A no-deal brexit looms, along with N. ir­ish war

Tillsonburg News - - OPINION - Gwynne dyer Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work).

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.