish border, which still have to be converted into Treaty language.

The gap between popular expectations and practical possibilities remains dangerously wide.

The two year time limit to conclude the negotiation of the terms for UK withdrawal from the EU is, as we are slowly learning, far too short.

The implications of UK withdrawal have not, even yet, been fully discovered by the negotiators on either side. New complications and hypotheses are emerging every day. These arise because we are only now digging down into 40 years worth of trade deals, memberships, and understandings, which the UK can only be part of, so long as it is in the EU.

It would be in the interest of Ireland if the UK were to decides either not to leave the EU at all, or, failing that, decides to rejoin the EU, on terms acceptable to Ireland.

How might this happen? This is the question I am attempting to answer in a paper to be published today by the Institute of International and European Affairs.

The UK hopes to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 but to continue to have access to the EU market for a two year Transition Period, ending on 29 March 2021.This date was presumably chosen because it is before the scheduled date of the UK General Election.

I believe this Transition Period approach is a mistake. I believe it would be simpler and wiser for the UK and the EU to agree to extend the period for negotiation under Article 50 by two or more additional years. This can be done by unanimous agreement.


At the moment, the UK is seeking a two year transition period, after March 2019, during which, having left the EU as a member,  it would still enjoy the benefits of membership of the EU Single Market, and Customs Union. Some in the European Parliament have said the longest Transition the UK might be granted is 3 years.

If this is conceded, the U K, for the duration of the Transition, would not then have any say in the making, and in the interpretation of the rules of the Single Market and Customs Union, with which it would have to comply. It would still be subject to ECJ jurisdiction, and would still be contributing to the EU budget, on the same basis as if it was a member.

The UK Prime Minister calls this proposed transition period an” implementation” period.

Businesses in the UK and in the EU, and particularly Irish businesses trading with the UK, would presumably be expected to be implementing changes in their business practice to accommodate themselves to the sort of arrangements that would apply, in March 2021, when the UK had actually left both the Single Market and Customs Union, as Mrs May desires.

The difficulty will be that no one would know for sure what to prepare for.

The Transition would be more of a Postponement than a Transition!

This is because the  EU and the UK could only start substantive negotiations of the terms of a future UK/EU trade deal at the beginning of transition period, because the UK must first become a non member of the EU, before it can negotiate a trade deal with the EU.

On the other hand, as a non member and during the Transition Period, the UK would also have to negotiate replacements for the hundreds of  Trade and other Agreements it has with third countries as an EU member, which would cease once the UK had left the EU, on 29 March 2019.

Negotiating the terms of a Transition Period may prove to be very difficult, almost as difficult as negotiating a final agreement. Perhaps more, because there is no precedent to follow.

Of course, the political outlines of a  possible trade arrangement with the UK might have with the EU would be referred to in the “Framework for a future relationship” that, under Article 50, should accompany the Withdrawal Treaty.

The Withdrawal Treaty itself, and presumably the Framework, can be agreed by a qualified majority in the European Council.

But a future trade deal with the UK would face more difficulty. Depending on its content, and whenever it is eventually finalised, it  will  almost certainly require the  unanimous agreement.

If it covered services, many of which are regulated at national as well as EU level and which the UK wants included, it would have to get ratification from all the national parliaments.

So any outline of the trade deal, promised in the Framework accompanying the Withdrawal Treaty, might not survive the substantive negotiation that would take place after the UK had already left the EU

The Framework to be full of good intentions, but not full of the sort of bankable legal commitments that businesses will need to make investment decisions.

So two years may be too short a Transition period for business.

It will also be too short for trade negotiators, who say that a deal as complex, as the one the UK is seeking, would probably take 6 years to finalise, not just 2.

But, politically, a two year Transition, may be as long as the UK can live with, because its government is in such a political rush to leave.

By the time of the next election, the Conservative Party will not be comfortable ,if the UK is still in “transition”, implementing EU laws, contributing to the EU budget, and under the jurisdiction of the ECJ.  So it may be willing to pay a high price to finalise a Framework deal and end the Transition within the two years.

On the other hand, the likelihood is that, in those negotiating circumstances, the deal will be a “bad one” for the UK. But rejecting that “bad” deal will  not be attractive either because without a deal, the UK will be out of the EU, and will only be able to trade with the EU on “WTO terms”, which would be really bad for the UK, and appalling for Ireland.

All of this will be happening on the eve of the UK’s 2022 General Election.

In these circumstance the UK government might be tempted to look for an extension of the two years  Transiion and leave it to a post General election government to take the blame for an unsatisfactory Trade Agreement.

I believe one such time limited prolongation of the Transition Period, if requested by the UK, would be granted by the EU 27. But that would be it.

An indefinite prolongation, or a series of prolongations, would not be offered.

There is so much uncertainty surrounding the content and timeline of a UK/EU Trade deal that the Transition Period will not provide a reliable basis for planning by business.

All the same, the longer is the Transition, the better it will be for Irish business.

But a long Transition will be exceptionally difficult to sell in the UK.

It would offend against the principle of democratic representation. The UK would have to implement and abide by EU regulations, in the making of which it would have had no part. It would have no representation in the European Parliament,  Council or Commission. Any financial contribution it might make during the Transition would be represented by some as “taxation without representation”.

So, I conclude that, as the UK explores the difficulties of its proposed Transition or Implementation Period, it may find itself forced to look at other options.

The only other option on offer is an extension of time under Article 50 (3)


Article 50 (3) of the Treaties, under which UK withdrawal is being negotiated, says a country that has applied to withdraw from the EU and given notice of intention to do so under Article 50 (2) shall cease automatically to be a  member

“ two years after the notification referred to in paragraph (2), unless the European Council, in agreement with the member states concerned, unanimously decides to extend that period”.

Extending the two year period is a matter for the member states. There is no provision requiring the consent of the European Parliament to such an extension of the two years.

At the moment, there is no official sign that either the UK, or the EU 27, would contemplate using such an extension, or even talking about it.

It is too early. To do so would signal weakness, and would be a poor negotiating tactic.

But the provision for an extension of the two years was put there for a practical reason.

Even with the best will in the world, trade negotiations can take longer that all sides want.

There can be unexpected technical and legal difficulties.

General Elections and government formation delay can prevent decisions from being taken. Look at the example of Germany at the moment.

Rigid time limits can also be exploited by forces that have another agenda, and simply want to maximise chaos.

Politicians can even change their minds, but need more time, than is provided with in the two year limit, to adjust the expectations of their supporters.

Time limits create a fevered atmosphere in which rational calculation becomes more difficult.

Time will have to allowed, at the end of the  two year period, for ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and of the Framework for Future Relations by both the British and European Parliaments, and both may look for time for debate and deliberation on the merits of rejecting, or accepting, the proposed Treaty

. Neither Parliament may wish to be confronted with a proposition, which says “take it or leave it, and do so now”.

Allowing time for Parliamentary ratification , on its own, might necessitate an extension of the two years.

An extension of the two year period, under Article 50 (3) would be different, in its effect ,from an extension of the Transition period.

Under Article 50 (3), the UK would continue, for the duration of the extension, to be a full voting member of the EU, except on issues to do with Brexit.

It would still be a member of the ECJ and a British Judge would continue to sit there.

The UK member of the Commission would continue his important work in that capacity.

The UK MEPs would continue to sit in the European Parliament, although from 2019 there would be different MEPs from some of the constituencies.

The UK would continue to be bound by EU law, but that will also be case during a Transition. But in the Article 50(3) scenario, the UK would enjoy democratic representation.

In these senses, an extension under Article 50 (3) would be a better deal for the UK than a Transition Period.

But the Referendum decision to leave the EU would not yet have been implemented. It would still be under negotiation.

An extension of time under Article 50(3) offers a greater degree of certainty to business. The UK would definitely retain all the obligations and advantages of membership for the duration of the extension.

Article 50 (3) offers no guidance on, and does not limit, the period of an extension that could be granted. Nor does it place a limit on the number of extensions that might be granted.

Given that every EU state, and the UK itself, would have to agree, the likelihood is that the initial period of any extension could be quite short.

But if, during that extension, negotiations were going forward in a good and constructive spirit, further extensions could become possible

Under the Article 50 (3) approach, the UK would still be a member of the EU.

Thus, while it could agree a framework for its future relationship with the EU and this could cover trade matters, the UK could not negotiate and finalise a trade deal with the EU or anybody else.

That would be a big negative from the point of view of those in Britain who believe there are attractive trade deals waiting to be concluded.

But, on the other hand, the UK would continue to benefit from existing EU trade agreements, and the extra time would allow it to put much greater flesh  and detail into the Framework for Future Relations with the EU, than will be possible in the time between now and March 2019.

I believe the two year time limits has created a fevered atmosphere in the negotiations. It  has politicised them in a way that makes rational calculation of mutual interest more difficult.

An early agreement to a substantial extension under Article 50 (3) would remove this problem, and would give the negotiators more time and space.

I have the sense that some in the UK are open to this possibility, but there is little appetite for it in Brussels.

If the EU side were unilaterally to offer an extension of the time period, under Article 50 (3), that went beyond the time of the UK General Election, it would thereby place a heavier responsibility for a bad negotiating outcome on the current UK government.

The UK government might want to reject such an offer, but it might not be able to persuade the UK Parliament to agree.

This would not be easily done.

There is a feeling in some continental EU countries that the UK has already taken up too much of the EU’s time. For example, the David Cameron’s decision to prevent the Compact for the Fiscal governance of the Eurozone being incorporated in the EU Treaties, even though they had nothing to do with the UK, has left a very sour taste.

There is a fear that any extension of UK membership under Article 50 (3) could be exploited by the UK to block other EU reforms, and/or to improve the UK’s position in the competition between the EU and the UK post Brexit.

Granting the UK, which had decided to leave and chose the timing of its Article 50 letter freely, an extension of the time limit, would be seen by many as encouraging other sceptical EU states to use the threat of withdrawal as a bargaining tactic, or a means of getting votes in Elections.

In this context, taking a tough line with the UK is not seen as “punishment” of the UK, as much as being “self preservation” by the EU.

An extension of time under Article 50 (3) would mean that UK MEP’s would still be eligible to sit in the next European Parliament, at least until the extension period had expired and the UK was out.

A European Parliament Election in 2019 in the UK would allow the British people to debate the issue of UK withdrawal from the EU in a much more informed manner than was possible in the Referendum of 2016. The campaign, and the result, of the European Parliament in the UK in 2019 would give valuable guidance to negotiators.

It might confirm the decision to leave, or it might signal a willingness to change course.

Either way, under the Article 50(3) time extension scenario, this would happen before the UK had actually left the EU. So the outcome of a European Parliament Election, in the UK in 2019, would be politically meaningful.

If the result was decisive vote in favour of Remain candidates, the UK might have the option of withdrawing its Article 50 letter and staying on in the EU, under existing terms.

An extension of time under Article 50 (3) would facilitate a second Referendum, if that is what the British people want.

The choice would be much clearer than it was in 2016, because Britain would still be in the EU at the time of the Referendum. So staying in the EU in existing terms would be the clear alternative to accepting the Withdrawal Treaty and accompanying Framework document that would be presented in the Referendum.

Reapplying to join under Article 49, which would be the only option if the change of heart took place after the UK had already left the EU would be much more difficult. It would mean a whole new negotiation and different, and less favourable terms of membership, for the UK.

On the negative side, UK MEPs continuing in the European Parliament after the 2019 Election could play the role of spoilers. They could ally themselves with nationalistic and anti system MEPs from other countries, who simply do not want the EU to succeed.

A disadvantage of a time extension under Article 50 (3) is that it would interfere with the plans of a number of European leaders, including the Taoiseach and President Macron, to allocate some of the seats to be vacated by UK MEPs, to MEPs who would be elected from a constituency of the entire European Union. In the European Parliament itself, work is already being done on the allocation of the vacated UK seats, and some existing member states could get more seats. Beneficiaries might be inclined to resist an extension of time under Article 50 (3), but the European Parliament’s consent is not required. But keeping the UK in the EU is more important.


If an individual wants to withdraw from a contract, he can do so, but he would normally expect to have to compensate other parties to the contract for the damage his decision might cause. No consideration at all was given, during the referendum in 2016, to the impact, UK withdrawal would have on other contracting parties, notably on Ireland.

For all these reasons, I believe the UK, and the EU 27, need to take time out to think about where we are going with Brexit. Two years is not enough.

The confrontational atmosphere, engendered by the artificial time limits in Article 50, prevents a quiet discernment of mutual interests. It imposes a dangerous straight jacket.

As I have shown there are advantages but also profound difficulties, with all the options I have considered.

But, on balance, I believe the best way to reach a sensible outcome in the negotiation, that will do least damage to the political and economic relations between the UK and the rest of Europe, would be to forget about the Transition option, and agree a time extension under Article 50 (3).

That may not seem politically feasible at this stage, but I believe it will be seen in a different light by next October.

As I said earlier, if the EU side were to offer such an extension, at a moment when the full difficulty of the Transition option was becoming clear, it would change the dynamic in British politics.

If it rejected the time extension option in favour of the Transition option, the UK government itself would have to take the full responsibility

  • for entering what some Brexiteers have described as “Vassal status”,
  • for implementing rules they had  no say in making, and
  • for entering a period in which the UK would paying into EU funds, with no say in how the money was spent.

The rush for an early Brexit, that motivated Mrs May to write her Article 50 letter before her government had done its homework, was driven by a deep fear among the architects of Brexit that, if they did not leave quickly, they, or their voters, might change their mind about leaving at all.

This is, quite literally, an irrational basis for deciding the future of Britain.

It is a deeply dangerous basis on which Britain would impose the costs of its mistakes on Ireland.

It will leave deep and lasting scars.

I believe that an extension of time under Article 50 (3) of the Treaty is the best way to minimise, and possibly to eliminate, the damage.


Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach and former EU Ambassador to the United States, speaking at the Skoda  Fleet Business event at 8 am on Monday 29th January in Bellinter House Hotel, Navan Co Meath;


The EU vote ignored Ireland, but the UK can still change its mind

Let me first try to explain why the handling of Brexit by the UK led to a crisis in Anglo-Irish relations. Treaties between nations are like contracts between individuals. They influence how each party behaves, towards one another and towards the rest of the world. While a contract or a treaty can be withdrawn from, there is a legitimate expectation that this will only be done with careful advance consideration of how this will affect the other parties to the treaty or contract. This is not just a legal expectation, but an expectation of the sort of civility that should apply in relations between people and nations.

One also takes for granted that, if the withdrawing party to a contract wants a new or different contract with the same parties, it will say in advance what it wants that new relationship to be. Even now, Ireland has no clear idea what sort of relationship, compatible with the EU rules the UK helped make, the UK wants with the EU, and hence with Ireland. As the country most affected by Brexit, there is thus deep disappointment in Ireland that our neighbour the UK has not been able, in respect of Brexit, to live up to the normal expectations I have just outlined.

Forty-four years ago, Ireland and the UK signed the same contract with one another, and with the seven other countries that then made up the European Common Market. We each renewed that contract several times, in the UK’s case with the sovereign approval of its parliament. We each expected that the others would continue to honour the contract and we shaped our institutions and our economies on that basis. In particular, when Ireland and the United Kingdom negotiated the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements, to resolve the ongoing conflicts in and around Northern Ireland, we each did so on the unquestioned assumption that the UK would continue to be an EU member.

We each assumed that the freedoms created by membership of the EU could continue to be used to strengthen relations between the two communities in Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Ireland and Britain.

The renegotiation and referendum process that was initiated by David Cameron, which has led to Brexit, seemed to us in Ireland to have been designed in a way that took no account of the obligations and expectations the UK had created in Belfast and at St Andrews.

During the renegotiation phase, the Irish taoiseach, Enda Kenny, supported Cameron’s attempt to improve the special status the UK already had in the EU, even though some of the concessions the UK were given weren’t in Ireland’s interest.

Irish people saw other problems with the process that led to Brexit. The complex UK/EU relationship was reduced to a simple “Leave” or “Remain” choice. While it was clear what “Remain” meant, no effort at all was made by the government sponsoring the referendum to say what sort of “Leave” it would choose. So “Leave” became a vehicle for fantasies and wishful thinking of the most egregious kind. Explanations of the choices between different forms of Brexit – such as on whether to stay in the customs union and the single market – were left over until the people had already voted.

There was no deliberative process to inform public opinion, something one would have expected of the UK parliament, one of the oldest democratic deliberative bodies in the world. The referendum was not preceded by detailed green and white papers. In the absence of authoritative information, there was no informed debate about the impact of Brexit on the Irish border, and on hundreds of issues.

It is only in the past week that the UK government has started to consider the sort of post-Brexit relationship it will ask for. In doing so, it will have to take account of the fact that the EU works because it is a single legal order, with a single system that makes, implements and adjudicates on the meaning of shared EU rules. The UK has a sovereign right to decide what it would like, but it cannot expect the EU to change its very nature, just to accommodate a country that is leaving.

In preparing its proposal, the UK will need to take into account the Interlaken principles that govern EU relations with third countries, and the EU community customs code, both of which UK ministers helped to draft. When it has done this, the UK government can then compare the special position it already enjoys as a voting EU member, with what the EU will be in a position to offer it as a non-member. Then it can make an informed decision. We are each allowed to change our minds in our private lives if the issue is important enough. Nations might sometimes allow themselves the same privilege.

Opinion @ The Guardian by John Bruton


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.


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).


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!


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.






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.




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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