A no-deal brexit looms, along with N. irish war
it was either ignorant or irresponsible of those campaigning for brexit (british exit from the european union) two years ago to claim that crossing the irish border would not be a problem. in fact, it may lead to a catastrophic “no deal” brexit in which the united Kingdom crashes out of the eu without an agreement of any kind.
The deal is “95 per cent agreed” according to both sides, but the other five per cent is about the border between the republic of ireland (an eu member ) and Northern ireland (part of the u.K. and therefore soon not part of the eu). Time is running out, and agreement on that last five per cent is far from certain.
The border has been invisible since the good Friday agreement of 1998 ended 30 years of bloody conflict between the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern ireland. Three thousand people had been killed, but the situation had reached stalemate. The good Friday deal let both sides accept that fact.
For the (Catholic) nationalists in Northern ireland, a completely open border with the (Catholic) republic was a vital part of the agreement. it was a brave, imaginative deal that has given Northern ireland 20 years of peace, but it is now at risk.
when the “leave” side narrowly won the brexit referendum in the u.K. and Theresa may replaced david Cameron as prime minister in 2016, she had a credibility problem. she had supported “remain,” but the Conservative party she now led was dominated by triumphant brexiters.
so she became an enthusiastic brexiter herself. within weeks of taking office she declared britain must leave the eu’s single market and customs union, although nothing had been said about it during the campaign.
unfortunately, ending the customs union would mean re-creating a “hard” border between Northern ireland and the republic — and that might lead to a renewal of the sectarian civil war between Catholics and Protestants in the North. Nobody wants that, least of all the republic, so the eu suggested a “backstop.”
if london and brussels can’t come up with a free-trade deal to keep the border soft (that is, invisible), then Northern ireland could stay in the customs union, and the rest of the u.K. could leave. The real border, for customs purposes, could run down the middle of the irish sea.
may signed up to this solution last december, because the only real alternative is a hostile brexit that simply ignores the eu’s position. but no sooner had she agreed to the backstop with the eu than extremist rebels in her own camp forced her to repudiate it.
Now may’s position is pure fantasy: no customs border with the eu either on land or in the irish sea. which is why the probability of a chaotic “no deal” brexit is growing daily, and the prospect of renewed war in the North is creeping closer.
is renewed war really possible? last year sinn Fein, the leading Catholic party in Northern ireland, withdrew from the power-sharing government mandated by the good Friday agreement. That could be seen as clearing the decks for action once it became clear that brexit would undermine all existing arrangements in ireland.
and if the u.K. crashes out of the eu without a deal, the ratings agency standard and Poor’s predicted on Tuesday, unemployment in the u.K. will almost double, house prices will fall by 10 per cent in two years, and the british pound will fall even further. First impoverishment for the british, then war for the irish.