John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

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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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AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THE LATE JAMES DOWNEY

Recently I read

“In my own time, inside Irish politics and Society”

by the Irish political journalist, James Downey, who died in 2016.

Downey was from Dromahair, Co Leitrim, and the son of a teacher who was widowed when the author was only two years old. His account of his early life, and of the social and political conditions in Leitrim in the 1930’s and 1940’s is good.  His family were split politically and his mother’s people were anti Treaty, whereas the majority of Leitrim opinion supported the Free State.

But his father was apparently approached to stand for election by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, so divisions of allegiance may not have been all that stark. Mr Downey senior declined both opportunities.

Jim Downey attended Newbridge College, as a boarder,  and was good at writing English essays.

He always wanted to be a journalist and got his first job with the Carlow Nationalist. He subsequently worked for the Irish Press, the Irish Times and finally the Irish Independent.

He was politically active in Clann na Poblachta, supported Noel Browne in the 1950’s, and stood for the Labour Party in the 1969 election, as a running mate for Frank Cluskey in Dublin Central.

A great part of the book is taken up with the internal politics of the Irish Times, of which Downey had hopes of becoming editor at the time that that job went to Conor Brady in 1986. He gives vivid, but probably jaundiced, pen pictures of some of the personalities involved.

I found the part of the book dealing with the Arms Crisis of 1970 to be the most interesting. Downey is highly critical of Jack Lynch, who seems to have vacillated, and trusted nobody, on the Northern issue. He  ignored, or took no interest in, the dangerous activities of his Ministers, Neil Blaney and Charles J Haughey.

Haughey seems to have believed Blaney represented the authentic Fianna Fail vision and followed his line of the troubles in Northern Ireland on that basis.

Downey says the sacking of Miceal O Morain by Lynch, at the same time as Haughey and Blaney were sacked in 1970 , was completely unfair. It associated O Morain in the public mind with activities in which he had no part.

Downey’s own contradictions emerge in how he deals with the role he played, along with the  Irish Independent editor Vinny Doyle, in writing the front page editorial of the paper, just before the 1997 General Election. The editorial was entitled “Payback Time” and called for the ejection of the then government.

This front page editorial was a radical departure for the paper, and this departure was designed to  get attention and influence the election result. This might have been understandable if it arose from an analysis of the political and economic situation that had good grounds in fact. But this was not so.

The editorial promulgated the myth that the public had been “bled white” by the taxation policies of the outgoing government, in its short two and a half years in office. It excoriated the fiscally careful policies of the Rainbow Coalition and called for “payback”, in the form of tax cuts that it supposed would follow from by the election of Fianna Fail .

 Although he wrote much of the editorial, Downey also claims that he also supported the fiscally conservative policies of the outgoing Finance Minister, Ruairi Quinn.  This is self contradictory.

To the extent that this editorial assisted the coming to office of Fianna Fail and the Progressive democrats in 1997, on a populist wave of anti tax sentiment, it contributed to the fiscal recklessness, and the inevitable crash, which followed .

It was remarkable that, in  Ireland at that time, that a major newspaper would have adopted such a populist fiscal policy, when the memory of the consequences of similar populism in the 1977 election was so fresh in their minds. It shows that errors can be repeated over and over, without lessons being learned, even by those supposedly following public affairs closely

The Irish Independent seems to have believed that , if Fianna Fail made tax cuts, they would then also make (unspecified) spending cuts to pay for them. In this, these supposedly hard boiled and realistic journalists showed an innocence that is really hard to credit.

It also shows that errors can be repeated over and over, without lessons being learned.

This episode is worth thinking about, as we face the possibility of another election in the next year or so.

 

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AN ITALIAN MILITARY HERO

“Amedeo, the true story of an Italian’s war in Abyssinia”, by Sebastian O Kelly, should be made into a film.

It is the vivid and action filled life story of Amedeo Guillet, a member of the Italian nobility who was a show jumper, a soldier and a diplomat.  His family was  closely associated with the monarchy of the House of Savoy, under which Italy became a united country, and his loyalty was the that family rather than to Mussolini.

Amedeo fought in the Italian conquest of Ethiopia in 1936, in the Spanish Civil War in 1938, and in the Italian defence of its East African Empire (present day Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia)  against the British in 1941.

During the last of these wars he led the last successful cavalry charge in modern warfare.

When the Italian conventional forces were eventually defeated, Amedeo continued a guerrilla campaign against the British. He was able to recruit Eritreans, who feared , correctly, that British victory would place them under Ethiopian rule. In a sense the Italo/ British war of 1941 was a precursor to the long and bloody Eritrean war of Independence which lasted until quite recently.

When the tide of war turned and his guerrilla campaign was achieving little, he sought refuge in neutral Yemen on the other side of the Red Sea. There he became a trusted advisor of the Imam.

After the end of World War two, Amedeo Guillet entered the Italian diplomatic service and was, successively, Italian Ambassador to Yemen, to Morocco and to India.

He had a lifelong interest in horses and had been a founder of the successful Italian Show jumping team, which took part in the 1936 Olympics. When he retired, because of his love of horses, he came to live in Kentstown , County Meath. He hunted with the Tara Harriers and the Meath Hunt up to an advanced age.

Sebastian O Kelly befriended Amedo late in his life, and has written a fascinating life story.

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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.

 

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Ireland Has The Most Progressive Income Tax System In The EU

This note examines the latest OECD data (Taxing Wages 2017) on the progressivity1 of the Irish income tax system in comparison with other OECD countries. It finds that according to OECD measures the Irish system is the most progressive and that taxes in Ireland are relatively low on those with average incomes and below.

Income Tax

Ireland has the most progressive income tax system (including employee social insurance contributions) in the EU. The tax paid by a single person on two-thirds average earnings(average earnings are just under €35,600) is the fifth lowest in the OECD (out of 35 countries) after Mexico, Chile, Korea and Israel. If raised to Danish or German levels, a single person in Ireland would pay over €5,000 more in tax on an income of about €24,000.

The tax paid by a single person on average earnings is the 28th highest in the OECD. A single worker on an average income pays about €14,500 in income tax and social insurance contributions in Belgium compared to over €6,830 in Ireland a difference of over €7,650.

The tax paid by a single person on one and two-thirds average earnings (€59,400) pays €18,660 in tax which is slightly above the OECD average. A person at the same income level in Belgium would pay €28,800 in tax- just over €10,000 more.

A major reason for the relatively low direct tax burden in Ireland is that PRSI is lower here. In many higher tax countries PRSI funds pay-related unemployment, pension and health benefits while the Irish system provides flat-rate benefits only. Irish employees (and their employers) have to fund supplementary pensions separately. For example, Irish employees pay about €2 billion (after tax relief) towards their pensions annually. In many higher tax countries, these are funded through the tax system.

If we look at the tax payable (excluding PRSI), the tax paid by a single person on one and two-thirds average earnings is the 10th highest in the OECD .

Marginal Tax Rates

How do marginal tax rates in Ireland compare with other countries ? For a single person on two-thirds average earnings, the marginal rate in Ireland is 29.5 per cent compared with an OECD average of 32.1 per cent. The UK rate is 32 per cent. We are the 20th highest in the OECD at this level of income where rates range up to 54.6 per cent found in Belgium.

At average earnings a single person in Ireland faces a marginal tax rate of 49.5 per cent: the third highest in the OECD (average 36.2 per cent). Again Belgium is the highest at 55.9 per cent while the UK rate is 32 per cent.

At one and two thirds average earnings, the marginal rate of tax in Ireland (49.5 per cent) is the 9th highest in the OECD and above the OECD average of 43.4 per cent. Sweden is highest at just over 60 per cent and the UK is at 42 per cent.

Conclusion

Compared to other OECD countries

  • The level of direct tax paid in Ireland is low particularly for those below average earnings
  • Employee PRSI in Ireland is less than half the OECD average2
  • The Irish system is the most progressive in the EU
  • The top marginal rate is not particularly high but it applies at a relatively low level of income

 

Source: Taxing Wages 2017, OECD 2017

________________________________

Notes:

1 The measure of the progressivity of the tax system is obtained by comparing the tax due by a single person on 67% of average income with that payable on 167% of average income. Tax includes income tax, universal social charge and employee social security contributions.

2 In many higher tax countries PRSI attracts pay-related unemployment, pension and health benefits while the Irish system provides flat-rate benefits only

 

 

 

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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!

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