John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Page 2 of 46

THE RULE OF LAW UNDER THREAT…. ON BOTH SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC

WASHINGTON

The fact that the President of the United States has suggested that he might use his power to grant Presidential pardons to shield himself and his family from possible prosecution shows that he does not understand the constitution of his own country, or the “Western Values” which he vowed to defend in his recent speech in Warsaw.
A basic tenet of the rule of law and of Western values is that justice requires that one not be a judge in one’s own case.
In autocracies or absolute monarchies, the autocrat or monarch could be the judge in his or her own case. That does not apply in a constitutional democracy.
If the President is contemplating awarding himself or his family a pardon, he is acting as judge in his own case.
The United States institutions need to show they understand and are capable of applying these basic rule of law principles. They need to show that the President is subject to the Constitution.
This is necessary , if the United States is to continue to give the sort of moral leadership to the world that its citizens believe it is capable of giving.

WARSAW

Meanwhile the European Union faces its own problems over judicial independence.

Last Thursday the Polish Parliament passed a law that will allow for the sacking, and selective reappointment by the President, of the entire Constitutional Court.

This politicises the legal system of Poland, in an unacceptable way.

It may mean that court judgements in Poland will, in future, be driven by nationalistic or other politically motivated considerations, rather than by the words of the law.

If that were to happen, it would affect the rights of individuals and firms from other EU countries in their dealing with the Polish authorities.

What can the European Union do about this?

 

Article 7 of the EU Treaty allows the Union to sanction a member state which is in “clear breach” of the values of the European Union.
The values of the Union are defined in the Treaty as

“respect for
human dignity
freedom,
democracy,
equality,
the rule of law, and
respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”.

Some of these six values are open to widely differing interpretations, depending on one’s ideological preferences.
So the EU institutions be very cautious, and maintain an objective detachment, in the use of these powers under Article 7.
Of all of the values specified, the one that is easiest to define objectively, and with least controversy, is the value of the “rule of law”.

Indeed , without the rule of law, it would be hard to see how the other values could be effectively upheld.

So the European Commission is right to use its full powers in this matter, no matter what difficulties that may cause for it.

Poland has had fair notice of all this and should not be surprised. Other EU member states will be watching. Authoritarian tendencies are not confined to Poland.

Of course, any action that is taken will be condemned as “interference from Brussels”, but sometimes interference from Brussels will be what will be needed to uphold basic values.

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UKRAINE……A KEY TO EUROPE’S FUTURE

Control over Ukraine’s fertile land and natural resources has been a source of conflict throughout modern history.

The Russian occupation of Crimea, which is part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine, is the first forcible alteration an international boundary in Europe since the end of World two.

In Eastern Ukraine, the conflict between Russian backed militias and the Ukrainian Government led to the shooting down by the militias of a passenger airline full of Dutch holiday makers returning from the Far East.

Ukraine is a democracy, but is afflicted by corruption and by constant tension between its President and its legislature under its US style constitution.

Ukraine looks to the European Union for salvation, but the EU is turning inwards and giving priority to other problems.

In an attempt to understand the challenge, I read “The Gates of Europe” by Serhii Plokhy. It  is a history of Ukraine from the earliest times. Plokhy is a Professor of History in Harvard.

At the outset of the First World War, Ukraine was divided between the Russian and Austro Hungarian Empires. The between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Catholic Church, which is in communion with Rome but following Eastern rite, are active in Ukraine, and religious divisions have been a source of conflict in the past..

Both Russian and Ukrainian languages are spoken in the country, Russian more in the cities and in the east of the country.

The Ukrainian language is now  promoted as a badge of national identity, as Irish is in Ireland. Thanks to immigration from Russia the country is ethnically diverse, but partly because of high handed Russian actions, even ethnic Russians in Ukraine increasingly identify themselves as Ukrainian.

Plokhy traces the cultural and political influences that shaped the country in the past two millennia.

Ukraine was onn the frontiers of the Roman Empire. It came under the influence of Greeks of the Byzantine Empire from Constantinople, who introduced Christianity to the area in 989 AD

It was from Ukraine that Christianity was introduced to Russia, which partly explains the Russian view that Ukraine should not be separate from Mother Russia.

In 1240, Kiev fell to the Mongols, who ruled the area for 100 years. The Mongols were defeated in 1359 and Ukraine became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which was dominated by Poles and Lithuanians. The Grand Duchy’s Catholic religious policy was resented by Orthodox Ukrainians.

From 1590 to 1646, a series of risings by Cossacks (armed bands of native Ukrainians) weakened the Grand Duchy and oriented Ukraine towards Moscow and the Orthodox Church.

The autonomy enjoyed by the Cossacks within the Russian Empire was ended by Catherine the Great in the 1770’s, and that fuelled resentment.

Plokhy describes the tragedy of the First War, when Ukrainians fought on both sides.

At the end of the war, and during the Russian Civil War, Ukraine briefly became an independent state. That independence was ended by the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Civil War.

Plokhy shows how the Jews, who were numerous in Ukraine , became scapegoats.

Under Stalin in the 1930’s, Ukraine suffered a terrible famine because of Communist determination divert food supplies into the cities to help industrial expansion.

During the Second World War, which was fought over the territory of Ukraine, Ukrainian nationalists took up arms for the independence of their own country, against both the Nazis and the Soviets.

The pro independence fighting against the Soviet continued well into the 1950’s, but without any aid from the West.

Ukraine did comparatively well, while Stalin’s successor Khruschev, and his protégé Brezhnev, were   in charge of the Soviet Union.

Under Gorbachev, things got worse for Ukraine, especially in the aftermath of the Chenobyl nuclear disaster which affected 3 million people in Ukraine and where the risks to the population were partially covered up by the regime.

While it was the Baltic states and the Russian Federation, led by Yeltsin, which precipitated the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine took full advantage of it, and declared itself independent in 1991.

Interestingly the US, which favoured independence for the Baltic states, opposed it for Ukraine at that time. President Bush senior foresaw the effect Ukrainian independence would have on Russian opinion.

As an independent country, Ukraine shared the economic collapse in most post Soviet states caused by the stress of adjusting from a Communist to a market economy. Unlike Russia , Ukraine does not have vast natural gas reserves, but, also unlike Russia, it has remained a democracy.

This is an important book, because it deals with a country that could become a source of conflict between EU countries and the Russian Federation in the foreseeable future.

Russia feels the Ukraine should be part of its “sphere of influence”, but the EU rejects the notion of “spheres of influence”.  Many in the EU believe Ukraine could eventually be eligible to be an EU member (something that most Ukrainians would like but the Russians would hate).

In some circumstances, Ukrainian membership of the EU could benefit Russia, but nobody in Moscow sees it that way……..at least, not yet.

 

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WILLIAM T COSGRAVE…FOUNDER OF THE IRISH STATE

I recently read “Judging WT Cosgrave” by Michael Laffan.

Published by the Royal Irish Academy this is a very well written, and entertaining, account of the life of the founder of the Irish state.

It is illustrated with a great collection of photographs, of people who figured in William Cosgrave’s life, and of documents on the time, including of the death sentence passed on him for his participation in the 1916 Rebellion in Dublin.  The sentence was commuted but he did go to prison.

WT Cosgrave was born in James Street in Dublin and his family had roots in Kildare and Wexford.

He joined the Sinn Fein Party of Arthur Griffith and was first elected to Dublin Corporation for that party in 1909 for the area in which he lived.  He took a deep interest in housing policy, at a time when many Dubliners lived in terrible conditions.

Released from jail after the Rebellion in early 1917, he was selected to stand in the by election for the Kilkenny City  seat in the House of Commons, that arose from the death of John Redmond’s closest friend and Parliamentary colleague, Pat O Brien.

Such was the dominance of Redmond’s Party until then, that O Brien had been re elected unopposed in the two previous General Elections. The Kilkenny City constituency was the smallest in the country, with less than one tenth the population of the largest (East Belfast).

The by Election took place 100 years ago on 10 August 1917. WT Cosgrave defeated the Irish Party candidate, a member of Kilkenny Corporation, John McGuinness , by  772 votes to 392.

Interestingly, notwithstanding the 1917 defeat, the McGuinness family are still prominently involved in Kilkenny politics at both local and national level.

In accordance with Sinn Fein policy, WT Cosgrave did not take his seat in the House of Commons. He did continue to be an active member of Dublin Corporation.

In his book, Michael Laffan deals with Cosgrave’s work in the shadow government established by Dail Eireann in 1919. This government was illegal in the eyes of the authorities, and its members lived in constant fear of arrest.

WT Cosgrave took no direct part in the negotiation of the Treaty of 1921, which provided the legal basis for the establishment of the Irish state. But within the Dail Cabinet, his vote tipped the balance in favour of acceptance of the Treaty, much to the disappointment of Eamon de Valera, who had been close to Cosgrave up to that.

During the subsequent Civil War over the Treaty, Arthur Griffith died, and Michael Collins was killed. As the most experienced surviving political leader the role of leading the pro Treaty government fell to WT Cosgrave. He prosecuted the Civil War to a successful conclusion and built a strong and stable state, on what appeared at the time to be very unpromising foundations.

He abandoned Collins’ policy of destabilising Northern Ireland.

As early as 1922, according to Laffan, Cosgrave

argued that military or economic pressure against the Belfast government would not bring about reunification, while a peaceful policy had at least some chance of protecting Northern Catholics.

During the Civil War, pro Treaty members of Dail and Senate were targeted by opponents of the Treaty. 37 houses belonging to Senators were razed. Cosgrave’s own home was burned. His uncle was murdered.

Even after the Civil War was officially over, on one night in 1926, 12 Garda barracks were attacked by the IRA. The cost of security and reconstruction after the Civil War made austerity in other areas of government spending inevitable.

Cosgrave was a constitutional democrat who accepted the results of elections, unlike many who held power in other European countries in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

As President of the Executive Council (Taoiseach), he had less power than one might expect. Under the Free State constitution, he could not, at his own sole initiative, sack Ministers, who were supposed to serve for the life time of the Dail. He did persuade a number of them to resign.

Cosgrave wanted to stamp out jobbery in the public service, and was responsible for the setting up of the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissions, which provided for recruitment on merit rather than on the basis of political connections. This was vitally important, as recent experience in other countries, like Greece, shows.

While Cosgrave was a robust and witty election campaigner, right up to the time he eventually stood down as Fine Gael party leader in 1944, he was not much interested in the details of party organisation.

He stuck rigidly to the terms of the Treaty, and did not use it as a stepping stone to further independence as his successor, de Valera, did.

After his retirement, he served as a member of the Racing Board. He was a man of deep religious faith and counted members of the clergy among his closest friends.

This is an excellent book and well worth reading.

A Commemorative lunch to mark the centenary of WT Cosgrave’s victory in the Kilkenny City by election on 10 August 1917 will be held in Langton’s Hotel, John Street, Kilkenny  on Saturday 15 July.

The guest of honour will be WT Cosgrave’s son, Liam Cosgrave.

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To make Brexit work, Britain needs to show Europe it cares

The EU has bent over backwards for Britain during its membership. Now, during negotiations to leave, it is Britain’s responsibility to return the favour

Published in The Guardian on Saturday 1 July 2017

The British government is perhaps discovering, after the first round of negotiations, that it needs a complete change of perspective if it is to make a success of Brexit. Above all, it needs to start seeing things through the eyes of the other 27 EU members – the small nations as well as the big and powerful.

It also needs to manage the expectations of the British people so that every compromise – for example the Brexit secretary, David Davis, having to accept the timetable laid down by the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier – is not interpreted as a crushing defeat at the hands of enemies, but rather as an inevitable result of pulling out of an institution as legally and politically complex as the EU.

It is important for UK negotiators to remind themselves, every day, that Brexit is a British initiative. Because it is the initiator, the chief responsibility for making Brexit work for the 27 remaining EU countries rests with Britain. If Brexit damages the rest of Europe, Britain has a primary responsibility to find a way to mitigate that damage.

The remarkable thing about the discussion in the UK, over the past year, is that no ideas have been forthcoming on how to resolve the problems Brexit will cause for other EU countries. The only thought has been about what the UK should want for itself.

The EU is a rules-based institution, and EU membership is attractive for smaller countries, like Ireland, precisely because it is a rules- based institution, rather than one based on the exercise of raw power.
A country that has left the EU, and is no longer willing to submit to its common rules and to the jurisdiction of the court that interprets those rules, cannot expect to retain the main benefits of membership. That would undermine the EU’s essential nature.

Following the debate in the UK, one might think Brexit was something that was being done by the EU to an unwilling Britain, rather than the reverse.
It was Britain’s free decision to join the union 44 years ago, and since then the other members have done their best to accommodate British needs. It was exempted from aspects of EU policies such as the euro, the Schengen passport-free zone, justice and home affairs cooperation and, for a time, the social chapter of the EU treaties.

The UK’s budget contribution was modified through a rebate, and agricultural policy was modified.

And throughout, Britain remained a full voting member, with immense ability to stop policies it did not like. The UK was, you might say, having its cake and eating it.

Now that it is at last starting to negotiate to leave the EU, Britain may get a greater sense of what it is freely giving up. It will lose common arrangements on everything from flights taking off and landing, lorries on the roads, the safety of food, the movement of workers, and many more matters on which agreed standards have been built up over the past 44 years of painstaking work. It will lose the benefits of hundreds of treaties the EU has negotiated with other countries.

The UK will have to negotiate a new deal on every topic, then agree a procedure for subsequently amending, enforcing, and interpreting each one. This is what the Swiss, with their 120 different treaties with the EU, currently enjoy: a lot of very unproductive work. But it is the path the UK has chosen.

I told a London audience, long before the referendum, that as an Irishman I would regard a British decision to leave the EU – after four decades during which our two countries were bound together by our common EU membership – as an “unfriendly act” towards a neighbour. I have not changed my mind.

Notwithstanding that, I know Irish ministers and diplomats will use both their deep insight into British needs, and their highly developed understanding of EU deal-making, to find creative ways of reframing the difficult issues that will arise in this negotiation.

Ireland will be on the other side of the negotiating table from Britain, but I know too that it will aim to minimise the damage this divorce will inevitably cause. It will seek, for example, to use institutions, like the British-Irish intergovernmental council, as forums for creative thinking.
Even if it is not a member itself, a strong EU is important for Britain. Hard as it may seem, Britain needs to show that it is thinking about how that can be achieved, if it wants a reasonable Brexit outcome.

 

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ON TYRANNY

Recently I read

“On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons from the twentieth Century” by the historian Timothy Snyder.

Snyder is a specialist on the history of central and eastern Europe and has studied the origins and evolution of the genocidal policies of Hitler and Stalin. He is a Professor of History in Yale.

“On Tyranny “ is a short book and can be read in a few hours.

The thesis of the book is summed up well in the quotation

“ In politics, being deceived is no excuse”

from Leszek Kolokowski, a Polish philosopher .

The quotation, and Snyder’s book, are addressed to all citizens of advanced societies ,rather than just to politicians.

Drawing on the experience of the 1930’s and 1940’s, Snyder attempts to show how, in Germany in 1933 and in Russia in 1990, citizens conspired in their own deception.

They voted for authoritarian options because they were tired of  taking responsibility.

Snyder fears a similar development is taking shape in the United States. This is as a result of a blocked political system, and the substitution of organised partisanship for compromise. Social media add to this blockage by allowing voters to isolate themselves from points of view other than those with which they already agree.

Snyder  argues that this creates the conditions in which tyrants could take power. While he overstates his case, he is right when he says

“Post truth is pre fascism”

If voters accept lies without critical examination, just because the lie feels right, they are liable to elect the wrong politicians.

The more complex political issues become, the more likely it is that voters will give up on trying to make intelligent choices, and opt instead for emotionally satisfying simplifications. The Brexit vote in the UK is an example of this.

 Fears of outsiders or distrust of elites are easier to whip up than is support for a complex, and costed, political programme. Ill defined threats like “terrorism” or “extremism” incline voters to accept restrictions on their liberty and their privacy. Voters come to believe that they have no choice, and no responsibility.  As Snyder puts it,

“The politics of inevitability is a self induced intellectual coma”.

 

 

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IS THIS A CONFLICT IN WHICH THE WEST SHOULD TAKE SIDES?

This article by Robert Hunter, a former US Ambassador to NATO, is well worth reading

It shows the risks of current US policy in the Middle East. Under successive US Administrations a close bond has developed between the US and two countries, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

This has involved the West in taking sides in a civil war within Islam, taking the side of the Sunni  against the Shia, notably in the vicious civil war in Yemen. This is no business of the US.

These bonds have also made the reaching of an accommodation with Iran exceptionally difficult. There is a danger that the nuclear deal with Iran will be allowed to collapse.

They involve tolerating Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza which make a two state solution physically and geographically impossible.  The alternative to a two state solution is integration of the occupied territories into Israel, with equal voting rights for all, but that would change the fundamental character of Israel. So the military occupation continues, forty years after the war ended….

European countries are geographically nearer to the Middle East than is the United States, and are not self sufficient in energy, as the US is.

But the European Union seems to have no influence on US policy in this area,  which directly affect Europe’s interests.  

Traditionally Ireland took an even handed approach to these issues. It needs to assert itself on these matters within the EU.

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HELMUT KOHL

I am very sad to learn of the death of Helmut Kohl.

Along with President Gorbachev, he was the most important constructive European leader of the past century.

Underestimated initially, he was a man with a deep sense of history.

I remember him  describe movingly how close relatives (including his older brother Walther) had died in both the First and Second World Wars, and said that that was one of the reasons   why he was  absolutely determined that war  should  never happen again in Europe.

He understood that the pre war system of relations between states in Europe had to be fundamentally changed, if peace was to be guaranteed.

While he was the man who achieved a united Germany, he also wanted to ensure that a united Germany would be one that would be in total harmony with its neighbours.

He saw the European Union, and the euro, as new arrangements that would tie the interests of his native Germany so closely with all its neighbours, that conflict between them would be unthinkable ever again.

He was prepared to sacrifice the independent Deutschsmark to build a European structure of peace. He understood that there are some causes that transcend economics

He came to Ireland on a state visit, at my invitation when I was Taoiseach, and I met him numerous times while he was Chancellor, and afterwards at EPP meetings during the Convention on the Future of Europe.

He was an inspiring figure, who could be frank to the point of bluntness, if he felt that was what was needed to achieve his goal of profound unity among Europeans.

 

 

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AUSTIN DEASY RIP

I wish to pay tribute to Austin Deasy, long time TD for Waterford, and a distinguished Minister for Agriculture, who dies recently.

Austin was forthright in his views and worked hard for Irish farmers. He was a courageous politician and will be greatly missed.

I extend sympathy to all his family.

 

Statement by John Bruton, former Taoiseach

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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

 

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THERESA MAY IS NEGLECTING HER RESPONSIBILITY FOR NORTHERN IRELAND….AND SINN FEIN IS RUNNING AWAY FROM RESPONSIBILITY

I found this article  by Brian Walker, reproduced  below, about the neglect of the implications of Brexit for Northern Ireland to be particularly interesting.

Although Mrs May promised “no return to the border of the past”, her Brexit Secretary admits he has no idea how this can be achieved.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein is finding participation in power sharing, in a time of limited resources, too difficult. It prefers street politics to responsibility.

There is a lot of happy talk about “a united Ireland”, with no discussion of what that would mean for the rest of the country in terms of tax increases, expenditure cuts, reduced social cohesion, and increased spending on security.

I am afraid many on my side of the border give as little thought to to the real complexities of governing Northern Ireland, as many UK voters gave to what Brexit would mean for Ireland, on 23 June 2016.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The Irish government is pursuing Northern Ireland’s interests more actively than the UK government

Posted on May 23, 2017 by The Constitution Unit

Northern Ireland has been on the sidelines of the UK general election campaign, despite continuing political deadlock and the major unresolved questions resulting from Brexit. Brian Walker suggests that this reflects a general disengagement with Northern Ireland from the May government, which has taken the view that the North’s political issues are for their politicians to sort out. The Irish government can now be said to be pursuing Northern Ireland’s interests more actively.


Northern Ireland is accustomed to being tucked away on the sidelines of a UK general election. While it is part of the constitutional nation, it is barely part of the political nation, if that is defined by electing members of the UK government. (Scotland look out!). Its electoral cycle and political interests can fundamentally clash with those of the government at Westminster. ‘Westminster will always put its own interests first, even if ours are about life and death’, is a familiar refrain. The snap 1974 ‘Who Governs Britain’ general election did for the first fragile power sharing Executive within weeks of its formation when voters returned a full house of MPs bent on bringing it down. Power sharing did not return for a quarter of a century.

The collapse of the 2016 Assembly

Power sharing suddenly collapsed in the New Year under the impact of the Remain referendum result locally, which put the minority coalition partner Sinn Fein on the winning side and provided them with a test run for a bigger challenge. Devolved government remains in limbo, at least until after the snap general election on 8th June. In Ireland many nationalists rate Brexit as creating the biggest crisis since partition almost a century ago. Unionists and the British government are more circumspect.

Before the EU referendum, the Assembly had seemed to be going quite well. It had survived two terms with deadlocks but avoided collapse. Nationalists seemed broadly content with the constitutional status quo. The Sinn Féin vote had dipped and the DUP were comfortably ahead by ten out of 108 seats. A Fresh Start agreement brokered by the British and Irish governments at the end of 2015 ended a deadlock over welfare cuts that had lasted a year. It even led to behind the scenes talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin to settle a new style budget, as they campaigned for the Assembly election of 2016.

But the combination of a regional Remain majority, a bitter row over holding the DUP First Minster Arlene Foster responsible for a botched renewables heating scheme and the fatal illness of deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness created enough combustible material for Sinn Féin to pull out of the Assembly early this year, obliging the British government to call another election. The campaign unleashed a flood of resentment at what republicans regarded as DUP majoritarian behaviour and lack of respect for Irish culture. In particular, they pointed to the failure of unionists and the British government to implement totemic equality measures like the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights provided for in the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish Language Act provided for in the St Andrew’s Agreement.

Unionists as usual saw Sinn Féin as exaggerating minor grievances to advance the republican cause but were thrown on the defensive over resisting Sinn Féin’s demand for Foster to be suspended from office. A nationalist ‘surge’ in turnout in the Assembly election that followed in March, bluntly to ‘stick it to Arlene Foster’, brought Sinn Féin within two seats of replacing her as First Minister, as the overall nationalist result overturned the unionist bloc majority for the first time. The Sinn Féin boycott won the endorsement of their voters.  Northern Ireland had turned a chapter. The Westminster election on 8 June will be another sectarian contest to gain advantage in the existential question of Irish unity, ahead of the interparty talks on the Assembly’s future which it is hoped will resume immediately afterwards.

The political scene – changing utterly?

There are profound doubts that the talks can succeed anytime soon. It remains a sticking point for Sinn Féin for Foster not to return to office until a public inquiry rules on her conduct in about a year’s time. Moreover, when the prospect of a hard border began to emerge, Sinn Féin quickly saw the political possibilities. A re-erected border would not only be a throwback to an unlamented past; it offers a potential new route to a united Ireland. Perhaps the time has come for Sinn Féin to abandon the frustrations of power sharing in a coalition of opposites, and build on the nationalist-dominated Remain majority to create momentum for a united Ireland within the EU, launched by a border poll, followed if necessary by another poll in seven years time as the Good Friday Agreement permits?

‘She doesn’t care’

The May government’s response to the Assembly breakdown is strikingly different from the close involvement of the Blair years, when peace through paramilitary disarmament and disbandment was the main objective. Without such a big issue to compel her attention, Theresa May has followed the Cameron precedent and has remained immune to appeals from local politicians and civil society to intervene personally. ‘Leave it to themselves to sort out’ is the mantra. This UK government displays less sensitivity to the Northern Ireland implications of key policy issues than the old days of the peace process. For instance, motivated it would seem by the Prime Minister’s frustrations over deporting Abu Qatada and a visceral dislike of European courts, the Conservative manifesto looks forward to a review of the Human Rights Act when the Brexit process has concluded, even though the HRA is entrenched in the Good Friday Agreement and any change is strongly opposed by Northern nationalists and her Irish government partners.

May’s former junior minister at the Home Office, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, paid more attention to his party than his ministerial interests when he spoke out in favour of halting prosecutions of soldiers for actions long ago, giving support to a Conservative backbench campaign first sparked by what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than Northern Ireland. It therefore came as no surprise to local opinion when Sinn Féin rejected him as a mediator in interparty talks to get the Assembly going again. Brokenshire has remained on the sidelines, his role largely limited to extending time limits for the fitful and so far unproductive talks without an active chair, an agreed agenda or any obvious sense of direction. His main leverage is to threaten another Assembly election in what would be Northern Ireland voters’ twelfth trip to the polls since the Westminster election of 2010. In fact creeping direct rule restored by primary legislation is the more likely option if the talks drag on much beyond the summer Orange marching season.

‘Our, precious, precious Union’

To her critics May is over-identifying her successful management of the Conservative Party with British national interest. She is uniting the Conservatives around a ‘hard Brexit’ to see off the challenge of UKIP in England and the threat of Scottish independence from the SNP. As she has no real party interest to guide her she has a tin ear for Northern Ireland. But by identifying withdrawal from the EU on hard Brexit terms with a stronger United Kingdom so closely, she may be increasing the longer term threat to its survival.

With some cause no doubt, she distrusts the devolved governments where nationalists are in power, although she is careful not to slap down Sinn Féin. A  proper reluctance to takes sides against Sinn Féin’s revived pressure for Irish unity may be one reason why she has not intervened meaningfully in the Assembly stand-off. But it contrasts with her refusal to authorise a second Scottish referendum on independence even after a vote in favour of it in the Scottish Parliament.

On Brexit May rejected nationalist arguments that the Remain votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland gave them the mandate to pursue different courses from England and Wales. The case to remain in the single market and the customs union pressed by nationalists in Scotland and both parts of Ireland was rejected without a public dialogue before the Article 50 withdrawal terms were published. As endorsed by the Supreme Court in the Miller judgment, negotiating EU withdrawal is a reserved matter for Westminster, full stop. The Sewel convention was brushed aside as easily as the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. If May’s government seems to have reverted to the character of a centralised unitary state, it has also increased the stakes in the next battles over the future of the UK.

The Irish view of Brexit

The Irish see Brexit as bad for Ireland and bad for Britain, an aberration of English nationalism. Because of the land border with the EU, Northern Ireland will be the UK region most adversely affected by the immediate impact of Brexit and the long term effects on the Republic may be greater than on the UK, hitting £60 billion a year two-way trading. Agribusiness and the energy market are substantially integrated. More than 40 per cent of Irish agri-food and drink exports go to the UK market, compared with 31 per cent to the rest of the EU. Fifty-two per cent of Northern Ireland exports go to the EU, including 38 per cent to the Republic of Ireland. Eighty-seven per cent of farm income in Northern Ireland comes from EU. The Irish greatly fear a British policy of cheap food imports that would shut off their farm exports.

As Brexit negotiations begin later in June, the British strategy remains opaque while the EU is pledging transparency. Now that the initiative has shifted to the EU, the Irish government has embraced the interests of Northern Ireland on the grounds that the whole island is crucially affected. While this has ruffled feathers on the Conservative right, the British government is ‘relaxed’.

In his swansong as Taoiseach, Enda Kenny made two important gains with his EU colleagues. After settling EU citizen rights and free movement and the cost of Britain’s ‘divorce bill’, he secured third place in the EU’s order of negotiating priorities for avoiding a hard Irish border, a factor ‘of paramount importance… to protect the peace and reconciliation process’.

Then at the EU summit in May, following the precedent of a united Germany, the leaders agreed a declaration that ‘the entire territory’ of a united Ireland would be part of the EU in the event of a successful future referendum on unity, allowing Northern Ireland to automatically rejoin the EU. The Irish are at pains to point out that this in no way undermines the constitutional guarantees of the Good Friday Agreement and that they are opposed to holding a border poll in the foreseeable future.

The ideal for both governments is to leave things as much as possible as they are, including open trade and common citizenship through the British Isles. The Irish will argue for a Brexit transition period of at least two years, which they hope will extend indefinitely. The Irish analysis of economic relationships concludes that if continuing membership of the single market and the customs is excluded by the British the EU should offer ‘special status’ for the North, as close to single market membership it as possible. Nobody believes this can be done without custom checks to prevent illegal third country trading in both directions. The Irish are working independently on solutions a few miles south of the actual border on the Dublin-Belfast motorway. These would involve joint EU/Irish-British paperwork, electronically monitored self assessment by the big carriers, and rare spot checks for motorists no more intrusive on the main route that the toll booths further south. However, there are hundreds of other routes to be considered.

British and Irish positions compared

The British are sceptical about achieving a special deal for Ireland anytime soon. As the Brexit secretary David Davis has pointed out: ‘How on earth do you resolve the issue of the border with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless you know what our general borders policy is, what the customs agreement is, what our trade agreement is. It’s wholly illogical’. To be fair, the Irish are privately every bit as sceptical.

The Irish argue that the EU treaties underpin the entire Good Friday Agreement. Under the GFA everyone in the North can opt for Irish and therefore continuing EU citizenship. EU citizens could therefore be marooned in alien territory. The Irish are concerned that their rights cannot be guaranteed without the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The British demur: most problems have their solutions in existing bilateral arrangements such as the common travel area.

In all of this the British are essentially bystanders at this stage. The Conservative manifesto pins faith on achieving ‘a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement’Apart from the obsession with identity politics, other old realities remain. For all the concerns about the north-south integration of agribusiness, energy and tourism, the British market for Northern Ireland is around seventeen times greater than the Irish market. Faced with the prospect of unity, Ireland would balk at replacing the £10billion annual subvention from Westminster.

But in one key area, the Irish could prove more effective than the British. With the election of a new Taoiseach to head the minority coalition, a general election in the Republic cannot for long be delayed. Both main governing parties, Fine Gael currently and a reviving Fianna Faíl, have it in their power to state terms to Sinn Féin that their eligibility to join a future coalition in the Republic would depend on their returning to the Assembly in the North. While the Conservative manifesto makes the remarkable admission (no doubt with Scotland mainly in mind) that the UK government ‘has in the past tended to devolve and forget’, followed by ‘we will put that right’, the British have no comparable leverage. Whatever the outcome of the EU withdrawal negotiations, the balance of power over Northern Ireland has shifted a little towards Dublin.

About the author

Brian Walker is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow and media adviser at the Constitution Unit. He is a former political editor for BBC Northern Ireland.

 

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