John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: BREXIT (Page 1 of 3)

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Since the Good Friday Agreement, abstentionism is an out of date policy and undemocratic policy.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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

BREXIT, THE REFORM OF THE EU, AND IMMIGRATION

 

Cahirciveen

O CONNELL’S POLITICAL POSITIONS RELATE DIRECTLY TO 21ST CENTURY CONCERNS

I have spent the last two weeks reading a lot about the life of Daniel O Connell.

He is a man for whom I have always felt an instinctive affection.

He had a vision that extended beyond Ireland. As he said of himself “my sympathy is not confined to the narrow limits of my own green Ireland.”

In his first days as an MP, after Catholic Emancipation allowed him to take his seat, he presented a petition from Cork against slavery in the colonies.

He suggested abolishing the practice of arresting people for debt without judicial procedure, and he spoke in favour of a petition supporting the rights of Jews (who, like Catholics, had been denied the right to be MPs).

He favoured the secret ballot and the reform of Parliament. He fought against the remaining duties on Irish exports of malt, coal and paper to Britain. He would not have been a supporter of Brexit.

Although he was not familiar with Ulster, he did try to reach out to Loyalists, even going so far as drinking a toast to King William at a dinner in Drogheda, a risky thing to do at any time!

He made big financial sacrifices for the causes in which he believed. He could have taken up high legal office, forinstance as Master of the Rolls, a highly remunerative legal office, but chose to stay in Parliament, as an unpaid MP, to fight on for the Repeal of the Union.

Like any good politician, he was assiduous in answering his correspondence. At one stage he was answering up to 200 letters a day, and, before he became an MP in 1829, the postage alone cost him as much as £10 per day, at a time when a £ was infinitely more valuable than it is today.

A CONSISTENT OPPONENT OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE

He had a deep aversion to politically motivated violence, an issue on which he differed with Thomas Davis and others who romanticised the 1798 Rebellion.

He told Dublin Corporation that, for a political purpose, he would

“not for all the universe consent to the effusion of a single drop of human blood except my own”.  

On another occasion, he said,

“ Human blood is no cement for the temple of human liberty.”

It was because of his fear of the loss of life that he called off the monster meeting at Clontarf, a decision which the Young Ireland leaders consented to at the time, but subsequently criticised.

Asked  afterwards to name the act of his political career of which he was most proud, he said it was not  Catholic Emancipation, but the decision to cancel  the mass meeting at Clontarf, and thereby prevent the

“plains of Clontarf being, for a second time, saturated with blood”.

He knew violence, once commenced, soon gets beyond the control of its initiators, as we learned in the 1916 to 1923 period.

He believed in passive resistance, and was innovative in devising ways to use it. He pioneered mass meetings, and parish level political organisation. In that sense, he was ahead of the rest of Europe. He was the founder of mass political participation, and this was recognised in other countries at the time.

Late in his career, in order to promote the cause of Repeal of the Union between Ireland and Britain, he suggested setting up a shadow parliament in Dublin and an Irish system of arbitration outside the UK dominated courts system. In 1919, both ideas that were revived by Sinn Fein and the IRB.  Unfortunately, they were accompanied, at that later time, by physical violence, which defeated their purpose completely.

A PROPONENT OF JUSTICE ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE

As I said at the outset, O Connell was an internationalist.

He worked for human rights across the globe. His opposition to human slavery was not confined to the colonies of the British Empire.

He opposed slavery in the United States, unlike the Young Irelander, John Mitchell, who subsequently actively supported it.

His opposition to slavery in the United States was deeply appreciated by those agitating within the US itself, for the abolition of slavery.

He refused political donations from slaveholders in the US.

He attacked the attempt to establish Texas as an independent slave owning state seceding from Mexico.

He criticised George Washington for owning slaves.

He clashed with the, Irish born, Catholic Bishop Hughes of New York who criticised him for his “intolerable interference in American affairs”.

O Connell’s most recent biographer, Patrick Geoghegan says his declarations on slavery were a key factor in alienating the Young Irelanders, who believed the Repeal Association should only address domestic, not foreign, affairs.

I believe that, to be true to O Connell’s legacy, Irish people in the twenty first century, must take their share of responsibility for facing up to the big international moral issues of our time.  They must not confine their concern to their “own green Ireland”.

HOW HIS STANCES SHOULD INSPIRE US TODAY ON THE MIGRATION ISSUE

If O Connell could speak to us today he would remind us that we are a relatively well off country.

I read recently that if a person is earning more than 34000 euros a year, they are in the top one percent in the world in terms of income!

As in O Connell’s case with slavery, facing up to big moral questions has costs.

These moral issues of our time include climate change, and the drought, starvation and forced migration it is bringing in its wake in Africa.

Just as sophisticated and pragmatic arguments were advanced in the 19th century to postpone the abolition of slavery, sophisticated and pragmatic arguments are advanced today for postponing action on climate change.

Action on climate change, here or in the United States, could indeed damage competitiveness of some parts of the Irish or the American economies, just as abolition of slavery damaged the competitiveness of the cotton states of the US over 100 years ago. It could be argued that the labour intensive cotton economy of the southern states would have been impossible without the cheap labour provided by slaves.

Likewise the mass migration that has been caused, at least in part, by climate change will cause difficulties in the societies in which migrants arrive, just as the mass migration of former slaves to the northern cities of the US caused problems, including race riots, in the cities of the northern US from the 1860’s up to the present day.

These issues are still with us. Migration, and the challenges it can cause for countries in Europe, are issues to which  I would like to turn to now.

Let us put it in context. Europe’s population is declining. Its birth rate is 1.6.  A birth rate of 2.1 would be needed to maintain the population.

I heard it said recently that, in the next 20 years, on present trends (without immigration), Europe’s population will decline faster than at any time since the Black Death in the 14th century.

It is possible that immigration will belie that prediction. But, as we know, some ageing European countries have a difficulty in accepting immigrants with different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Germany is a notable exception. Our nearest neighbour is not.

Meanwhile, in Africa the available workforce is expanding rapidly. Over half of the prospective population growth in the world in the next thirty years will be in Africa. But the African economies are creating only one job for every three young people reaching working age. That explains the surge of emigration in Africa, a lot of which is going to other African countries.

When I was born, in 1947, Europeans were 25% of the world population.  Now, Europeans are only 7.5% of the world’s population, and by 2050 we will be just 6%. This is because the population elsewhere has risen so fast, while our population has stood still,

Europe’s population is getting older, partly because it is living longer. The average age in Europe is 40, whereas the average age in Africa is 20. By 2030, without immigration, the German working  age population was set to decline by one sixth.

MIGRATION AS AN ANTIDOTE TO THE AGEING OF SOCIETIES

I heard one economist respond recently, when people complained to him that Europe’s growth rate had not returned to the level of the 1990’s,  that present growth rates were as high as  they could reasonably  be expected to be,  given that older populations naturally produce and consume  less, than younger ones do. By 2050, the public pension systems of most European countries will go broke for lack of sufficient new contributors.

Older populations have less energy, are more risk averse, and eventually retire from work altogether. So it should not surprise us that the ageing of a society slows that society’s economic growth rate. But that obvious fact is rarely mentioned in economic commentary.  This leads to unrealistic expectations, foolish promises, inevitable disappointment, and eventually even to disillusionment with democracy.

It seems to me that the European countries that do the best job in including immigrants as productive members of the local community, are the countries that will do best economically, and will be best able to afford good health and pensions for their older citizens when they need it. I fear many older voters in Europe do not see that as clearly as they should.

Ireland is doing well in regard to providing opportunities for new immigrants at the moment. Our historic experience of emigration enables us to understand the intense loneliness of the recent immigrant.

SEEKING OUT MODELS FOR SUCCESSFUL INTEGRATION OF IMMIGRANTS

The presence of a large number of refugees from Ballaghadereen, at the recent All Ireland quarter Final between Mayo and Roscommon, is a sign of a great local effort at positive integration.  

Italy is a country that is being required to absorb a very large number of African immigrants just now. But Italy is also a country with one of Europe’s lowest birth rates and historically poorest rates of economic growth. If Italy can make the recently arrived immigrant into productive Italian citizens it may turn a problem into an opportunity.

Spain is also a country for whom immigration can be an opportunity.  We are all too well aware of the criminal attacks in Catalonia, but there are many examples of small rural communities in Spain making seasonal agricultural workers from Morocco welcome in their homes, and integrating them in local life. Immigrants have kept villages, that might otherwise have been abandoned, alive.

It is a big challenge to integrate people with radically different religious and ethnic backgrounds and build a new tolerant and cooperative society with a sense of mutual solidarity.

This is made more difficult by the segregation into ghettoes that arises because of the way the housing market operates in big cities, where people tend to live if different suburbs depending on their income and status. Rural societies may be better at integration because they are smaller scale, and segregation in daily life is less possible.

Innovative Government intervention may be needed to prevent ghettoisation, and to provide natural opportunities for people of different ethnicities and religions to meet, and have a good time together. The European Agency for Fundamental Rights deals with integration in a recent report, but its focus is on bureaucracy led action plans, and it contains  few examples of successful community led initiatives are cited. Good examples are needed to give hope.

I am convinced that, one way or another, European society will become much more multi ethnic in the next 40 years, and that integration will be a challenge that will need to be faced at every level of society, not just at the level of the state or local authorities. It will be everybody’s business.

Sports organisations and religious communities have the greatest potential to integrate new arrivals.

Some might think that religion is likely to be a divisive force as far as immigration is concerned. I disagree. Some the best work being done in Germany to integrate Muslim refugees into German life is being done by Christian organisations, whose members see the welcoming of strangers in need, as a charitable imperative of their own Christian faith. Churches have a flexibility that bureaucracies can never attain. People who are confident in their own faith have ease in working with people whose faith is different.

Of course, not everybody will become integrated.

We need to try to understand the motivation of those who left European countries to join ISIS.

I understand that a high proportion of the ISIS recruits are young people who, until recently, had not been active observant Muslims but were of another faith, of no faith at all, or just indifferent.  Many were recruited in prison. The zeal of the recent convert can be a dangerous thing.

This makes the case that proper religious education, as part of a good general education, is something socially valuable, in that it enables young people to make careful and informed judgement about religious matters, as they mature into adulthood.

THE ALIENATION OF SOME YOUNG PEOPLE

It is part of a wider problem.  Young people, of all ethnicities in some countries, have become alienated from democratic systems of government.  They may either not vote at all, or vote flippantly.

As a proportion of their income, younger people get fewer benefits from the state, and pay proportionately more taxes to it , than do older generations.

 Among the benefits used disproportionately by older people are state subsidized pensions and healthcare. For example, it is because of its generous earnings related state pension system, and its excellent health service, that the bulk of social spending in France actually goes to those with higher than average incomes!

Older people are not always wise in the political choices they make.

Older people in the UK were among the strongest supporters of Brexit, allegedly because of an aversion to immigration. Yet the largest support for Brexit was found in areas that had had the least recent immigration.

FACING THE DEMOGRAPHIC CHALLENGE IN GOOD TIME

The continuance of present levels of support for older people’s social services actually depends on the taxes and productive work of younger people, many of whom will have to be immigrants, because in most European countries there will simply not be enough native young people to pay the taxes needed to sustain the current levels of support for older retired people.

This problem is not going to ease.

Ireland’s national debt is 183 billion euros . But its eventual contingent liability for PRSI and public service pensions comes to 422 billion euros, which is not included in the national debt.

This contingent liability will be at its most onerous around 2050, which is when those now getting their first job will hope to be at the top of the salary scale. The shortfall will be three times as great in 2050 as it is today.

This may prove to be an under estimate, if life expectancy, and consequentially length of years in retirement, continues to grow at the present rate….3 months per year  

On the other hand, it may prove to be an underestimate, if we have an enlightened and workable immigration policy, and the age imbalance is rectified by an influx of non Irish born people who will, because they are working here, be paying Irish taxes.

O CONNELL AND EUROPE

Daniel O Connell was widely admired across Europe.

 In the month before he died , he set out for Rome , as a pilgrim hoping  to see the Pope before he passed away.  All along his journey through France, he was greeted by substantial crowds.

He did not make it to Rome. He died in Genoa . I was in Genoa last week and saw the house on the Via al Ponte Reale, near the port, where O Connell died.  It is now a bar.

It is a tribute to the esteem in which he was held that , not long after  his death, a fine plaque was erected, with a representation of O Connell by the sculptor Federico Fabiano.

O Connell was long remembered in Genoa because, 50 years after he died, an additional plaque was erected by the Catholics of Genoa remembering his work for religious liberty.

I doubt if any Irish politician since then has enjoyed such a positive reputation in Europe, as Daniel O Connell did.

As I expect you will hear tomorrow from Paul Gallagher SC, this was partly because of O Connell’s reputation as a lawyer, who could use the law to rectify injustice and protect liberty.

WHAT IS THE UNIQUE VALUE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION?

In essence the European Union is a law or rule based system. Common rules, interpreted and enforced consistency are the bedrock upon which freedom can be built, in trade and in daily life, between nations and between individuals.

The EU has provided its member states,  including, for the past 44 years, the UK,  with a common system for

  • making,
  • amending,
  • enforcing and
  • interpreting

common rules on matters as diverse as food safety, aviation, intellectual property protection, and consumer protection in the purchase of financial products.

The fact that the rules are now common to all, means that food can be sold, airline competition facilitated, patents respected and savings protected across the whole 28 countries of the EU. It is really important for a business that seeks to sell goods and services across Europe to know that the standards the goods must comply with will be the same everywhere and that these rules will be enforced and interpreted in a consistent way in every EU country. Without the EU, none of this would be the case.

The fact that the rules can be amended in a single legislative process for all members saves a lot of time.

So too does the fact that they will, if necessary, be enforced effectively and uniformly across Europe, under the supervision of the European Commission.

The fact that these common rules will also be interpreted, in a uniform way across the whole of Europe, under the aegis of the ECJ, also avoids all sorts of confusion, haggling and duplication. The ECJ, and the rules it interprets in a consistent way, are essential to the freedom of EU citizens to live, work and trade across the whole Union.

 Without the ECJ, the European Union would just be a temporary diplomatic expedient, of no durable value. The Brexit demands of the UK must not be allowed to change that. Without commonly interpreted rules, there is no lasting freedom.

INTERNAL CONTRADICTION IN UK POSITION ON TRADE RULES

The UK is turning its back on that.

Its position is internally self contradictory.

The recent UK Government White paper on Customs after Brexit claimed that the UK is

“a strong supporter of the rules based global trading system”.  

Yet the UK is now leaving a rules based system, the EU, supposedly because it want to “take back control”.  It wants to write its own rules for itself. That is  quite simply inconsistent with supporting a rules based global system which, by definition, means GIVING UP some control.

 As a non member of the EU, the UK will now have to negotiate a new deal on each topic now covered by an EU agreement, then agree a separate procedure for future amendments to that deal, and agree procedures for enforcing, and for interpreting the deal.  This will take up a huge amount of time, unproductively for everybody involved.

KEEPING A SENSE OF PROPORTION……THE WORLD IS BIGGER THAN EITHER THE EU OR THE UK

When the Brexit negotiations become fraught, as they undoubtedly will, UK and EU negotiators will need to remind themselves that we have more in common than divides us, and that we each live, close beside one another, in a continent whose global weight is much less than it was 100 years ago, and will become lesser still, as time goes on.

At the other end of the Eurasian land mass, China will double the size of its economy in the present decade. It adds to its GDP by an equivalent of the entire GDP of Turkey….every year.

China has ambitious plans for its global role, and China has the executive coherence and long term perspective, necessary to realize those goals.

At the moment Europe has neither the required executive coherence, nor the necessary  shared longer term  view of its future

China is thinking in ambitious geographic terms .It is promoting global connectivity through its “One Belt, One Road” concept.

The UK’s access to that Road, across the Eurasian land mass, runs entirely through the EU.

The access of Ireland to that trans Eurasian Road runs mainly through the UK.  Brexit will put roadblocks on the road in two places. Not clever.

OPTIONS FOR A REFORMED EUROPEAN UNION WITHOUT THE UK

I will now turn to the internal dynamics of the EU itself, as I expect they will evolve in coming years, without Britain.

The European Commission has produced a White Paper which sets out five, rather stylised and artificial, scenarios.

These scenarios are

  1. Continuing on as we are
  2. Doing nothing but maintaining the Single Market
  3. Allowing countries that want to go ahead with more intense integration, to do so within the EU legal order, and with the possibility for others to join later
  4. Doing less more efficiently
  5. Doing much more together.

Given that it is difficult for 27 countries to agree on new tasks (It was much easier when there were only 9 or even 15 members), I think the first option, continuing on as we are, will be the easiest to follow. This is especially the case if the EU remains unwilling to amend its Treaties

The last option, doing much more together, does not have public support at the moment, but that could change suddenly, if some external shock made it easier to overcome the normal resistance and inertia. Among the activities envisaged, under this  option, are a single European anti Terror agency and a single coast guard. These are not farfetched ideas, and indeed may be inevitable if passport free travel across member state boundaries is to continue.

The option of doing nothing but maintain the Single Market, is not very helpful in my view.  In truth, it is almost impossible to agree where the Single Market ends, and other policies begin. The Commission is correct in saying that ”Single Market Only” option would make it more difficult to conclude more or deeper international trade agreements, because differences in  some standards would persist within the EU.

The option of “doing less more efficiently” is not very different, and is meaningless in practice. According to the Commission paper,  it would involve pursuing Single Market integration vigorously, but going slow on regional policy, and on social and public health policies that do not relate directly to the Single market. This option may appeal to net contributor countries, like Germany and perhaps Ireland, but would not appeal in Central and Eastern Europe. It may appeal to outsiders like the UK, Norway and Switzerland as it might reduce the fee they would pay for access to the Single market. But it would be strenuously resisted by many poorer EU states.

The idea of allowing some countries to “go ahead without the others” is one that has been around for a long time, and is actually provided for in Title IV of the EU Treaty governing what is known as “Enhanced Cooperation”.

While this provision has not been much used, it could be said that the euro, and the Schengen border control free zone, are already forms of enhanced cooperation.

I do  not see Enhanced Cooperation  as an ideal way forward for the future, because it dilutes the democratic unity of the EU, which  is already put under enough strain by the division between Euro and “not yet Euro” members. Many will ask why  a member state should  have the same vote in the European Parliament, on  a policy in which it is taking no part and making no financial contribution, as the MEPs from countries that are doing both. The Commission saw this scenario as allowing some countries to go further ahead on defence cooperation while other members might hang back.  

Ireland will need to give serious thought to European defence questions.

It has to be recognised that influence of a member state in the EU will be commensurate with its commitment to and solidarity with other members.

A country that only wants to take part in policies from which it will gain, while going slow on things that might involve costs for it, will have less influence in the EU, and might not receive solidarity when it needs it, but it is hard to quantify this.

Too much “Enhanced Cooperation” could eventually lead to no cooperation.

Putting it another way, an EU which encourages some countries to go ahead while others hang back could quickly divide between” policy maker” countries,  and “policy taker” countries. This is why Ireland has traditionally resisted a “two tier” Europe.

All in all, I felt the Commission’s options paper, while a start, requires a lot more work.

DOES THE EU PUBLIC KNOW WHAT IT WANTS FROM THE EU?

Public opinion also needs to be taken into account, in working out the priorities of the EU. But the problem is that public opinion varies widely between countries.

 

Asked in April 2016, just before the UK Referendum, what they wanted the EU to prioritise, the public came up with quite different answers in different countries.

 Also in a poll last year, there were wide differences in the extent to which voters in different countries felt their voted counted for something in EU decision making , ranging from  70% of Danes feeling their vote counted in the EU, through 45% of Irish people, down to a mere 20% of Italians and 17% of Cypriots and Estonians.

80% of Greeks wanted the EU to do more to fight terrorism, and 69% of Italians did, but only 33% of the Dutch and 44% of Danes.

69% of Swedes and Spaniards wanted the EU to do more about the Environment, but only 28% of Estonians did .

EU action on Protecting External Borders was a priority for 73% of Greeks, but only 43% of Irish people and  35% of Swedes and Latvians wanted the EU to prioritise it.

Overall and on average, 44% of EU citizens felt the EU should be doing more about Security and Defence. But, to my surprise given their proximity to Russia, only 30% of Latvians and Estonians, and 25% of Danes, did so.

In contrast, 60% of Greeks , 56% of Italians and French, but only 41% of Germans felt the EU should do more on Security and Defence.

This would suggest that , a year ago anyway, there was not an overwhelming public demand for an EU defence policy. But that was before the election of Donald Trump.

Finally, given the low oil prices at the time, it is perhaps not surprising that so few European felt the EU should be doing more on Energy supply issues.

Yet a Single Energy market was identified as a priority issue by the European Commission even in their “Continuing as we are” scenario I mentioned earlier.

Only 36% of EU citizens felt the EU was not doing enough on the issue of Energy supply. The greatest support for more EU action on Energy supply was in Greece and Spain ( both 54%). In the Czech Republic, only 18% felt the EU should do more on Energy Supply questions

Given that Ireland is so completely dependent on, what will soon become a non EU country, for access to the international  electricity grid, it interesting to note that support for a common EU policy on Energy Supply was below the EU average in Ireland, at a mere 33%.  I expect that that will change.

CONCLUDING QUESTIONS……..ON SIX ISSUES

1.) The first big achievement of O Connells political career was winning for Catholics the right to sit and vote in Parliament in London. Remember Catholic Emancipation was not about the right to vote, which eligible Catholics already had, it was about Catholics being able to sit and vote in Parliament

+  Is it not a strange commentary on O Connell’s obtaining for Catholics the right to vote in Parliament in 1829, that none of his Irish Ulster co religionists, who are entitled to do so in 2017,  will take their seats at a time when vital legislation, affecting Ireland, is to be decided in Westminster  in a few days time?

2.) One of O Connell’s great causes, the ending of slavery, arose from his belief in the dignity of every defenceless human being.

+  As a society, do we respect that dignity today in our prisons?  Do we respect the dignity of people before they are born, as well as we respect it after they are born? At what age do human rights commence, and end?

3.) O Connell mobilised people to come together to express themselves through peaceful political agitation. He was the first leader ever to encourage all the Irish people to stand up publicly and take responsibility for their future.

+  Is collective and rational political deliberation now being replaced by mob rule through the social media? Are we protecting people’s rights to say unpopular things, and to question modern orthodoxies?  Do most voters think critically about the foreseeable consequences of their own choices for society as a whole, or do they prefer just to blame politicians if things do not work out afterwards as promised?

4.) European states have taken on substantial liabilities both to financial markets, and to their own people.

+  Should we have a national balance sheet as well as a national budget, so people will see clearly the obligations that will have to be met over the next 40 years?

5.)The Brexit negotiation could prove to be one of the most traumatic political conflicts of recent years, and could dig a physical and psychological trench between us, and our immediate neighbours.

+ Can we do more to mitigate the build up of pressure in these negotiations, by lengthening the Treaty based negotiation time line from two years to ( say) six years, allowing the UK to remain in the EU until the end of that period? If the UK was still in the EU at the time of the next European Elections in 2019, might not the Euro Elections not allow UK voters take a more considered view of their Brexit choice?

6.) I have summarised the options for the future of the EU put forward by the Commission. I am not aware that these options have been debated seriously anywhere. We are a long way away from developing a common EU wide public opinion that would support positive programme of further EU integration.

+  Does this not reveal a structural flaw in EU democracy?  Should voters be able to vote for a government of the EU,  just as they vote for a government of their own country? Is the shift in the power of initiative in the EU away from the Commission in favour of the 28 Heads of Government really helping the EU define a common policy that will appeal to voters across national boundaries?

The relentless news cycle, speeded up by instant communication, does not allow for the type of reflection and deliberation on public issues that was possible in O Connell’s time.  That is why we should stand back and ask questions, like those I have just posed, at a summer school like this.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Address by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at the O Connell  Summer School in the Library Cahirciveen at 3 pm on Friday 25th August

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

THREE QUESTIONS…………….

MRS MAY;    TELL US EXACTLY WHAT SORT OF DEAL YOU WANT WITH THE EU CUSTOMS UNION

 

DUP;    TELL US WHAT SORT OF AGRICULTURAL POLICY YOU WANT IN NORTHERN IRELAND AFTER BREXIT

SINN FEIN ;    TELL US WHY YOU WILL NOT  GO INTO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS NEXT MONTH TO FIGHT FOR IRISH INTERESTS ON THE NEW BREXIT LAWS

 

It is unfortunate that the United Kingdom government decided to trigger article 50 , without first working out, around the Cabinet table, what sort of relationship the UK could reasonably expect to have with its neighbours after it had left  the EU.

It is true that Mrs May presented a wish list in her Lancaster House speech. But this list was, and is, impossible to achieve because it took no account of WTO rules, and of the fact that commerce can only be free ,if the rules governing it remain reasonably uniform.

She said that, on  the day it leaves the EU, the UK will retain all the  then existing EU rules for goods and services, but would be free change them,  by Act of Parliament or by  legal reinterpretation from then on. This implies a gradual, surreptitious, hardening of the border in Ireland, as UK standards begin to diverge from EU standards.

To the extent that the UK diverges from EU standards, the UK businesses will have to apply two sets of standards, one for the UK market, and another for the 45% of UK exports that go to the EU.

Once the UK has left the EU, goods, coming  into the EU (including into Ireland), from the UK will also be subject to checking under “Rules of Origin” requirements, to see that they do not contain impermissible non UK content. For example, there might have to be checks that UK beef burgers do not contain Brazilian beef.  These “Rules of Origin” checks will involve bureaucracy, which will be especially onerous for small firms.

One study estimated that the need to apply “Rules of Origin” checks could reduce trade volumes by 9%.  The EU/ Canada trade Agreement has 100 pages on “Rules of origin” alone.

As far as imports into the EU at Dundalk or Lifford are concerned, it will be Irish, not UK, officials who will have the distasteful job of enforcing the border. Irish officials will have to check whether EU safety, sanitary, origin and other rules have been met. This is something being imposed on us, as an EU member, by a UK decision.

It will not be done cheaply. A House of Lords Committee said that “electronic systems are not available to accurately record cross border movements of goods”. If the UK government knows otherwise, it should produce the evidence…without delay.

Even if a light or random system of checking at the border or in ports is imposed, the biggest costs will have to be met by businesses, before they get anywhere near the port or the border.

The preparation of all the extra compliance documentation will deter many smaller firms from exporting at all. For example it has been estimated that the number of customs declarations that UK firms will have to prepare and present will jump from 90 million a year to 390 million once the UK leaves the EU. Irish firms will have a similar extra burden in their dealings with the UK.

The focus on the Irish border should not deflect attention from the impact of Brexit on East/ West trade. Indigenously owned Irish exporters rely disproportionately on the UK market, and their customers are predominantly on the island of Britain, rather than in Northern Ireland. The bulk of Irish exports to continental Europe transit through Britain

MRS MAY AND THE CUSTOMS UNION

Theresa May was remarkably unclear, in her Lancaster House speech, about the sort of relationship she wanted with the EU Customs Union. She wanted bits of it, but not all of it.

This would run into immediate difficulties with the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO works on the basis of non discrimination, or the so called “Most Favoured Nation” principle.

This means that any concessions the EU Customs Union might grant to the UK, as a non EU member, would have to be extended by the EU to ALL the EU Customs Union’s trading partners. That is unless the special UK concessions cover “substantially all” trade between the UK and the Customs Union.  The UK will have to be either ”substantially in”, or “substantially out”, of the Customs Union.  Which does Mrs May want? She should be able to answer that question by now.

Many suspect the UK wants to leave the Customs Union so it can revert to the cheap food policy, that it had before it joined the common Market.  To prevent the  undermining of the EU Common Agricultural Policy that would flow from that, Ireland would then be obliged to collect the EU Common External Tariff on products like  beef,  milk, lamb, confectionary  and other food products crossing our  border, or arriving at our ports, from the UK.

THE DUP AND AGRICULTURE

Farmers, and investors in the food industry, need to know what sort of agricultural policy the UK will choose after it leaves the EU. Only then can Ireland know whether it will have to collect these very high EU tariffs at the border, and whether the entire Irish food industry (on both sides of the border) will have to be diverted to other markets.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which supported Brexit, and which now dispensing gratuitous advice to the Irish Government on EU matters, should tell us exactly what sort of UK agriculture and food policy it expects post Brexit.  It is now in a good position to get an answer to that question from the UK government. Its own farming supporters would like to know.

SINN FEIN VACATES THE FIELD

The DUP is not the only party that needs to examine its position.

In September the UK Parliament will begin debate on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, which will allow for UK standards of goods and services to diverge from existing EU standards, thereby deepening the Irish border.

Thanks to the abstentionist policy of Sinn Fein, there will be no Irish Nationalist MPs in  that debate able to put forward amendments  to mitigate the hardening of the border that this legislation will allow. Until this year, 3 SDLP MPs would have been there , but now, when their presence was never more necessary, the voters have replaced them by Sinn Fein MP’s, who will draw their salaries, but will stay away when decisions have to be made, leaving the field to the DUP.

Sinn Fein should remember that the Irish people, on both sides of the border, accepted the Good Friday Agreement in a Referendum  in 1998, and that removes any  “nationalist” argument  Sinn Fein might have had for not taking their seats. If Sinn Fein can shake hands with the Queen, if they can take their seats in Stormont, they can take their seats in Westminster!

There is work for them to do there now.

 

New Fault lines in Europe…..the political consequences of Brexit

If one reviews European history over the period since the Reformation five hundred years ago, the role that England has sought to play in Europe has been that of holding the balance between contending powers. It used its naval strength, and the overseas colonies  its naval strength allowed it to hold, to exercise that balancing European role.

At no time in the last 500 years, did the UK seem to disengage from, or turn its back upon, continental Europe. Indeed England felt it so much a part of continental Europe that Henry V111 actually contemplated  being a candidate for Holy Roman Emperor.

Rather England sought to be sufficiently involved in Europe to exercise its balancing role effectively, but without being so intimately enmeshed in continental issues, that it lost its freedom of action. England’s extension of its power to Ireland and Scotland were contributions to its goal of defence against, and influence over, continental Europe.

That same motivation lay behind the decisions the UK took to go to war in August 1914 and September 1939… that of maintaining a balance in Europe

The position that the UK held in the EU on 22 June 2016, the day before the Referendum, could be said to have been a perfect expression of that traditional English approach. The UK was having its European cake, and eating it at the same time.

The UK was a full voting member of the EU, but was exempted from aspects of EU policies that it might have found too entangling, like the euro, the Schengen passport free zone, Justice and Home Affairs cooperation and the Social Chapter of the EU Treaties.

But as a full voting member, the UK could still influence the direction of the EU, and, if necessary, slow down developments it did not like,  such as a major role for the EU in defence, where the UK preferred the job to done by NATO.

The UK’s budget contribution had been modified through a rebate, and agricultural policy had been modified in a direction sought by the UK.

The UK, it could be said, had the best of both worlds the day before the Referendum.

It was sufficiently IN, to exercise influence on the EU, but sufficiently OUT of it, to maintain the sort of freedom of action that befitted its historic role.

WHY IRELAND SEES THE EU DIFFERENTLY

Ireland’s position is very different from that of the UK.

It has different, but not incompatible, priorities. They explain why Ireland is determined to remain in a strengthened European Union.

Like most of the smaller and medium sized powers in Europe, Ireland does not have the military or economic strength to exercise the sort of freedom of action that a bigger power, like the UK, France or Germany, could exercise. Whereas bigger countries might find European rules to be, at times, a slightly inconvenient restraint, a smaller country finds these common rules a source of protection, security, and freedom.

For a smaller country, the common rules guarantee it against unfair competition by an overweening bigger neighbour. They make the markets in which it competes predictable, open, and free of arbitrary behaviour. The common rules that the EU makes, and enforces, enable a  country like Ireland to compete on equal terms for international investment, something that would not be the case if bigger countries were unconstrained by  a rule based system.

Even in fields in which it might not be directly involved, like defence, a smaller country, like Ireland, benefits from the fact that bigger countries cooperate, through common organisations, like NATO and the EU, to preserve and defend a peaceful, and secure, space in its vicinity. Without peace in Western Europe in the preceding fifty years, there would have been no Celtic Tiger in the 1990s!

Now that the people of the UK have decided, in a Referendum, to quit the European Union, much is changed.

THE UK IS GOING BEYOND THE REFERENDUM MANDATE

The UK government has decided to go further than the requirements of the referendum decision of 23 June 2016, and to leave the Customs Union, and the European Economic Area as well, and to reject any jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, adds to the difficulties.

It changes the context in which common threats must be faced, by both the UK and Ireland. Brexit may be an exclusively British initiative, for which Britain is wholly responsible, but its effects will be felt by others.

This is most topically illustrated by the question of information sharing on terrorism between the 28 EU states, including the UK.

This sharing is done under the Schengen Information System, which the UK can access as an EU member, and where disputes about what can be shared can adjudicated objectively  under the aegis of the European Court of Justice.

As a non EU member , the UK will  have to negotiate a special deal  to get access to this information. Access may not be automatic, particularly if the UK continues to reject ECJ jurisdiction on disputes about  what may, and may not, be shared, and how.

Now that the UK General Election has failed to endorse the Prime Ministers vision of a hard Brexit, the parties who will be forming or supporting a new government here have the opportunity to reopen some of the question like the Customs Union and acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction in certain areas. I hope that these are thoroughly looked at again, in an open minded way in the inter party negotiations and the options properly debated. That debate did not take place in the General Election campaign at all.

THE EU ALLOWS THE MAKING OF COMMON RULES….IT  ALSO ALLOWS THEM TO BE AMENDED, INTERPRETED AND ENFORCED, IN A CONSISTENT AND EFFICIENT WAY

The example of EU cooperation against terrorism illustrates the fact that EU has provided the UK, and its fellow EU member states,  with a common system for

  • making,
  • amending,
  • enforcing and
  • interpreting

common rules on matters as diverse as food safety, aviation, intellectual property protection, and consumer protection in the purchase of financial products.

The fact that the rules are now common to all, means that food can be sold, airline competition facilitated, patents respected and savings protected across the whole 28 countries of the EU.

The fact that the rules can be amended in a single legislative process for all members saves a lot of time.

So does the fact that they will, if necessary, be enforced effectively and uniformly across Europe, under the supervision of the European Commission.

The fact that these common rules will be interpreted, in a uniform way across the whole of Europe, under the aegis of the ECJ, also avoids all sorts of confusion, haggling and duplication.

Without the EU, none of this would be the case.

It is really important for a business that seeks to sell goods across Europe to know that the  standards the goods must comply with will be the same everywhere and that these rules will be enforced and interpreted in a consistent  way in every EU country.

Outside the EU, to open EU markets to its exports, the UK will now have  to negotiate a new deal on each topic, then agree a separate procedure for  future amendments to  that deal, and agree procedures  for enforcing and interpreting the deal.

This is what the Swiss, with their 120 different Treaties with EU, enjoy. A lot of work!

It is possible to envisage, with a huge one off effort of political will on both sides, the completion and ratification of an initial Trade and Services agreement between the UK and the EU sometime in the next five years.

An equally daunting task will come afterwards, when one has to update, interpret, and ensure adequate enforcement of, the initial agreement. The opportunities for gamesmanship by commercial and political interests, for opportunistic blocking minorities, and for sheer bloody mindedness are easy to imagine.

Everything will be up for grabs each time. Bureaucracies will have never ending occasions to justify their separate existence.

But that is the path the UK has chosen.

BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS WILL DIVERT TIME AND TALENT FROM MORE IMPORTANT MATTERS

It will, I regret to say, involve the diversion of top level official talent, in 28 capital cities, away from anticipating the challenges of future, and instead towards reopening agreements made over the past 44 years.

Our most talented civil servants will be taken up with digging up the past, rather building the future. It is a tragedy.

The Brexit process will not be like a member leaving a club of which he or she no longer wishes to be a member, which is an easy enough process, once the bar bill has been settled.

It will be much more like a divorce between a couple, who have lived together for years, have several small dependent children, a mortgage, and a small business they had been running together. Not only have past bills to be settled, but future liabilities have to be anticipated, decisions made about the running of the business, and rights and responsibilities in respect of the children, agreed.

It would be naive to think that the divorce between the UK, and the other EU countries, including Ireland, will not leave scars. I hope that is all they will be, scars, that will gradually become less visible.

The financial terms of Brexit will be important, as they are in any divorce. They will encompass the future as well as the past. One should remember that Switzerland and Norway contribute to funds to help poorer EU countries to whose markets they have access through arrangements with the EU. It is unlikely to be different for the UK, but if we are to have a constructive negotiation on financial contributions, we also need to have a constructive discussion of the terms of UK access to the EU market.

As the initiator of Brexit, the UK has the primary responsibility to make it work for both sides.

Negotiators on both sides should remember the wise words of an Assistant US Secretary of State in 1945;

“Nations which are enemies in the marketplace, cannot long remain friends at the council table”.

Bitterness in trade negotiation can poison other forms of cooperation. The initiators of Brexit in this country may not have given much thought to that, but those who will negotiate it now,  have a duty to think about it.

IRELAND’S IMPORTANT ROLE

Everyone must work to ensure that no open wounds remain at the end of the negotiation. I am sure that, as a full, loyal and active member of the EU, Ireland will work tirelessly to minimize misunderstandings, to interpret UK concerns for our EU colleagues, and vice versa. As the only English speaking member of the EU, I expect Ireland will at times also have a role in interpreting the United States for our European Union colleagues .

The best way of avoiding leaving open wounds when the negotiation is finished, is through timely anticipation of the things that could go wrong.

I hope that some of the things I say this evening will help in that regard.

FISHERIES

Starting closest to home, we will have to reach agreements on the highly emotional and symbolic issue of fisheries. Fish do not respect territorial waters. While fishing boats can, in theory, be restricted to territorial waters, fish cannot. Overfishing in one jurisdiction affects the livelihood of fishermen in another. Conservation is vital. Who will adjudicate on this, ten years from now? Will there be quotas? Who will allocate them? In the absence of agreement, one can easily envisage clashes, even physical clashes, in seas around us.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Also close to home, there is the issue of Northern Ireland. Originally, when the UK and Ireland joined the EU in 1973, Northern Ireland was the subject of a de jure, if not de facto, territorial dispute between the two countries. As a result of the improved relationship between the two countries that flowed from their common membership of The EU, and as a result of a great deal of creative thought and mutual concession, that issue has been resolved.

Now Brexit has intervened.

The two big parties in Northern Ireland have taken opposite sides on Brexit.

They have revived the issue of territorial sovereignty.

Both these parties seems to be more comfortable agitating about their irreconcilable demands on territorial sovereignty, than engaging in  the day to day drudgery of Ministerial responsibility in a power sharing Administration,  in a time of limited budgets. It is time for Ministers in Stormont to go back to work.

In the past, Prime Ministers and retired statespersons could fly in to Belfast,  to provide cover for a new compromise between the parties that allowed them to get back to work.

As Brexit will absorb so much of everyone’s time in coming years, the scope for this sort of high profile counselling will be less.  Reality therapy may be needed.

The scale of border controls in Ireland, and at ports on either side of the Irish Sea, and of the English Channel, will depend on the eventual trade deal between  the UK and EU, if there is one, and on how it is interpreted over time.

The checking of compliance with rules of the origin, labelling and safety of goods will cause delays.

Even if there is a special arrangement for Northern Ireland, these matters will have to be checked somewhere, at some border, or in some port, somewhere. Such checks are a  necessary requirement for the free circulation of the goods in question in EU Single Market. I have no doubt that this is well understood here in Britain, given that Britain, under the leadership of the late Lady Thatcher, did so much to create the EU Single Market. Now that the UK is leaving, I can assure you that Ireland will be doing everything it can to preserve and enhance that remarkable achievement …the Single Market

The genius of the combination, of common EU membership of the UK and Ireland, with the Good Friday Agreement, reduced the sense of separation between both parts of Ireland, and between each part of Ireland and the island of Britain.

That made the two communities in Northern Ireland more willing to live with constitutional and institutional arrangements, that they might otherwise have regarded as less than ideal. That benign combination, of the Good Friday Agreement and joint membership of the EU, will now be brought to an end.

WHY HAVING A COMMON COURT, AND CONSISTENT INTERPRETATION, CAN HELP

As I mentioned already, Brexit has the potential to complicate cooperation between 28 or more European countries in the struggle against terrorism. Cooperation is much easier between countries adhere to common standards, uniformly interpreted under the aegis of a common European Courts system. Information can more easily be shared, new terror threats identified, and common responses agreed, in a common European system than would be possible if all we have between the UK and the EU are a series of ad hoc bilateral agreements.

Without commonly agreed protections, cooperation will become more difficult, because one will no longer have the same assurance about how the receiving country will treat the people, or the information, that one gives over.

THE DEFENCE OF EUROPE

As far as military security is concerned, the problem is less acute, because the UK will remain a member of NATO.

But, as with police cooperation,  things will not stand still.

It is likely that greater use will be made of Article 42 of the EU Treaty which allows for a common security and defence policy, with operational capacity, to be developed. The UK  used to be able to slow down use of these EU powers, and did so because it wanted any action to be under the aegis of NATO. After Brexit that will no longer be the case.

Mutual solidarity will be reduced. Outside the EU, the UK will no longer be able to benefit from the legal obligation, imposed on all EU states, by Article 222 of the EU Treaty, of help where an EU state is

 “ the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or manmade disaster”.

Outside the EU, the UK will not be taking part in meetings of the European Council which , under Article 222 must  “regularly assess threats”, whether  from within and outside the EU.

It is impossible to predict the difference the absence of the UK will make, but I am sure that regular meetings with EU colleagues, even when there is no urgent threat to be tackled, greatly facilitate speedy action when a threat does arise. UK Ministers will have less informal, casual, or routine contact with their European counterparts. Meetings will have to be set up specially.

From an Irish point of view, a lack of ongoing contact between the UK and EU could have negative consequences. A threat to the UK interests is very often a threat to Irish interests too. For example, Ireland has the same electricity grid as the UK, and our air space and territorial waters are contiguous, as is our territory on land. A threat to one of us is potentially a threat to both.

Other fora for joint work between the UK and EU states will need to used more fully.

PROTECTING KEY SHARED  INFRASTRUCTURE FROM ATTACK

Under Article 3 of the NATO Treaty, NATO members are working on “Resilience”, namely the protection of the critical infrastructure of member states. This would include the electricity grid, the commercial and health communications network, and air traffic control.  It will also involve anticipating future threats, based on the acceptance that greater interdependence across borders makes modern societies more vulnerable.

Ireland is not a member of NATO.

Now that the UK is leaving the EU , Ireland , as a member of  the NATO Partnership for Peace, may, however , have an interest in cooperating with all its European neighbours, including the UK, in this work on  the Resilience of shared networks. This would be for the protection of our own Irish people.

Ireland will also find that it is in its own interest to ensure that the EU, using Article 222 of the EU Treaty, actively helps member states that encounter threats.

Given the increasingly self oriented attitude of the present US Administration, it will be in nobody’s interest to allow Defence policy become a fault line between post Brexit Britain, and the European Union.

Working together on these matters is not a bargaining chip for negotiation, it is in the  existential interest for both parties.

So too, and for similar reasons, is the continued close cooperation between the EU and the UK on climate change.

BREXIT NEGOTIATORS NEED TO REMEMBER HOW MUCH WE HAVE IN COMMON

So when the Brexit  negotiations become fraught, as they undoubtedly will, UK and EU negotiators need to remind themselves that we have more in common than divides us, and that we each live, close beside one another, in a continent whose global weight is much less than it was 100 years ago.

In 1900, we, Europeans, made up 25% of the world population, now we are barely 7% .

At the other end of the Eurasian land mass, China will double the size of its economy in the present decade. It adds to its GDP by an equivalent of the entire GDP of Turkey….every year.

China has ambitious plans for its global role, and China has the executive coherence necessary to realize those goals.  It is thinking in ambitious geographic terms .It is promoting global connectivity through its “One Belt, One Road” concept.

The UK’s access to that Road, across the Eurasian land mass, runs entirely through the EU.

T he access of Ireland to that Road runs mainly through the UK!

I will now turn to the internal dynamics of the EU itself, as I expect they will evolve in coming years.

NEXT STEPS FOR THE EU, NOW THAT THE UK IS LEAVING

The European Commission has produced a White Paper which sets out five, rather stylised ,  scenarios.

These scenarios are

  • Continuing on as we are
  • Doing nothing but maintaining the Single Market
  • Allowing countries that want to go ahead with more intense integration, to do so within the EU legal order, and with the possibility for others to join later
  • Doing less more efficiently
  • Doing much more together.

Given that it is difficult for 27 countries to agree on new tasks (It was much easier when there were only 9 or even 15 members), I think the first option, continuing on as we are, will be the easiest to follow. This is especially the case if the EU remains unwilling to amend its Treaties

The last option, doing much more together, does not have public support at the moment, but that could change suddenly, if some external shock made it easier to overcome the normal resistance and inertia. Among the activities envisaged, under the doing much more together option, are a single European anti Terror agency and a single coast guard. These are not farfetched ideas, and indeed may be inevitable if passport free travel across member state boundaries is to continue.

The option of doing nothing, but maintain the Single Market. is not very helpful in my view.  In truth, it is almost impossible to agree where the Single Market ends, and other policies begin. The Commission argued  that this ”Single Market Only” option would make it more difficult to conclude more or deeper international trade agreements, because differences in standards would persist within the EU.

The option of “doing less more efficiently” is not very different. It would involve pursuing Single Market integration vigorously, but going slow on regional policy, and on social and public health policies that do not relate directly to the Single market. This option may appeal to net contributor countries, like Germany and perhaps Ireland, but would not appeal in Central and Eastern Europe. It may appeal to outsiders like the UK, Norway and Switzerland as it might reduce the fee they would pay for access to the Single market. But it would be strenuously resisted by many poorer EU states.

The idea of allowing some countries to “go ahead without the others” is one that has been around for a long time, and is actually provided for in Title IV of the EU Treaty governing what is known as “Enhanced Cooperation”.

While this provision has not been much used, it could be said that the euro, and the Schengen  border control free zone, are already  forms of enhanced cooperation.

I do  not see Enhanced Cooperation  as an ideal way forward for the future, because it dilutes the democratic unity of the EU, and this is already put under enough strain by the division between Euro and “not yet Euro” members. The Commission saw this scenario as allowing some countries to go further ahead on defence cooperation while other members might hang back.

MORE COMMITTMENT WILL BRING MORE INFLUENCE

It has, however, to be recognised that influence of a member state in the EU will be commensurate with its commitment and solidarity to and with other EU members.

A country that only wants to take part in policies from which it will gain, while going slow on things that might involve costs for it, will have less influence in the EU, and might not receive solidarity when it needs it, but it is hard to quantify this.

Putting it another way, an EU which encourages some countries to go ahead while others hang back could quickly divide between” policy maker” countries,  and “policy taker” countries. This is why Ireland has traditionally resisted a “two tier” Europe.

BUT WHAT DOES EU PUBLIC OPINION WANT?

Public opinion also needs to be taken into account, in working out the priorities of the new EU without the UK, and  public opinion on what should be EU priorities varies widely between countries.

When citizens in the 28 member states were asked in April 2016, just before the UK Referendum, what they wanted the EU to prioritise, they came up with quite different answers in different countries.

When it came to fighting against Terrorism, 80% of Greeks wanted the EU to do more, and 69% of Italians did,  as against only  33% of the Dutch and  44% of Danes. At that time, 66% of UK citizens wanted the EU to do more against terrorism, but then decided to leave anyway.

After France, 55% of UK citizens in April 2016 perceived their country as being under  a high threat of a terrorist attack, as against  only 11% of Irish people, 9% of Latvians and 8% of Estonians.

This was not the only contrast.

69% of Swedes and Spaniards wanted the EU to do more about the Environment, but only 28% of Estonians did .

Understandably, at the height of the Syrian asylum seeker crisis, EU action on Protecting External Borders was a priority for 73% of Greeks, but  only 43% of Irish people and  35% of Swedes and Latvians wanted the EU to prioritise that.

The dividing lines on whether the EU should do more on Security and Defence were quite revealing.

Overall and on average, 44% of EU citizens  felt the EU should be doing more about Security and Defence.

But, to my surprise given their proximity to Russia, only 30% of Latvians and Estonians, and 25% of Danes, did so.

In contrast, 60% of Greeks and 56% of Italians felt the EU should do more on Security and Defence. 56% of French citizens felt the EU should do more, but only 41% of Germans, which suggests that , a year ago anyway, there was not an overwhelming public demand for an EU defence policy.

But that was before the election of Donald Trump, and his disturbing omissions on European Security during his recent visit to Europe.

ENERGY SECURITY

Finally, given the low oil prices at the time, it is perhaps not surprising that so few European felt the EU should be doing more on Energy supply issues.  Yet a Single Energy market was identified as a priority issue by the European Commission even in their “Continuing as we are” scenario I mentioned earlier.

In 2016, only 36% of EU citizens felt the EU was not doing enough on the issue of Energy supply. The greatest support for more EU action on Energy supply was  in Greece  and Spain ( both 54%). But in the Czech Republic, only 18% felt the EU should do more on Energy Supply questions.

Given that Ireland is so completely dependent on, what will soon become a non EU country, for access to the international  electricity grid, it interesting to note that support for a common EU policy on Energy Supply was below the EU average in Ireland, at a mere 33%.

I expect that that will change and that Ireland will seek assurances on continuity of supply in any Brexit Agreement, and will want the support of its 26 EU partners in that.

THE OUTCOME OF THE UK GENERAL ELECTION

The recent UK General Election result did not endorse Mrs May’s very specific plans for a hard Brexit. The loss of support for the outgoing government in London, and in university towns, underlines this.

It now looks as if the next government will be a coalition of some kind between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Agriculture will be the subject to watch in any DUP/Conservative deal.

How will the incomes of farmers in Northern Ireland be protected and how will freedom of access for Northern Irish food products to the EU market south of the border be preserved?

Given the commercial interest many Democratic Unionist supporters have in trade across the border in Ireland, the Conservative Party may have to drop its insistence on leaving the EU Customs Union, to avoid the necessity of extensive and time consuming checking of goods crossing the border.

As a Unionist Party, the DUP will favour UK wide solutions rather than a special deal for Northern Ireland alone, and this may help ease the impact of Brexit on East/West trade between Ireland and Britain as well. That would be welcome.

If it were to decide to stay in the Customs Union,  the UK could of course, not do trade deals of its own.

But I believe there was little evidence  the  deals UK could do, outside the Customs Union,  would compensate it for the  deals it would lose by leaving it,

  • 295 trade deals, and
  • 202 deals on regulatory cooperation.

I hope the people of the UK will now have the sort of honest detailed, sector by sector, debate on what Brexit might mean, a debate that they so markedly failed to have during the General Election campaign.

John Bruton, former Taoiseach, delivering the Grattan lecture in the Irish Embassy in London on Monday 12 June 2017

 

TESTIMONY BY JOHN BRUTON,  AT THE SEANAD SPECIAL SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE UK’S WITHDRAWAL FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION

I welcome the opportunity to speak here today and commend the committee for its work.

If I may, I would also like to commend the government on the way they have ensured, through effective diplomacy, that the particular problems of Ireland have been publicly recognized in the negotiating positions of both the EU 27 and the UK.

I will go into some of the difficulties that will arise in the Brexit negotiation.

It is important to say that Brexit is a British initiative, for whose consequences Britain must take primary responsibility. It was not forced upon them. In fact, as I will show, numerous concessions have been made by its EU partners to keep the UK within the EU Treaties, which it freely adhered to in 1973, and which its people overwhelmingly endorsed by referendum in 1975.

The context of the Brexit negotiation is changing all the time. In recent weeks, the EU economy has been improving. Election results in the Netherlands and France are more positive than many feared. Even the Trump Administration is beginning to see value in doing business with the European Union. The EU has remained united in its response to Brexit, a matter for which the Irish government can also take some credit.

WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE TO A HARD BREXIT?

While I believe it may seem impossibly optimistic today, I believe conditions can be envisaged  in which, eventually, the UK voters might decide, either not to leave the EU at all, or to decide, after it has left, to rejoin.

Ireland should try to keep that possibility alive.

The terms for Brexit, as set out so far by Mrs May, will do incalculable damage to this island, politically, emotionally and economically.

We cannot simply wait for this to happen. While seeking to mitigate the effects of Mrs May chosen hard Brexit, we must also do everything we can to ensure either that, at the end of the day, there is no Brexit.

Apart from a few open questions, Theresa May has said what she wants. She wants out of the single market, out of the customs union, and “control” over immigration

The open questions she has avoided so far are about the financial terms of the divorce, the status of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa, and two aspects of a future trade agreement (if there ever is one), namely arbitrating disputes, and  third country imports getting into the EU via the UK.

The Article 50 letter, sent to Donald Tusk, did not tell us much more about the UK negotiating position than the Lancaster House speech did, although it does not repeat the pledge to leave the Customs Union.

 How the EU will respond to Mrs May’s letter?

The European Council is meeting this week to agree the orientation it will give to the EU negotiators for the discussions with the UK, that will start formally in June, and in earnest after a new German government is formed in September.

These orientations will be agreed by consensus, so every EU head of government will have to be satisfied.  

 In working out the orientation to be given to the negotiators, a crucial thing will be  for the European Council  to have in mind  what would be it’s ” best alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA).

It is important to have such an alternative ready, because there is every possibility that no agreement will be reached within the two year time frame for negotiation and ratification of a withdrawal agreement.

Mrs May has said that, for her , no deal at all  preferable  to a bad deal . Her BATNA, so to speak, is no deal at all.

“No deal” would mean the UK simply crashing out of the EU overnight, sometime before the end of March 2019.  This “no deal” scenario could lead to an overnight halt to flights, to trade and to commerce. There would be immediate, massive currency instability.

As pure negotiating tactics, maybe it not surprising that Mrs May would pretend that “no deal” would be better than what she would call a bad deal, but she is hardly serious.  

“No deal” is something the UK cannot really afford. This “no deal” scenario put forward by Mrs May will, I expect, be probed during the UK election campaign to discover what it actually means.

The fact that it was put forward, vindicates Tony Blair’s description of the UK government as, at the time of the Lancaster House speech, “not driving the (Brexit) bus”, but rather “being driven” by partisan and ideological forces it had not tried to control .  

The EU country that would be worst affected by the UK crashing out of the EU, with “no deal”, would, of course, be Ireland.

So Ireland must use all its imagination and ingenuity with its EU partners to ensure that there is a better alternative than “no deal” available, to what Mrs May might consider a “bad deal”..

SHOULD THE EU OFFER UK VOTERS ANOTHER OPTION?

If the UK government is unable or unwilling, because of domestic politics, to work out a responsible “best available alternative to a negotiated agreement”(BATNA), then the EU side should do so for it.  

It should adopt it, alongside its line by line response the UK’s negotiating demands

Having a BATNA would also strengthen the EU’s negotiating position. It would provide something with which an emerging deal could be compared. It would also provide a basis on which the UK electorate could reconsider its decision of 23 June 2016, if it ever wants to do that.

As Tony Blair said, UK voters have a” right to change their minds”. After all politicians are allowed to change their minds, so why not voters?

 If it was the UK voters who, in a referendum, sent their government on a mission towards Brexit, it would be reasonable that the same voters, rather than Parliament, should adjudicate on what will have been achieved (or not) by their delegates.

But if UK voters ever do change their minds about Brexit, it will happen slowly and incrementally.

Parts of the Brexit scenario, obscured during the Referendum, will become clearer during the negotiation. The unavoidable interconnections between EU freedoms, and EU rules, will emerge.  So that this happens, it will be in the EU side’s interest to ensure that there is maximum public understanding of the unfolding negotiation, at every stage.

Transparency will work in the EU’s interest.  A running commentary is exactly what is needed, in the interest of public education!  

When the UK public comes to see that the alternative to a single set of  EU rules, is either

no rules at all, or

multiple sets of contradictory rules for different jurisdictions,

citizens, in both the EU countries and the UK, may come see EU membership in a different and better light.

They may, for the first time in many cases, see the EU as something that actually simplifies their lives, rather than the reverse.

In my view, the “best available alternative to a negotiated agreement”,  the BATNA, that the EU side should adopt,  is an offer of continuing UK membership of the EU  broadly on the basis that the UK  was a member in 2015,  before David Cameron’s ill fated “renegotiation”.  

The terms obtaining then were generous to the UK. They allowed it to opt out of the euro, of Schengen, of Justice and Policing cooperation, of the Stability and Growth Pact, and of the justiciability in the UK of the European Convention.

Furthermore, the UK itself had also decided, without Brexit, that it would have a referendum of any new EU powers anyway.

In that sense, the UK was already having its cake, while eating it, before it ever decided on Brexit. These  pre 2015 terms should be left on the table by the EU side, but without the unjustifiable UK budget rebate.

President Tajani of the European Parliament made such an offer when he met the UK Prime Minister recently. That was a  very important initiative, and underlined how central the European Parliament will be in this whole process.

Of course, at this stage, the UK would reject such an offer out of hand.

 But, as the inevitable consequences of Brexit become clearer, UK public opinion might begin to see merit in it, particularly when it is compared with the costs of simply crashing out of the EU overnight, with no deal at all, which is supposedly  still Mrs May’s fall back  negotiating scenario, or as compared with what she calls a “bad deal”.

The resistance to keeping such an offer on the table is more likely to come from some existing EU member states.

Some members will point to the UK’s insatiable demands, when it was a member , for opt outs, rebates, and exceptions.  Arlene Foster’s analogy about feeding crocodiles may come to their minds. They will recall General de Gaulle’s original veto of UK membership, and his foresight that the UK would never settle in as a member. They might also argue that offering the UK a way back, after it has triggered Article 50, might encourage others to try it on too.  

 But if they sit back and think about it, they will, I believe, conclude that a UK that inside the EU, is better for the EU, than a UK outside it, even with a trade deal.

Keeping the offer of resumed UK membership on the table would be good politics, and good economics, for the EU.

I mention, in passing, that article 6.8 of the Vienna Convention, which sets out the law  on treaties generally, explicitly allows revocation of a notice of intention to withdraw from a treaty.

A political declaration by the EU heads of Government, at some stage in coming months, in favour of facilitating an eventual UK resumption of EU membership, on its  pre 2015 terms minus the budget rebate , would create a realistic yardstick against which the UK citizens could compare the terms of Brexit at the end of the negotiation.

THE EU NEGOTIATING POSITION

I do not propose to go into detail here about how the EU side should conduct the negotiation with the UK.

Obviously it will keep the 27 member states informed at every stage.

Ireland will need to ensure that  any deal guarantees that the UK will not engage in unfair or environmentally harmful trading practices, that there will be no unfair subsidization of UK enterprises competing with Irish enterprises, and to get  assurances that the EU will  take immediate action  if that happens.

We will have a special interest in the post 2020 agricultural policies of the UK, and in ensuring that they do not introduce production subsidies that disadvantage Irish exporters, that the UK adheres to reasonable climate change emission standards, and that it does not permit third country imports that undermine traditional Irish exports.

We will need to protect our electricity and energy supplies, after the UK has left the EU’s common energy policy. Ireland network in entangled with the UK one, and it is through the UK that we can access the rest of the EU network.

The EU has agreements on this with other countries, like Switzerland, which, though not EU members, contribute to the EU budget.

The EU will have difficulty offering the UK a better deal than it is giving to Switzerland on this or any other matter.

THE STATE OF BRITISH KNOWLEDGE OF THE EU, AND ITS IMPACT ON THE NEGOTIATIONS

It is important to remember that Westminster politicians have never taken much interest in how the EU actually works, in its procedures and rules, and in the compromises that underlie its very existence. They have this in common with many politicians in bigger European countries, who treat the EU as a sideshow to national politics.

So, even though the Conservative Party sponsored the idea of holding a Referendum on leaving the EU, it did not give much thought to what leaving the EU might actually mean in practice. In a sense, they are now finding out about how the EU works for the first time, just as they are leaving it!

Mrs May’s first priority, after the Referendum, was party unity.

That may be why she told the Conservative Party Conference last year that she would go beyond the mere terms of the Referendum.

She would not just leave the EU.  She would refuse to join the European Economic Area (unlike, non EU member, Norway).

She would also refuse to join the EU Customs Union (unlike, non EU member, Turkey).

She would reject the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

This kept her party quiet.

But now come the actual negotiations. This is where Mrs May’s rhetoric at the Conservative Party Conference, meets the reality of a rules based international trading system.

A RULE BASED INTERNATIONAL TRADING SYSTEM REQUIRES A COMMON SYSTEM FOR MAKING, AMENDING, INTERPRETING, AND ENFORCING AGREED RULES

In a rules based international trading system, unpleasant compromises are essential if you are to persuade others are to open up their markets to your exporters, to your bankers, to your planes,  and to your people.

In a rules based international trading system, you cannot, unilaterally, make, amend, interpret, and enforce the agreed rules, in a way that suits only you.

There has to be a common system, which involves some concession of sovereignty.

You often also have to accept an external enforcer, like the European Commission or an International Court. This is a concession of sovereignty.

And you often have to accept an external body interpreting the meaning of the rules, someone like the European Court of Justice, or a Disputes Panel of the WTO. Another concession of sovereignty.

But this is unacceptable to those who have made national sovereignty into a religion. It is unacceptable to some of Mrs May’s Euro hostile MPs, and to some of the supporters of Donald Trump.

Some have argued that if Ireland is inside the EU, and the UK is out of it, a special “bespoke deal” for the island of Ireland, or for the UK and Ireland, could be envisaged.

I do not see how this could work as far as trading standards and tariffs are concerned.

The ECJ would be the final arbiter of Irish standards, while the UK Supreme Court would make the  final arbitrations as far as the UK and Northern Ireland standards would be concerned.

Ireland would be obliged to collect EU tariffs, and enforce EU standards, on any goods entering the EU through Ireland, and do so at the Irish border, unless we wanted to exclude ourselves from the EU Single market.

Any precedent established for the UK and Ireland in this matter will be examined by the countries in EFTA and the EEA. They will want to be sure that their existing deal is better than anything offered to the UK, which has refused to join either EFTA or the EEA. This will be especially the case if those countries are contributing to EU funds on an ongoing basis, and the UK is not doing so.

The EU side in the negotiations will also have to respect the long standing “Interlaken principles” of 1987 which say that, in negotiating privileged relations with non EU states, the EU will prioritize integration between its own members over relations with non members, and will safeguard its own decision making autonomy.

I think this reference to decision making autonomy may mean that EU rules and the ECJ must take precedence over the decisions of any joint bodies the EU might agree to set up with the UK.

SOME OF THE PRACTICAL PROBLEMS OF BREXIT

I have been reading publications of Conservative supporting think tanks, like the Bruges Group and “Leave means Leave”, and they are discovering how much extra bureaucracy will be involved in the UK decision to leave the EU Customs Union and the Single Market.

The UK will have to introduce Customs controls on the goods bought and sold between the UK and the EU. This will involve checking where the goods came from, if they are properly labelled, if they are safe, and if the tariffs due have been paid. The delays will be substantial, at the border in Ireland, at ports in the UK, ports in Ireland and ports on the continent.

Customs clearance alone will add 8% to the cost of goods arriving in the UK by sea from Ireland or the rest of the EU.

At the moment 90 million customs declarations have to be checked in the UK for goods arriving from outside the EU. Once the UK itself leaves the EU Customs Union, UK customs officials will have to check 390 million documents!

Some may think the UK could reduce these difficulties by being in the Customs Union for some goods, but not for others.

This is impossible under WTO rules. A Customs Union restricted to some countries is a departure from the WTO norm of non discriminatory trade policy among all WTO members. A Customs Union is allowed by the WTO only if it covers substantially all trade. The UK will be trying to join the WTO on its own account, and starting out attempting to break WTO rules may not be wise.

Even if the UK eventually decides to stay in the Customs Union, but leaves the Single Market, and  tariffs will  then not have to be collected at the border and in ports,  the origin of goods will still have to be checked, as will compliance with EU safety and labelling rules.  This will take a lot of time, whether it is done, at the border or in a depot, electronically or on paper. The cost of doing business will increase, and for no productive or constructive purpose.

By leaving the EU Customs Union,  the UK will not only exclude itself from duty free access to the EU market, which represents over 50% of UK trade, but it will also lose the benefit of Trade agreements the EU has negotiated with 60 other countries, which account for a further  17% of UK exports.

For example, since the EU negotiated a trade deal with Korea ten years ago, UK exports to that country increased by 110%. Leaving the EU means the UK  giving that up, temporarily, and, perhaps, permanently.

There may be opportunities for Ireland to replace some UK trade with Korea.

Japan has more investment in the UK than it has in the rest of the EU combined, but a lot of it is there so as to access the EU single market. Again this is an opportunity for Ireland.

Mrs May is also beginning to discover that her hard line on immigration will have costs. 20% of employees on UK farms, and 29% of employees in UK food processing plants are EU nationals, who will lose their right to live and work in the UK.  

When the UK tries to negotiate trade deals with countries outside the EU, like India, it will find that it will face demands for more Indian migration to the UK, as Commissioner Hogan pointed out earlier this week.

UK Airports will find themselves losing business, when the UK has to leave the EU Open Skies Agreement with the United States. More US transit traffic will be routed through Dublin.

The UK will also have to try to join the European Common Aviation Agreement, as a separate member, if UK owned airlines are to have the right to fly passengers between EU airports. Rival airlines will not make it easy for them to join.

A sudden “no deal” Brexit would leave the UK outside the EU’s Aircraft Safety Agency’s jurisdiction, without a ready replacement.

After Brexit, the UK will have to set up 34 new national regulatory bodies to do work now being done for the UK by the EU Agencies, from which the UK will have excluded itself, because these agencies come under the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

An example of this is Euratom, a body confined to EU members, which regulates nuclear safety.  Amending the Euratom Treaty will not be simple.

UK farmers and food producers will find themselves facing tariffs of 35% on dairy exports, 25% on confectionary, and 15% on cereals. UK lamb production will be hard hit. These tariffs will have to be collected at the border here, and in Irish ports trading with Britain, and this will be the direct result of a sovereign UK decision.

If Mrs May wants to be able to make deals to extricate herself from some of these bad outcomes, she will need much more negotiating flexibility.

A lot will depend on what the Conservative Manifesto says. If it repeats the promise of a low cap on immigration, then Mrs May have less negotiating flexibility at after the Election than before.

HOW TO MINIMISE THE DAMAGE BREXIT WILL DO

As I have said, even if the UK decides to stay the EU Customs Union after all, additional barriers to trade  will go up at the border in Ireland, and between Ireland and Britain.

Ireland must use every legal means available to prevent this damage, including making full use of all the institutions set up in the Good Friday Agreement to persuade the UK to  continue to adhere to EU standards within the UK, even after it has left the EU.

For example, if, after Brexit, the UK decides , as part of its agenda of “taking back control “ to develops new “British standards” for

  • packaging ,
  • plant safety,
  • pharmaceutical safety, or
  • food safety,

the disruption to North / South trade in Ireland, and to trade between Ireland and the UK, will be immense.

Even slight differences in standards can add hugely to costs, and can require expensive duplication of testing and production lines. This will be the case even if there are no tariffs. Similar regulatory barriers could arise for the provision of services sold between Ireland and the UK.

Increasingly, international trade agreements are in fact about standards rather than tariffs.

As the only EU country with a land border with the UK, keeping harmony between EU and UK standards, will be disproportionately important for Ireland.

Since 1973, both parts of the island have been bound by almost identical rules, made under similar European Communities Acts, covering each jurisdiction, under which both of us have implemented EU laws, which have been interpreted in a uniform way, by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

All that may change on the day the UK leaves to EU.

The UK Prime Minister has announced that she will, later this year, introduce a “Great Repeal Bill”, to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act , under which EU laws automatically apply in the UK , and by which EU law has primacy over UK law.

The “Great Repeal Bill” would then come into full force on the day the UK actually leaves the EU.

This proposed “Repeal” Bill in misnamed because it will not actually repeal the EU laws, but simply declare that these same laws are now sovereign UK laws, independently of the EU, without altering a single comma.

But what happens after that?

DIVERGING STANDARDS COULD CREATE NEW TRADE BARRIERS

The Great Repeal Bill will  go on to  provide a mechanism whereby the UK can then quietly repeal, or amend, these EU laws, one by one, without reference to the EU.

This will be done by Ministerial orders, which cannot be amended, and are rarely even debated.  If these orders unilaterally change the standards to be met on the UK market, this could, overnight,  erect a new barrier to trade with Ireland and across the border here.

The same will happen if a UK Supreme Court decision interprets a rule the UK has inherited from the EU, in a manner that differs from the interpretation of the same rule by the ECJ. Overnight, we have a new trade barrier.

Of course, it will take many years for UK Ministers to go through every inherited EU directive and regulation, every amendment to them, and every court judgement interpreting them, and then to decide on which to keep, which to amend, and which to replace .

But all this will be done behind closed doors, under pressure from special interests.  All this could happen with no discussion with Ireland or with other EU countries. That is the logic of the Brexit rhetoric about “taking back control”

Theresa May has promised that this process will be subject to “full scrutiny and Parliamentary debate”, but this seems impractical because so many EU laws are involved. And the scrutiny and debate, if any, will be confined to Westminster.

She said nothing about scrutiny in the Parliament in Edinburgh, or in the Assemblies in Belfast or Cardiff, let alone any consultation with Dublin!   

This problem will get more and more severe as time goes on, as the UK seeks to justify its decision to leave the EU by introducing new rules and regulations of its own.

The British / Irish Intergovernmental Conference, set up under the Good Friday Agreement, must make this a permanent agenda item. It will have to meet much more often to keep up with the rapidly moving EU and UK regulatory agenda, to spot divergences that might create new trade barriers.  It will need a substantially enhanced secretariat, and as the initiator of Brexit, the UK government should come forward with concrete proposals on this.

Some of the laws being repatriated from the EU by the UK deal with matters that now fall within the competence of the devolved assemblies. These Assemblies will be able to make new rules of their own, which may differ from one another, which raises the theoretical possibility of new barriers to commerce within the UK itself.

The exact same former EU regulation could be interpreted in one way north of the Irish border, and in another south of the border.

AN IRELAND CLAUSE IN THE UK’S “GREAT REPEAL BILL” ?

What we can do to prevent all these disruptive and costly trends?

In my testimony in the House of Lords, I suggested that the proposed “Great Repeal Bill” contain a special “Ireland clause”.

This clause would require any UK Minister, or a devolved UK Assembly, which is contemplating making any unilateral UK amendment to an inherited “EU/UK” law, to give public notice of his intention to do so.

It should then be obliged formally to consult both the Irish Government, and the Northern Ireland Assembly on the matter.

Such an “Ireland clause”, should also provide for the monitoring of any divergences between the interpretations by the ECJ and by the UK courts, of the EU laws inherited by the UK.

In this way one could to identify anything that might cause a problem for any part of Ireland, or for Anglo Irish relations.  It would reinforce the work of the British Irish Intergovernmental Council, to which I referred earlier.

This would not avoid all the problems that will arise from Brexit, but it would should ensure that every step is taken with proper deliberation and foresight , and that further damage is not inflicted by accident .

THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT

There is another aspect of Brexit to which I must refer. That is its impact on the Good Friday Agreement.

The consent principle in the Good Friday Agreement said that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, defined as its status as either part of the UK or part of a united Ireland, could not be altered without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. That is not affected by Brexit.

But it is arguable that Brexit changes the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, in another sense, by taking it out of the EU.

This type of constitutional change was not envisaged at the time the Agreement was being negotiated, but,  if Brexit was on the cards then, I am sure the negotiators would have attempted to deal with matter.

Brexit will impact living standards in Northern Ireland. The CAP provides 60% of the cash income of Northern Ireland farmers. The 57% of all exports from Northern Ireland, which go to the EU, will suffer.

Strand Two of the Good Friday Agreement covers North/ South relations, and a strong North/ South dimension was important in ensuring the overall balance of the Agreement.

One of the key elements in Strand Two is the Special European Programmes Body, which helps spend EU monies on projects that promote closer North/ South relations.

When the UK takes Northern Ireland out of the EU, all that will change, and, in the absence of EU monies, Strand Two will lose an important part of its content.

The UK government, which is the initiator of Brexit, has to take responsibility for all these issues, and propose alternative ways forward, to strengthen both Strand Two and Strand Three of the Agreement.. This will require the continued use of the review procedures in the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements, in light of Brexit, as it evolves. This is a matter your Committee will probably wish to explore

WHAT IRELAND SHOULD DO NOW

In making its preparations, Ireland should act on the assumption that the UK will leave both the customs union and the single market.  While we should work for the best, we should prepare for the worst.

In our efforts to get the best outcome, and indeed to help the UK, we will only get the support we deserve from the other EU states, if we show we are fully committed to keeping the EU together. We cannot allow a perception to develop that we are half hearted about preserving and strengthening the EU. As a member of the euro, we are necessarily in the EU for the long haul.

Acting on the assumption of a hard Brexit, Ireland should adopt an aggressive strategy to improve its overall competitiveness, in other words, improve its ability to survive the worst outcome.

To deal with a bad Brexit outcome, Ireland must become hyper competitive. The right action agenda is to be found in the “Competitiveness Challenge”, presented to the government by the National Competitiveness Council.

As the Report points out, we start from a good position.

Ireland has the 5th highest productivity in the OECD, after Luxembourg, Norway, the US and Belgium.

In the ease of doing business, Ireland is in 5th place in the EU after Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Germany.

We should now aim now at first, not fifth, place in both of those tables!

The Competitiveness Council shows where there is room for improvement.

Our immediate competitor in many areas will still be the UK .

Comparing Ireland with the UK, using the World Bank Rankings measures of ease of doing business , the Competitiveness Council Report  says that,  for a business wanting to

  • get electricity, Ireland is in 33rd place, while the UK is in 17th place in the world
  • get a Construction permit, Ireland is in 38th place, while the UK is in 17th place
  • enforce a contract, Ireland is in 90th place in the world, while the UK is in 31st place (our case clearance rate in our courts is the worst in the EU)
  • trade across borders, Ireland is in 27th place, while the UK is in 13th place
  • get Credit, Ireland is in 32nd place , while the UK is in 20th place.

The remedy to each of these problems is different. It will usually involve action by several government Departments. So a “whole government” approach will be needed, with a narrow focus on dramatically improving Ireland’s competitiveness position in every area where our costs of doing business are too high.

The Taoiseach, and his office, are in an ideal position to drive this, because he has unique authority to clear away road blocks caused by disputes between Departments.  Making Ireland hyper competitive, and able to withstand the hardest of hard Brexits, would provide a unifying agenda for the New Politics, going beyond the Programme for Partnership government, which after all agreed was when Brexit seemed unlikely.

In fairness, the figures quoted by the Competitiveness Council show that for registering property, Ireland is 41st place while the UK is in 47th place, and for ease of paying taxes, Ireland is in 5th place while the UK is in 10th place. But even there we can do better.

If our aim is to be hyper competitive, that must influence our policy on public sector pay claims. That aim strengthens the case for setting up a “Rainy Day Fund” to meet unexpected fiscal eventualities, and the case for a strong Independent Parliamentary Budget Office.

We should not spend today, what we are unsure we will actually earn tomorrow

As our population ages, and the retired population inevitably increases, we will not be able to afford any work disincentives in our tax and income support systems.

We cannot afford to have so many households where no one is working, an area where Ireland is apparently worse than any other EU country

Nor will we will not be able to afford to narrow our tax base, as some propose. In fact we should be broadening it.

The likelihood of a hard Brexit should be the signal for a comprehensive action plan to make the Irish economy hyper competitive, starting now, even before the UK starts negotiating its withdrawal terms.

 THE EU IS A FRAGILE, VOLUNTARY,  UNION THAT CAN ONLY WORK IF THERE IS GIVE, AS WELL AS TAKE.

Meanwhile Ireland must work to make the EU more effective, and more visibly democratic.

Ireland must help the EU shake off its pessimism. It must defend the EU from unfair criticism. But it must also come forward with ideas for the reform and improvement of the EU.

There is no denying that the Brexit decision was a blow to the EU and created a risk that the 27 EU countries will start pursuing national interests at the expense of the common EU interest. So far there is no sign of this, and Ireland can claim a lot of credit for that.

The 27 EU states need to act resolutely to strengthen EU wide democracy, to ensure respect for EU rules, and to show that the EU can do business efficiently with the rest of the world.

The European Union is not a monolith. It is a voluntary Union of 28 states, with no independent tax raising power.

It operates on the basis of rules, which its 28 members must freely respect. If they fail to do so, the EU ceases to mean anything.

These rules are made under the authority of the EU’s Treaties, which have been ratified by all member states, and the Treaties can only be amended, if all 28 states agree.

If unanimity is the rule, the more members the EU has, the harder it becomes, by a form of geometric progression, for the EU to amend its Treaties.

A CLUB THAT CANNOT AMEND ITS RULES WILL FOSSILIZE

A club that has no power to change it basic rules will eventually fossilize and die.

The EU’s 28 members are, in theory, sovereign equals, regardless of differences in population or wealth.  But voting weights do recognise differences in size, on all issues where unanimity is not required.

The EU makes trade deals on behalf of its members, using the extra bargaining power that its size gives it. But because it negotiates on behalf of 28 states, not just one, it can be harder for the EU to finalise a trade deal that it would be for one state, negotiating alone.

In the case of some Trade deals, it is sufficient for them to be ratified by the European Parliament alone. In others, all national parliaments, and some regional parliaments, must ratify too. In these cases, the EU has much more difficulty being an effective trade negotiator.

COMPROMISES BETWEEN NATIONAL INTERESTS NEEDED IF EU IS TO DO TRADE DEALS

Likewise, if it becomes too difficult for the EU to complete trade agreements, because a few states within the EU hold up the agreement in order to advance a national interest, then the EU’s utility as a trade negotiator will fade away.

This was an argument  advanced by some of  those who favoured Brexit, namely that the UK could negotiate its own deals more easily outside the EU, without having to wait for 27 other countries to agree.

The European Commission conceded, under pressure from national governments facing early elections, that the Trade deal with Canada had to be ratified by the national parliaments of the 28 states, as well as by European Parliament and the  28 governments.

This was a risky decision and may hamper the EU’s ability to do trade deals.

If the EU’s deal with Canada had  failed because the Walloon Parliament in Namur  failed  to ratify it, years of work by Canadian and EU negotiators would have gone down the drain.

Other countries would then begin to doubt if negotiating with the EU is worth their time. The Brexit advocates would have won part of their argument.

A lot more is at stake here than the content of the agreement with Canada.

TREATY CHANGE MUST ALSO BE POSSIBLE

It has become accepted wisdom in every EU capital now that EU Treaty change is off the agenda. This is because of

  • The requirement to have a referendum in Ireland on a Treaty change involving a transfer of sovereignty
  • the voluntary decisions of France and the Netherlands to have referenda on certain EU matters,  and in the Netherlands  even on a minor agreement with Ukraine.
  • the expectation that a Treaty change would be preceded by a cumbersome  Convention.

The net result of all of this is that the EU will not consider Treaty changes, even ones that might make it more democratic.

If that remains the case, the EU will eventually freeze up, because it will not be able to respond to new circumstances, and its member states will have to look to other less democratic or transparent institutions than the EU, to advance their collective interests. One could even see NATO being called into service for more broadly defined “security“ purposes.

I agree there is no need for a comprehensive review of the Treaties, so soon after the Lisbon Treaty came into force. But a Treaty change to respond to concerns that emerged in the UK referendum campaign, for example changes to make the EU more visibly democratic and accountable, should be possible.

For example, Treaty changes could be envisaged to

  1. Have  the President of the European Commission be elected directly, in a two round election, by the entire electorate of the EU.
  2. Have the President of the Euro group be similarly elected by  the Euro zone countries
  3. Give National Parliaments of the EU, if a minimum number agree, a power to require the Commission to put forward, for consideration, a legislative proposal within the EU competence in the Treaties. National Parliaments already can delay EU legislation, so why not allow them make a positive proposal?

 

RESPECT FOR RULES BY MEMBER STATES IS AN EXISTENTIAL NECESSITY

If one or more member states get into a habit of failing to respect EU rules or directives, the EU ceases to be operational, particularly if the states failing to respect the rules are the bigger ones.

Last year, France has threatened to flout an existing EU directive, because efforts to amend it, in a direction France wanted, are being blocked by the national parliaments of 11 EU states under the procedures introduced in the Lisbon Treaty.

In response the then French Prime Minister, Michel Valls,  threatened not to implement the  directive at all,  something which would completely undermine EU rulemaking.

He  said

“If it is not possible to convince ( the 11 states to accept the amendments France wanted) … France will not apply this directive.”

That is a direct threat to the EU from a founding state. It is really dangerous and should not be countenanced.

 

THERESA MAY’S ELECTION

Theresa May has decided to call an early election, before the practical outworking of her Brexit strategy becomes obvious to voters. She wants to be free to modify her strategy, and ,for that, she needs a bigger parliamentary majority.

She claims otherwise. Instead she says she is calling the election because Opposition parties oppose her Brexit strategy. They don’t oppose it, actually. They have cooperated with it, to a point that makes little of parliamentary sovereignty.

The only opposition party that opposes her strategy outright are the Scottish Nationalists, who take that position because that is the way Scotland voted in the Referendum. In any event, the Scottish Nationalist Party could not bring Mrs May’s government down on Brexit, unless Labour, the Liberal Democrats and, most importantly, a significant number of Mrs May’s own Conservative MPs, voted with them, which is not at all likely to happen.

Rather more bizarrely, Mrs May justifies her call for an immediate General Election on the ground that the Labour Party has threatened to vote against the final agreement she may come back with, in two years time. What does she expect? That the main opposition party would give her a blank cheque on the terms of Brexit?!

Usually negotiators actually find it useful to be able to say, when looking for a concession, that if they do not get it, the overall deal might be opposed in Parliament .  If she is to be believed, Mrs May apparently wants to give up that negotiating chip.

Mrs May ostensibly defend the sovereignty of the UK Parliament. But now she is calling an election because the opposition will not promise not to exercise their sovereign parliamentary rights.

My own sense is that none of the reasons she has advanced are the real ones for which she has sought an early election.

She is seeking an election to increase her overall majority, so she will no longer be dependent on a hard core group of around 60 Euro hostile Conservative MPs, who hold disproportionate power at the moment because the Conservative overall majority is so small.

For these MPs hostility to the European Union has become a religion, a religion which brooks no argument, and a religion for which any economic sacrifice can be justified, even the sacrifice of the livelihoods of their own constituents. Mrs May does not want to find her day to day negotiations with the rest of the EU subject to the whim of these people, by whom the slightest compromise  with the EU 27will be portrayed as a betrayal.

It is important to remember that Mrs May, like the rest of her Party, have never taken much interest in how the EU works, in its procedures and rules, and in the compromises that underlie its very existence. She has this in common with many politicians in bigger European countries, who treat the EU as a sideshow to national politics.

So, even though her Party sponsored the idea of holding a Referendum on leaving the EU, she did not give much thought to what leaving the EU might actually mean, until the last few months, when it suddenly became something real, something that was going to happen. In a sense, she and her party, are now finding out a lot about the EU for the first time, just as they are leaving it!

Her first reaction to the Referendum was to get her Party behind her as their new Leader. So she told the Conservative Party Conference last year that she would go beyond the mere terms of the Referendum.

She would not just leave the EU.  She would refuse to join the European Economic Area (unlike non EU member Norway), and also refuse to join the EU Customs Union ( unlike non EU member Turkey).  This hard line bought the temporary quiescence of the Euro hostile MPs, up to and including on the  terms for triggering of Article 50.

But now come the actual negotiations.

This is where Mrs May’s rhetoric at the Conservative Party Conference, meets the reality of a rules based international trading system. In a rules based international trading system, unpleasant compromises are essential if  you are to persuade others are to open up their markets to your exporters,  to your bankers,  to your planes,  and to your people.

In a rules based international  trading system, you cannot, unilaterally, make, interpret and enforce the agreed rules, in a way that suits only you. There has to be a common system, which involves some concession of sovereignty.

You often have to accept an external enforcer, like the European Commission or an International Court.

And you often have to accept an external body interpreting the meaning of the rules, someone like the European Court of Justice, or a Disputes Panel of the WTO.

But this is unacceptable to those who have made national sovereignty into a religion. It is unacceptable to some of Mrs May’s Euro hostile MPs, and also, incidentally, unacceptable to some of the supporters of Donald Trump.

I have been reading publications of Conservative supporting think tanks, like the Bruges Group and “Leave means Leave”, and they are discovering now, how costly it will be for the UK to leave the EU Customs Union.

The UK will have to introduce Customs controls on the goods bought and sold between the UK and the EU. This will involve checking where the goods came from, if they are properly labelled, if they are safe, and if the tariffs due have been paid. The delays will be horrendous.

Customs clearance alone will add 8% to the cost of goods arriving by sea from Ireland or the rest of the EU.

At the moment  90million customs declarations have to be checked in the UK for goods arriving from outside the EU. Once the UK itself leaves the EU Customs Union, UK customs officials will have to check 390 million documents!

By leaving the EU Customs Union,  the UK will not only exclude itself from duty free access to the EU market, which represent over 50% of UK trade, but it will also lose the benefit of Trade agreement the EU has negotiated with 60 other countries, which account for a further  17% of UK exports.

For example, since the EU negotiated a trade deal with Korea ten years ago, UK exports to that country increased by 110%. Leaving the EU means giving that up, temporarily, and, perhaps, permanently.

Mrs May is also beginning to discover that her hard line on immigration will have costs. 20% of employees on UK farms, and 29% of employees in UK food processing plants are EU nationals, who will lose their right to live and work in the UK.   When the UK tries to negotiate trade deals with countries outside the EU, like India, it will find that it will face demands for more Indian migration to the UK.

UK Airports will find themselves losing business when the UK has to leave the EU Open Skies Agreement with the United States. More US transit traffic will be routed through Dublin. The UK will also have to try to join the European Common Aviation Agreement as a separate member, if UK owned airlines are to have the right to fly passengers between EU airports. Rivals will not make it easy for them.

UK farmers and food producers will find themselves facing tariffs of 35% on dairy exports, 25% on confectionary, and 15% on cereals. UK lamb production will be hard hit.

If Mrs May wants to be able to make deals to avoid some of these bad outcomes, she will need the sort of flexibility, that her Euro hostile backbenchers would not allow her.

That is why I think she is calling a General Election now.

The strategy may backfire.

If during the election, she is forced into explicitly ruling out various possible compromises with the EU, she will end up with LESS flexibility that she has now. .

A lot will depend now on what the Conservative Party manifesto says about how the practical problems of Brexit will be tackled. Will it deal with these issues specifically at all?  Will Theresa May be able to get through to 8 June relying on reassuring generalities about problems like customs delays, bureaucracy, higher air fares, the end of farmer income supports, migration policy after Brexit, and the loss of access to markets for British exporters?

Given that Mrs May is avoiding taking part in debates she may be able to avoid these questions, but six weeks is a long time in politics!

WHAT LESSON TO DRAW FROM THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY RESULTS?

In the recent Northern Ireland elections, the Democratic Unionists got 28.1% of the vote, Sinn Fein 27.9%,the Ulster Unionists 12.9%, the SDLP 11.9% and the Alliance Party 9.1%.

The fact Sinn Fein increased their share of the vote by a substantial 3.9 percentage points has led some commentators to  interpret this as a mandate to start negotiating towards a united Ireland.

There is some wishful thinking going on here. Of the 90 seats in the new Assembly,

  • 49 were won by parties that broadly support the continuation of the Union with Britain, while only
  • 39 were won by parties who want to replace that with a union with the rest of Ireland.

Incidentally the Alliance and Ulster Unionist Party, both moderate parties, but supportive of the existing constitutional position, increased their vote shares too,  by  2.1 and 0.3 percentage points respectively.

Putting a choice between the two unions, at the heart of the current political debate in Northern Ireland is likely to deepen sectarian divisions there, and make day to day compromise even more difficult to achieve.

To use a word Gerry Adams often used in another context, it is

“not helpful to the peace process”,

if , by ”peace process” we mean, in the first place, a reconciliation between the two communities in Northern Ireland.

Centering debate around whether one is for against a united Ireland, would make any attempt at creating an alternative to the Sinn Fein/DUP duopoly of power in Belfast, like the one attempted without success in the recent elections by the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, next to impossible.

FREEZING THE SECTARIAN DIVIDE

Indeed that may be one of the reasons the drum is being beaten for a united Ireland.

It is a good way of freezing politico/sectarian divisions. And that suits both Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Of course, as a tactic, it may also help Sinn Fein electorally in the Republic, because distant, unattainable, objectives, like a united Ireland or the restoration of the Irish language, have been useful, and reusable, rallying cries for other parties in the Republic in the past(notably by Fianna Fail when Mr  de Valera led them).

The case that Sinn Fein is making, for immediate agitation towards a united Ireland, was summed up in an article by an Irish Independent columnist, Martina Devlin.

She said

“The Border has to go. The case for Irish reunification is overwhelming – over time, the two parts of this island will be more prosperous together than apart.”

REPLACING THE UK SUBSIDY?

This seems to ignore the huge subsidy Northern Ireland receives from the UK (20% of its GDP), which the Republic, with a much smaller population and tax base, could not replace, especially if it itself  is suffering the huge dislocation of its trade pattern that will result from the island of Britain leaving the EU

Martina Devlin continued

                 “A united Ireland is the clearest way to minimise the fallout from Brexit, provided it can be handled sensitively and a carefully plotted, long-term approach taken.”

I fear this is not so.

A United Ireland would, in the context of Brexit, simply move the border from Newry to Larne. The costs on East/West trade between Ireland and Britain, caused by Brexit would all remain, but the British subsidy to Northern Ireland would be gone.

A UNITED NORTHERN IRELAND MUST COME FIRST

Now I know money is not everything. If the people of Northern Ireland are united in wanting to make new constitutional arrangements (whatever they are) work, they will work.

But Irish unity imposed by a simple majority of the population, overruling a large minority, who still want to stay in the UK, would NOT leave behind a united people, willing make big sacrifices for the common good of a united Ireland.

In my view, a united Northern Ireland must come first, and only when we have such unity can wider constitutional options be considered in a pragmatic way.

The recent Election did not help in that regard, and a Sinn Fein campaign for a united Ireland, will deepen divisions further.  We should recall the futile anti partition campaign of the late 1940’s, which did just that.

WOULD UK REALLY SUBSIDISE SECESSION?

Martina Devlin does try to address the financial problem of replacing the UK subsidy in the event that Northern Ireland  left the UK and joined a united Ireland.

She says

                                       “ An economic stimulus package needs to be put in place and Britain would have a responsibility to contribute. But, however expensive,  there would be an end in sight. The EU would have financial obligations, too. Perhaps Irish-American well-wishers might also put their hands in their pockets. The financial support package would need to cover at least one decade and possibly two, with a variety of targets including reorientating the entire business culture in the North.”

Given the current attitudes in Britain, this seems to me to be wholly naive.

The UK is reluctant to pay its share of the EU bills, contracted while the UK was a full voting member of the EU.

A post Brexit UK will, I believe , be a poorer country than it is today, something Ms Devlin does not address.

So it is hard to see it contributing for years to a place that had seceded from the UK, at the very time when the UK was also trying to prevent the secession of Scotland.

If the UK is unlikely to subsidise the secession of Scotland it is also unlikely to subsidise the secession of Northern Ireland.

SAVINGS?

Ms Devlin thinks there could be savings

       “On the financial front, it’s not all a drain. Economies of scale and merged services could achieve savings – one parliament, one health service, one education service, and so on.”

This is theoretically possible, but it is contrary to the scenario envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement, which provides for the retention of separate Northern institution and guarantees, even if ultimate sovereignty  is transferred from London to Dublin.

THE COST OF SECURITY

One also needs to consider the potential security risks, and consequent increases in police and military spending by our state, if a significant minority in Northern Ireland decided to resist the arrangements Ms Devlin advocates.

Resistance would be geographically concentrated. For example, parties supporting a united Ireland  received

  • only 3% of the vote in East Belfast,
  • 10% in Strangford and
  • 14% in Lagan Valley and East Antrim.

These security costs would fall on the Irish taxpayer.

HOW NOT TO PERSUADE MODERATE UNIONISTS

Finally Ms Devlin  says

             “Meanwhile, there are moderate Unionists who could be convinced about the benefits from reunification. Some of them realise the British have no interest in Northern Ireland and, after all, why be loyal to a government which feels no loyalty in return?”

This is true. I do not sense a deep emotional commitment in Britain to any part of Ireland or to its interests, as the Brexit vote has shown.

Loud talk, and flag waving about a united Ireland by Sinn Fein will undermine these very “moderate” unionists, of whom Ms Devlin writes so hopefully.

One would not just be asking “moderate Unionists” to be reasonable about a pragmatic arrangement. One would be asking them to cease to be Unionist. That would be asking them to change their identity, as they see it. That is no small matter.  There is more urgent work to be done.

Let us hope, now that the elections are over, that a pragmatic and united case can be agreed between Unionists and Nationalists about how to deal with Brexit, and then put  by them to Brussels, London and Dublin.

That is the job of new Assembly, and it should get on with it.

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