The Ir­ish bor­der

Un­known ter­ri­tory for North­ern Ire­land and the Ir­ish Repub­lic post-Brexit ( blind spot sub­ject that is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand)

Vocable (All English) - - Édito Sommaire - ED­I­TO­RIAL

The UK’s Brexit blind spot.

One of the big is­sues of Brexit is the bor­der between the Repub­lic of Ire­land, which be­longs to the Euro­pean Union, and North­ern Ire­land, which is part of the UK and there­fore part of the exit. The govern­ment, led by Theresa May, needs to avoid the re­turn to a ‘hard’ bor­der, but con­crete so­lu­tions are not in ev­i­dence at present. Bri­tish cen­tre-left news­pa­per, The Guardian takes up its po­si­tion in an in­ter­est­ing ed­i­to­rial on the sub­ject.

Two weeks be­fore last year’s EU ref­er­en­dum, Sir John Ma­jor and Tony Blair ap­peared to­gether at an event in County Derry to warn that Brexit could un­der­mine the founda- tions of peace in North­ern Ire­land and sab­o­tage re­la­tions with the Ir­ish Repub­lic. Such a som­bre note struck by two for­mer prime min­is­ters should have resonated long and loud. It did not. The leave cam­paign had ef­fec­tively cast the re­main camp as se­rial alarmists and dis­cred­ited the col­lec­tive voice of ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise. The Ir­ish chal­lenge was for­got­ten as another

face of “project fear”. But, like many warn­ings writ­ten off un­der that rubric, this one was ac­cu­rate.

2. Brexit makes the bor­der between North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic an ex­ter­nal fron­tier of the EU. It also fol­lows from the UK govern­ment’s choice to quit the single mar­ket and cus­toms union that new reg­u­la­tion will be needed. Nei­ther side wants a hard bor­der and David Davis calls for “imag­i­na­tion” in nav­i­gat­ing the chal­lenge. But he can­not imag­ine his way out of the facts.

3. The Euro­pean com­mis­sion view, pub­lished in Septem­ber, is that the UK has cho­sen to recre­ate the bor­der and so it falls to the Bri­tish gov­ern- ment to come up with pro­pos­als to make it work. Michel Barnier, Mr Davis’s coun­ter­part in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, re­it­er­ated that progress on set­tling Ir­ish con­cerns is a pre­con­di­tion for ad­vance­ment to the sec­ond phase of Brexit talks – the post­de­par­ture trade deal that Mr Davis is des­per­ate to dis­cuss.


4. There is a catch-22 here: the UK can­not talk trade with­out a bor­der deal and it can­not fix the bor­der prob­lem un­til it knows what the trade sit­u­a­tion will be. Mr Barnier knows this, which is why he em­pha­sises the in­tegrity of the Good Fri­day peace agree­ment – drafted in terms that pre­sume UK mem­ber­ship of the EU – more than the fi­nal sta­tus of the bor­der, al­though the two are linked.

5. The EU’s in­ter­est in the Good Fri­day agree­ment goes beyond le­gal tech­ni­cal­ity. It is an ax­iom of the Euro­pean project that mem­ber­ship elides bor­ders, fos­ter­ing mu­tual eco­nomic in­ter­de­pen­dency and pros­per­ity, thereby ad­vanc­ing peace among na­tions. That is a foun­da­tional prin­ci­ple as keenly felt in Brus­sels as it is mis­un­der­stood in Lon­don.

6. UK gov­ern­ments also reg­u­larly un­der­es­ti­mate the EU’s ca­pac­ity to am­plify the in­ter­ests of smaller states. Ir­ish politi­cians and diplo­mats acted swiftly and deftly to make sure their per­spec­tive was cen­tral to Brexit talks, while their coun­ter­parts in Lon­don still thought ev­ery­thing could be stitched up in a phone call to Ber­lin. That delu­sion still per­sists among many Brex­iters. They should re­mem­ber that a treaty set­tling the EU’s re­la­tions with Bri­tain must be rat­i­fied in 27 cap­i­tals, in­clud­ing Dublin.

7. That chal­lenge ex­poses a deeper fail­ing in the govern­ment’s ap­proach: re­fusal to recog­nise that Brexit in­flicts costs on al­lies, and the great­est cost on the near­est neigh­bours. There is no up­side for Ire­land, only de­grees of harm. Dublin bears this with pa­tience, mind­ful that the mis­for­tune arises from a demo­cratic vote. Theresa May lacks equiv­a­lent em­pa­thy, un­able to see her ac­tions as they ap­pear from over­seas.

8. Where North­ern Ire­land is con­cerned, she is also com­pro­mised by re­liance on the Demo­cratic Union­ist party to pass leg­is­la­tion through the Com­mons. That deal al­ready tests the duty of neu­tral­ity im­posed on the UK govern­ment as a co-spon­sor of the peace process. It will raise mul­ti­ple con­cerns when par­lia­ment comes to vote on Brexit prepa­ra­tions. Yet Mrs May shows no hint of sen­si­tiv­ity to that haz­ard.

9. De­spite all the ev­i­dence that Ire­land holds the key to a re­al­is­tic ap­praisal of Brexit chal­lenges and the clear moral and po­lit­i­cal obli­ga­tion to ad­dress the bor­der is­sue as a mat­ter of first pri­or­ity, the UK govern­ment’s stance is lack­adaisi­cal. The prob­lem is not a lack of imag­i­na­tion on the EU side. It is the UK govern­ment’s lack of ap­pli­ca­tion to the task and lack of re­spect for its neigh­bours.


Brexit demon­stra­tion, Belfast, North­ern Ire­land, 29 March 2017.

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