A Peo­ple’s Vote can help dig us out of hole Brexit has now be­come

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS / POLITICS - Stephen Farry

This will be a crit­i­cal week for the Brexit process and there­fore North­ern Ire­land.

This is broader than what hap­pens around the mean­ing­ful vote in Par­lia­ment to­mor­row, but also the fall­out and what hap­pens next.

There is no such thing as a good or sen­si­ble Brexit. There will be costs and lost op­por­tu­ni­ties un­der all sce­nar­ios. It is a pro­foundly ir­ra­tional process that can­not re­solve the con­tra­dic­tions and dilem­mas it ex­poses. Es­sen­tially, only three broad op­tions are open.

Al­liance’s pref­er­ence is we re­con­sider Brexit it­self via a Peo­ple’s Vote, with Ar­ti­cle 50 ei­ther ex­tended or re­voked to fa­cil­i­tate this.

Democ­racy is not a static event but a process. How­ever, if Brexit is to hap­pen, then this with­drawal agree­ment is what it looks like.

Cen­tral to that is the North­ern Ire­land back­stop. This hasn’t been im­posed. Rather it is a ra­tio­nal re­sponse to pro­tect the par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances of this so­ci­ety and econ­omy.

It also points to a pos­si­ble fu­ture re­la­tion­ship and of­fers this re­gion some po­ten­tial com­par­a­tive ad­van­tages through hav­ing pref­er­en­tial ac­cess to the GB and EU mar­kets.

The DUP are badly out of step with the ma­jor­ity of po­lit­i­cal opin­ion and most of the busi­ness com­mu­nity and civil so­ci­ety, who see the back­stop in prag­matic terms. What­ever else hap­pens, it is cru­cial to bank the back­stop.

All of those push­ing al­ter­na­tive ap­proaches to Brexit, ei­ther through ditch­ing the back­stop or pro­mot­ing spe­cific fu­ture re­la­tion­ships with­out recog­nis­ing the need for the with­drawal agree­ment and the back­stop first, are en­gag­ing in delu­sions and chas­ing uni­corns.

The Labour front­bench is par­tic­u­larly disin­gen­u­ous in chas­ing fan­tasy so­lu­tions.

A no-deal out­come must be avoided in all cir­cum­stances. It is en­cour­ag­ing in Par­lia­ment there is a clear ma­jor­ity against this.

How­ever, un­til that crys­tallises into an ac­tual al­ter­na­tive, no-deal re­mains the le­gal de­fault. This would be a ma­jor cri­sis for North­ern Ire­land. Im­me­di­ate chal­lenges would in­clude the sup­ply of cer­tain prod­ucts. There would be in­evitable re­quire­ments re­gard­ing some form of bor­der on the is­land. This is a wider is­sue than the na­ture and lo­ca­tion of any in­fra­struc­ture.

Sig­nif­i­cant is­sues would be posed from a reg­u­la­tory bor­der and gaps in mu­tual recog­ni­tion, for ex­am­ple around data-shar­ing. This could se­verely im­pact the ser­vice sec­tor. De­fault­ing to WTO rules is no an­swer. Most dis­cus­sion falls on tar­iffs with­out con­sid­er­ing non-tar­iff bar­ri­ers and the ser­vice econ­omy. WTO rules are the floor for world trade. The EU of­fers a much more so­phis­ti­cated sys­tem.

There is not a choice be­tween trad­ing with the rest of the world and trad­ing with the EU, rather trad­ing with the rest of the world through the EU and its strong abil­ity to make bal­anced trade deals.

Stephen Farry MLA is deputy leader of the Al­liance Party

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