The Prosperity UK Alternative Arrangements Commission, which launched earlier this week, is a serious attempt to address the complexities of the Irish border and break the Brexit logjam. Co-Chair Nicky Morgan and I have decided to take an entrepreneurial approach to solving the conundrum of the Irish border, and ask the private sector for its help.

Our starting point is to find out what is possible by asking a panel of technical experts to develop credible Alternative Arrangements for the Irish border, which can be delivered in a timely fashion, and without the presence of physical infrastructure at the frontier.

The Commission will be made up of a broad spectrum of MPs and Lords, representing many different views on Brexit. The Commission is agnostic on the preferred future relationship between the UK and EU. Our work will be compatible with virtually all of the EU-UK end states currently under consideration and will ensure that the UK retains full flexibility in its future negotiations with the European Union.

There are three common misconceptions about Brexit which are relevant to the Commission.

The first is that Alternative Arrangements will not be necessary. But in every single scenario bar staying in both the EU Customs Union and the Single Market, for goods and agrifood, alternative arrangements of some kind will be necessary. And if we are in that scenario, we would have no ability to execute an independent trade policy or improve our domestic regulations, taking away all the potential economic gains of Brexit.

It is not well understood that free circulation of goods comes from both the Customs Union (CU) – and the rules of the Single Market. If the UK were a full member of the EU Customs Union, this would only address rules of origin. Checks would still be needed on animals, animal products (including processed food), plants and plant products. Technical regulations and standards that define specific characteristics of a product would also require checks. If the UK was in a CU, not the CU (like Turkey), the UK would need movement certificates for all relevant goods. For these very reasons, a customs union on its own does not solve the Irish border question.

Let us look at some of these potential scenarios:

  • Membership of the EFTA/EEA? We will need to prove origin, and consequently, there will be customs checks.
  • Membership of a Partial Customs Union? We will need movement certificates and there would need to be checks for standards, TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) and SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) issues.
  • A Customs Union and EEA? We would still need movement certificates and some customs checks.
  • A comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU? Yes, this will require the complexities of the Irish border to be addressed.
  • But what about leaving on WTO terms, a so-called ‘no deal’ scenario? Leaving the EU without a deal doesn’t absolve us from finding a solution to the Irish border. If anything, it makes it more important.

The second misconception is that there is no majority in Parliament for any Brexit alternative. But as avid BrexitCentral readers will know, the Brady Amendment was the only amendment during the recent Brexit debates to gain a parliamentary majority. Central to the amendment was the need to come to an agreed path on alternative arrangements for the Irish border.

The Alternative Arrangements Commission is – and was designed to be – a broad church. We welcome any parliamentarian who is committed to finding a workable solution to the Irish border, which means the UK can leave the EU.

The third misconception is that Alternative Arrangements for the Irish border would be a hi-tech unicorn, dreamt up by some futurologist in Silicon Valley and which would take years to develop. To that, I say, no, absolutely not. We are seeking solutions based on existing, working technology and processes. There just has not been sufficient practical work done on this by the Government or anyone else. And whilst this lack of work is regrettable, it does no good to look backwards.

The Commission has engaged a Technical Panel comprising border and customs experts, practitioners and lawyers with detailed knowledge of Ireland as well as the EU, UK and international trade regulations in order to create draft processes and procedures to fulfil our goal. In addition, the Commission will engage with established technology providers in order to develop a comprehensive set of solutions and timelines for review.

The Technical Panel will address the most challenging aspects of the Irish border including small traders, tax issues, security and movement of people, trusted trader schemes, rules of origin, financial settlement and issues relating to Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (i.e. treatment of food and plant-based goods).

The Commission is seeking solutions that are both realistic and sustainable and recognises that their formulation and implementation will require the engagement of many stakeholders in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Europe. Central to the proposals will be a commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

There are no easy answers with Brexit, but I hope this Commission into Alternative Arrangements is the impetus for finding both the technical solutions and the political consensus for a deal with the EU. We owe it to the country, and Northern Ireland in particular, to do everything we can to create a seamless border in Ireland. Just because it has not been done before, does not mean it is impossible.

Anyone wishing to offer their expertise or to make a submission to the Commission can do so by emailing Greg Hands.

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This morning sees the launch of a new initiative to develop “credible and practical alternative arrangements relating to the Irish border that can be delivered in a timely fashion to ensure that the UK retains full flexibility in its future negotiations with the European Union”.

The Alternative Arrangements Commission is to be co-chaired by former International Trade Minister, Greg Hands, and Treasury Committee Chair and former Cabinet minister, Nicky Morgan, and will be a cross-party venture with yet-to-be-identified representatives from across the political spectrum, with a view to producing a report in June.

But, intriguingly, it has not been established by the Government – which some might suggest ought to be working night and day on this very issue – but rather Prosperity UK, the organisation co-founded by Sir Paul Marshall to bring together business leaders, academics and policy-makers to seek solutions to Brexit issues and look constructively at the UK’s post-Brexit future.

The House of Commons may have rejected the Government’s Brexit deal three times and then every proposal tabled during the ‘indicative votes’ process before Easter, but lest we forget that back on 29th January, MPs did support by 317 votes to 301 (majority: 16) the proposal from Sir Graham Brady (the Brady Amendment) to back the Withdrawal Agreement subject to the Northern Ireland backstop being “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. It is indeed the only Brexit proposal to have enjoyed a parliamentary majority.

The Commission’s aim, therefore, is to build upon the Brady Amendment, working within the parameters of the Withdrawal Agreement, to seek solutions that are both realistic and sustainable while continuing to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Its principal objective will be to develop detailed proposals to avoid physical infrastructure at the border via “consideration of comprehensive customs cooperation arrangements, facilitative arrangements and technologies,” as was described within the Joint Instrument relating to the Withdrawal Agreement agreed in Strasbourg in March.

A press release announcing the establishment of the Commission provided the following further details:

The Commission’s work seeks to create further material for parliament to debate, to highlight to our European partners that there is an ongoing parliamentary majority for the Withdrawal Agreement provided that a template for alternative arrangements can be agreed. It should be noted that the work of the Commission will be compatible with any of the EU-UK future relationship proposals currently under consideration.

The Commission has engaged a Technical Panel comprising border and customs experts, practitioners and lawyers with detailed knowledge of trade, business and community relationships in Ireland as well as the EU, UK and international trade regulations in order to create draft processes and procedures to fulfil these goals. In addition, the Commission will engage with established technology providers in order to develop a comprehensive set of solutions and timelines for review.

Nine working groups have been created covering topics including the border and the movement of people in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, Tax, Sanitary and Phytosanitary standards, Small Traders and Trusted Trader Schemes. As part of the Commission’s work, a consultative conference will be held in London before the publication of its report. Further events are planned in other European jurisdictions to communicate the Commission’s recommendations.

Explaining the decision to establish the Commission, Prosperity UK Co-founder Sir Paul Marshall said:

“It is clear that the real Brexit logjam is around managing the Irish border and thereby eliminating the need for the Backstop. Our intention is to bring people together and to find practical solutions to this complex and emotive issue, drawing upon the expertise of some of the world’s best border experts.”

Commission Co-Chair Nicky Morgan – who was previously involved in the Government’s Alternative Arrangements Working Group which considered some of these issues in February – explained:

“The work of this Commission is hugely important. Implementation of suitable border arrangements for Ireland are vital not only to fulfil the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, but also key to agreeing a successful future UK relationship with the European Union, whatever happens in the withdrawal phase and however that future relationship is formulated. The EU have already indicated a desire to get on to discussing alternative arrangements and so we should try to do that.”

Her Co-Chair, Greg Hands, added:

“Alternative Arrangements were a key part of the Brady Amendment, the only Brexit proposal to have passed the House of Commons. I am looking forward to using my background to work with a wide variety of MPs and experts to help move this work forward and explore in detail how these alternative arrangements can work.”

Responding to the announcement, a DExEU spokesperson said:

We welcome all efforts by Parliamentarians to find solutions to break the Brexit deadlock and progress the development of alternative arrangements, as talks with the Opposition continue. The commission’s work will complement our own work on alternative arrangements, which we announced last month.

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In the past few weeks I’ve not been subtle in my criticism of Leo Varadkar’s approach to Brexit. Some media outlets have delightedly praised Varadkar for his jibes at Theresa May and her Cabinet – a Cabinet that was yesterday referred to as “the worst in recorded history” by Nick Boles. However, I don’t hold the same opinion as Varadkar and the journalists more than happy to promote his perceived candour.

Dublin City University’s Brexit Institute released a study last month which warned that Anglo-Irish relations are now as low as they were during the IRA hunger strikes in 1981. I have no doubt the Taoiseach’s approach has had some impact on these relations. Furthermore, now he has to deal with Jeremy Corbyn who might just prove a more contentious opponent for the ardently European Taoiseach.

Theresa May’s revelation that she will now engage in cross-party talks with Mr. Corbyn is not good news for the Irish. Jeremy Corbyn is an extreme Marxist and someone who has shown a flippancy that is cause for serious concern. What has he brought to the table so far in the Brexit saga? Previously he has refused to work with the Conservatives to find a suitable deal for the British people, while now he is at the epicentre of one of the most important political decisions in the last 40 years.

The Labour Party has fallen apart under his guidance; forget growing memberships and their leader’s popularity with young voters – Labour have failed to propose any real economic, social or democratic programmes that would revitalise the nation. Much like the democratic deficit within the European Union, Corbyn’s Labour has a bark which is far greater than its bite. There is nothing to say that these cross-party talks take No Deal off the table.

While No Deal is not the worst outcome for most Leave voters, it is an outcome that should cause trepidation for Leo Varadkar. As Peter Foster pointed out yesterday, the Irish government is dead set on protecting the Single Market and avoiding being brought out of it by a no-deal scenario. However, is this possible now or is it too late?

Varadkar’s Deputy, Simon Coveney, insists we are “not going to allow a situation where the UK leaving the European Union without a deal drags Ireland out of the Single Market with it. What I mean by that is checks in EU ports on all Irish products, that is not a runner and would cause significant damage to our economy so we will not allow it.”

Sadly for Coveney and Co., this may not be possible. Even with President Macron’s promise that France will “will never abandon, no matter what, Ireland and the Irish”. In the event of No Deal, they may be forced to abandon Ireland to the detriment of our economy.

Who is to blame if No Deal is the outcome? Personally I will level the majority of the blame on Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney. Varadkar’s abrasive comments in January and jovial references to borders have now come to back to haunt him.

While No Deal seems favourable for any true Brexiteer, it is not in the Irish interest. However, we haven’t worked with the UK, we have stayed with the flock and kept up our commitment to Brussels. Now only time will tell if the EU will show us the same commitment in practice…

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The theme for Westminster this week has been a political trap. Remainer MPs seem to have finally ensnared the Prime Minister with the advent of ‘Indicative Votes’. Consequently, Mrs May seems to have trapped at least some of her eurosceptic rebels with the threat that the only alternative to her deal is no Brexit.

For Brussels and Dublin, however, as the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson has argued, it is like cats let out of bags over the Irish backstop.

The Irish border quickly became the thorn in the side of the Brexit negotiations. The backstop was designed by the EU, Ireland and – to its shame – the UK Government, in order to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event no agreement is reached between the UK and the EU.

The backstop has now become the major problem with May’s Withdrawal Agreement. It is by no means the only problem with the AgreementGet Britain Out has documented at least 15 major failings here, and Britain would be preposterously shackled to EU institutions indefinitely unless a UK Government was prepared to conscience the unconscionable by allowing Northern Ireland to end up under EU jurisdiction.

Brexiteers have been consistent in upbraiding the outlandishness of the backstop because it blackmails the UK into remaining within the EU or risks the annexation of its territory. What’s more, it is wholly unnecessary. Firstly, the hard border was a phantom created to scare the UK. Both the UK and Irish governments have made it clear they would not erect a hard border which could therefore only come into effect if it were imposed and erected by the European Union.

Secondly, if the problem was willed by the EU, so too was the denial of its solution. Political will and goodwill are very different things. Both the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, have continually refused to consider intuitive technical solutions involving customs checks away from the border in the event of No Deal. These would ensure smooth cross-border trade as they do increasingly across the world.

Indeed, as recently as February, the suggestion technology would obviate a hard border, rendering the backstop unnecessary, was frustrating the Taoiseach. It has been fascinating to observe, then, how earlier this week this has become the position of both the Irish Government and the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The EU has announced it is “working very closely with Irish authorities to try and perform controls away from border”. Varadkar is confident a special arrangement can keep the border in Ireland invisible in a no-deal scenario. He is right to be confident. He and the EU were wrong to deny the undeniable for so long.

With the political and moral EU-Irish justification of the backstop crumbling, the bad faith with which the EU has been conducting the negotiations is now abundantly clear. Yet the Withdrawal Agreement still stands, proof of the con played by the EU and Ireland to keep Britain as closely tied to the EU under highly restrictive terms.

It is one thing for the EU and Ireland to have made their bad faith and the unnecessary, draconian nature of their agreement so clear. It is quite another for the UK Government to have let this happen in the first place, and to have put itself in a position where it is both unprepared and unable to stand up for itself, tear up the Agreement, leave without one and negotiate a new trade deal from a position of strength.

This, and not May’s Deal, is the only realistic course left open for our withdrawal from the European Union and to save Brexit.

With this in mind, the DUP are right to refuse to be threatened by the Prime Minister into backing her deal. However, they must put the emphasis on the acceptance of a WTO No Deal on 12th April, rather than a long extension which Sammy Wilson is now suggesting. A long extension to the Withdrawal Agreement would give far too much time for the majority of Remainer MPs in Parliament to continue to agitate for a revocation of Article 50 or a second referendum.

Eurosceptics in the European Research Group – blackmailed by Mrs May’s threat of ‘my deal or no Brexit’ – may well vote for May’s Deal as the ‘least worst’ option. They must reconsider just how bad May’s Deal really is. 

To examine perhaps the important issue of our defence after Brexit (as Veterans for Britain have briefed here this week), under the wording of the Political Declaration attached to the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK is committed to EU defence architecture to the “full extent possible under EU law”. Therefore it is now drawn to our attention, the UK can either continue to submit itself to full EU defence authority, or we will be forced to remain in the backstop in perpetuity.

As if that false choice was not bad enough, it is the EU which gets to decide whether the UK’s defence commitments match those made in the Political Declaration. With all eyes on the Withdrawal Agreement, it is often forgotten just how problematic the Political Declaration is. This must serve as a timely reminder.

The ‘least worst’ choice is therefore still a very bad choice, which should not be voted for by anyone who wants to Get Britain Out of the European Union and ‘take back control’. The reasons for the backstop con and the subsequent Withdrawal Agreement may well have been illusory, but their dangers are not.

The post The Irish backstop alone provides reason enough to oppose Theresa May’s deal appeared first on BrexitCentral.

“It’s time now to cut them some slack, to cut the British government some slack, when it comes to their request for an extension and when it comes to their request that the Strasbourg Agreement be ratified formally by the European Council over the next two days.”

When Leo Varadkar took it upon himself to make the above announcement yesterday, I was met with the familiar feeling of déjà vu. I was immediately reminded of the Taoiseach’s antagonism over the Northern Irish border in January. Not much has changed in his attitude since then, only this time he undercut Mrs. May’s integrity by announcing she would be addressing the British public last night.

This meddling, coupled with the antagonistic “cut them some slack”, is counter-intuitive for any progress on an acceptable Withdrawal Agreement and it is a disservice to many Irish people too.

Sadly, it has now become regular practice for Mr Varadkar to use media engagements to slight Theresa May and her Government’s approach to Brexit. It’s hard to determine what is the purpose of these slights. Personally, I feel he is opportunistically capitalising on public dissatisfaction with Theresa May to boost his own image.

A bit like Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Varadkar is quick with a quip but slow on any real solutions. All he managed to achieve yesterday was to enrage both sides of the Brexit debate. With his underhand remarks and his big reveal that Mrs. May would be addressing the people, he was insulting the British people.

But why should this matter to the Irish public? Well, our relationship with the UK is unique, a troubled history exists but this doesn’t define our future? For the sake of the Irish in Britain and the British in Ireland it’s time our Taoiseach shows some respect to all involved in this Anglo-Irish relationship.

If anything, Varadkar’s behaviour yesterday will serve only one purpose, to kick our neighbours while they are down. Rather than coming across as suave and debonair, he is in fact damaging the future of Irish citizens, his citizens. Currently it is estimated that roughly 400,000 Irish-born citizens call Britain their home. Furthermore, almost 10% of British citizens can claim some sort of Irish heritage.

Coupled with strong trade relations – Britain accounts for 24% of food, fuel and other merchandise brought into the state according to the Irish Central Statistics Office – this should be ample evidence for co-operation. Alas not in the eyes of Leo Varadkar. As former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald said in 1983, Britain is “our nearest neighbour and our natural friend”.

Finally, it is interesting to note how the beleaguered Mrs. May alluded to social issues, education and knife crime as she spoke to the public last night. She acknowledged their frustration and though her croaky considerations may be too little too late, at least she acknowledged her citizens.

The Taoiseach seems to have forgotten who has elected him, or is this ignorance by choice? Perhaps he has spent too long with Donald Tusk and is of the opinion that he too cannot be replaced by the public. However, the homelessness epidemic and the housing crisis in Ireland are nearing cataclysmic levels. So I would say to my Taoiseach, remember your citizens here and abroad and do your duty for them.

The post Leo Varadkar’s meddling and antagonism is hindering Anglo-Irish relations appeared first on BrexitCentral.

What follows is an open letter from the authors to Theresa May…

Dear Prime Minister,

We understand the future of Northern Ireland weighed heavily in your decision to agree an Irish backstop in the draft Withdrawal Agreement and remains a factor in your continuing support for the backstop, albeit now on a temporary basis. Your concerns are said to include maintaining a peace widely seen as fragile, sustaining the Union and protecting jobs.

We fully agree, of course, that peace is vital. Your undertaking on no new infrastructure on the border in Ireland is wise. No-one wants the police or others to come under attack erecting, repairing or maintaining barriers, cameras or anything else. Expert opinion given to the Northern Ireland Select Committee suggests that infrastructure is no longer needed since modern electronic procedures can do the job, so we hope that this is not an issue.

On your trips to Northern Ireland some will have told you in all sincerity of a more general danger to peace from disaffected Republicans. However, in the over-heated context of Brexit many arguments are self-serving and cannot always be taken at face value. Sinn Fein themselves say there will be no return to violence. Indeed, sacrificing their hard-won electoral position in the Republic of Ireland would be an illogical thing for them to do.

Gerry Adams also asserts that dissident Republicans have negligible support in the Nationalist community. A few dozen dissidents may always be capable of criminal activity as the recent Londonderry car bomb showed, but the security services have managed the dangers with admirable skill and will no doubt continue to do so.

Nor is there much evidence that Brexit puts the union in any real danger either from Nationalist disaffection or because Protestants would prefer Irish unity in order to remain within the EU. Reliable evidence shows little rise in support for Irish unity following the 2016 referendum. While some polls have indicated support for Irish unity in the high forties per cent range, more reliable polls have it down closer to the traditional 20%.

Polls showing higher support for Irish unity use samples drawn from voluntary panels and these seem to biased away from working class people and especially from the Unionist working classes. The gold-standard polls are undertaken for the Life and Times Survey funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council using face-to-face interviews.

The latest LIFT survey from 2018 showed that support from both communities for Irish unity was around 20% and only a little above pre-referendum levels. Support for Irish unity among self-described Protestants remains minuscule and of course the DUP made major gains at the 2017 General Election in reaction to claims that Brexit meant growing support for Irish unity. Even among Catholics, Brexit has not led a majority to support Irish unity. Sinn Fein’s calls for a
border poll have become Augustinian – a border poll yes, but not yet.

The correlation between Catholicism and support for unity is weaker than many assume. The 2011 census showed that only half of Northern Ireland’s Catholics identified as ‘Irish’ and fewer than half had an Irish passport. The Life and Times Survey shows that even in 2017/18 the proportion of Catholics who support eventual Irish unity is 41%. Only 7% express a desire for immediate unity.

Professor John Fitzgerald of ESRI in Dublin has recently calculated that living standards are 25% higher in Northern Ireland compared to the South. Although wages are generally higher in the South, higher taxes and fees and inferior levels of public service provision mean that northerners do better even before we take cheaper housing into account.

Some argue that the rising share of Catholics in the Northern Ireland population will continue, leading to a majority in a few decades. There is no evidence for this. The 2011 Census clearly shows that the percentage of the population who described themselves as Catholic had peaked among those born almost two decades ago and has subsequently slowly declined. Since Catholic birth rates are now close to those of Protestants, it seems likely the trend will continue.

Migration is also important and here there is major new factor. One in twenty of Northern Ireland’s Catholics are now from Poland, Lithuania, Portugal and the Philippines. The future constitutional preference of these immigrants and their children is hard to predict but it would be wrong to expect them to support Irish unity.

Nor do we believe that jobs are greatly at risk in Northern Ireland. Studies which purport to show economic damage from No Deal are self-contradictory and fail to take into account obvious opportunities. The main challenge would face the dairy industry, but the large potential loss of markets in Great Britain by southern food producers in the event of No Deal would open substantial opportunities for Northern Ireland’s farmers to fill the gap in Great Britain.

All in all, we believe the dangers facing Northern Ireland are much smaller than you may have been led to believe. You face difficult decisions on the UK’s future outside the EU. We do not believe that these decisions should be dominated by groundless fears about Northern Ireland.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon Lord Trimble
Kate Hoey MP

The post Don’t believe claims that Brexit threatens the peace in Northern Ireland appeared first on BrexitCentral.

In November 2013, Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group invited me to speak at a conference in London. He asked me because I had been for some years accredited as a journalist to the EU institutions in Brussels, writing in particular the Brussels Blog for the Mail Online.

More, being Irish, I had particular experience in the matter of EU referendums. Ireland had just finished some years which became known as “the never-endums.” I’d been in the middle of it all. I had some warnings for Britain. And Britain should have listened.

What is going on now, in the Commons and at the European Commission, is a movie I’ve sat through before, twice. I know how it ends.

The never-endums in Ireland began in June 2001, when the Irish voters rejected the Nice Treaty – that’s the treaty which readied the EU for new member states from Eastern Europe. Ireland’s Constitution required a vote. The Irish voters recognised that the treaty marginalised the power of smaller states. They voted No.

The shock was fierce in Brussels, and Irish politicians, to their shame, went to the European Council to make apologies for their own people. The Irish were forced to vote again. The firepower and Project Fear of the political parties, and some gestures and garnishes from the EU, made sure this time the people gave the right answer.

Then, in June 2008, there was another referendum, this one on the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish were the only people in the EU to be allowed a vote, and they voted No by 53.4% to 46.6%. That was a larger margin than Leave won in the British 2016 referendum.

Brian Cowen was then the Irish Prime Minister. I had to watch him at the European Council, shivering like a whipped spaniel, promising he would reverse the vote if only the EU would give him something, anything, he could take home and present as a concession.

The EU finally promised to tack on a few paragraphs to a future accession treaty with Croatia that only repeated what was already in the European treaties – that Ireland could be neutral, that abortion was Ireland’s business and that powers of direct taxation remained with member states.

None of that had anything to do with what was in the Lisbon Treaty. But it was enough. In October 2009, in a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, held as the terrifying Irish property and bank crash was underway, the Irish voted Yes. The vote allowed the treaty to come into force across the EU.

My patriotism has never fully recovered from the humiliation.

And now I am out of the Press Corps and working as Head of Communications for Steven Woolfe, an independent Brexiteer member of the European Parliament. My life is soaked in all the Brexit manoeuvrings of May and the rest. I’m back at the movies. Spoiler alert.

In that speech I delivered in 2013, I gave details of how the Irish voters were betrayed by their own government. I had hoped that, since there were a handful of Tory political heavies in the audience, the warning might get through.

It didn’t. But to the Conservatives in particular I know, I say: don’t say you weren’t warned.

What follows is an edited version of that speech from 2013.

I have spent the past several years in Brussels, covering the EU institutions. I’m back in Britain now, which is where I ought to be, since this fight on the future of the EU is shifting to Britain. I understand most of you believe that, if you get an In/Out referendum, and the Out vote wins, then – hurrah! – free at last. You’ve won.

Don’t kid yourselves. This is where I stop speaking as someone from Brussels and start speaking as someone from Ireland. You need to remember that in the EU, a Yes vote is forever. A No vote is only ever temporary. Trust me on this one, I’m Irish. I know. The EU has forced the Irish through this more than once. Therefore, it is naïve for any of you to think that, if you get a vote in a referendum to leave the EU, then that is the battle won. It is not. It is just the end of the phony war.

What I am here to tell you today is that what was done to the Irish after they voted No to the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 will be done to the British if they vote No to the EU in 2016. I’m going to give you details of how the Irish government and the EU elite worked together to overturn the democratic Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. What they did to the Irish, a Conservative government and the EU elite will do to the British.

Here is what to expect. If you want to get your country out of the EU, you’d better come up with a strategy to overcome this. First, of course, to overturn a referendum result, there must be in place a national government willing to collaborate with the EU elite. I have seen no sign in Brussels that the elite are in any way worried over Cameron’s talk of a referendum. The EU elite know that Cameron is one of them. He is a collaborator. Ireland had the same sort of EU collaborator in the former Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who was leader of the Irish government at the time of the Lisbon Treaty referendum.

I hope you will see from what I am about to tell you that for the sake of your country, you must work to make sure the Tories, if they are still led by Cameron, do not win the next election. A referendum under a Cameron majority government would be worse than no referendum at all. Here is why.

Imagine the Out side, your side, wins the referendum. Imagine what happens after the result is announced. Cameron will face the banks of cameras outside Number 10 and say that the people have spoken and now his government will respect them, will listen to them, will ‘understand’ the referendum result. A day later Cameron will face the journalists again and adjust his phrasing slightly. He will say that his government must learn what the British really meant by their Out vote. Not that his government must obey the vote, no, must understand the vote.

A few weeks ago, I was in the European Parliament and asked Nigel Farage about this danger. He is aware of it. He said that “what we need is a big No. To win, they need only a small Yes, we need a big No. Otherwise the government might choose to interpret the vote.” I think Farage is being too trusting if he imagines a government attempt to interpret the vote will only occur if the Out majority is narrow. I forecast it will happen no matter how large the margin. The Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty by a vote of 53.4% against, 46.6% in favour. The EU still told their collaborators in the Irish government it had to be overturned.

So, I’d say that even if your Out vote achieves a margin such as that, I’d forecast your Prime Minister, following the pattern the EU set for the Irish, will announce he must consider what the vote ‘really means.’ And you can stand outside Downing Street all you want and scream ‘What it means is that we want out of the EU!’ but a Cameron government will only say that they understand that this is ‘an emotional issue’ for you.

Meanwhile a statement will come from the President of the European Commission saying the Commission respects the democratic decision of the British people. And meanwhile the UK Permanent Representative, whoever he is in 2016, will be around at the Commission to explain just how the Foreign Office will get the colleagues – because in Brussels they are all colleagues – out of this one.

Then after careful consideration – what one Irish politician called “mature reflection” – Cameron will say he now understands what you, the British people, were saying by voting Out: he will say you are angry that the EU has not been reformed. He will say that the Out vote was really a protest vote, because – and here comes the cliché – referendum votes are rarely about the question on the ballot paper.

If you were Irish, you would know the rest. The Cameron government will commission an opinion poll to find out what the British people ‘really ’meant by their vote. Yes, the government will use taxpayers’ money to pay a polling company to find out what the taxpayers meant when they voted to get Out of the EU. Which is itself outrageous. But the Irish government did exactly that. The Government in effect said to their own electorate: ‘You are far too stupid or reckless to be trusted with a ballot paper.’ Which is of course the attitude of the EU elite to voters, why they are squeezing democracy out of every part of the EU. But that is another issue. 

The Irish government commissioned a poll after the Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty. The Cowen Government said they wanted to find out the “real reason” the Irish people voted No to Lisbon. It was all of course just a way to find an excuse to run the referendum again.

While this fraud, this collaboration between quislings in Dublin and the EU elite continued, the people, the voters, stood by powerless. As will you. The British people can expect the same kind of fraud if they succeed in voting to leave the EU. They will be patronised, and frightened, by government insistence that they did not know what they were doing.

They – you – will be told in effect that the British voters are too dense, too uneducated about the EU, too much under the influence of what the EU denounces as ‘dangerous nationalism’ to understand the implications of their own vote. Cameron will announce he understands your Out vote, understand what it really means.

The EU institutions will make assurances about this being a matter for the British alone, but will also make statements meant to frighten the British people about the danger of leaving the EU. Then the Cameron Government will identify – by way of a taxpayer-funded opinion poll – two or three allegedly key issues as the reasons Britain voted to get out.

Brussels will reply with some statement which Cameron will accept as an assurance that the worries on these two or three issues can be ‘addressed’ by an EU elite he will call ‘our European partners.’ ‘Addressed’, of course, is a word of no particular meaning.

But you will not go to the polling booths a second time as the Irish did.

Unlike in Ireland, a referendum here cannot override Parliament. To have a referendum vote ignored, all that is necessary is for Labour opposition, the Lib Dems or what’s left of them, and the euro-loving wing of the Tories to vote with the Cameron to overturn the referendum vote.

And there will be nothing the voters who delivered a majority Out vote will be able to do about it. Which is why it would be better for you to wait until the Conservative Party has a leader who is actually a Conservative, and go for a referendum then. At least then there will be a chance of Out meaning Out.

So that is what I have to say to you, drawing on the Irish experience of how a quisling government and an anti-democratic EU elite can overturn a referendum result.

What you can do about it – well, that is up to you. You can either be disgraced as a nation, or you can fight. Good luck.

The post How an Irish observer warned in 2013 how the pro-EU elite would seek to block Brexit appeared first on BrexitCentral.

We are now entering the final stage of Article 50 negotiations with the EU. The meaningful vote is due by or before 12th March, setting a deadline less than two weeks from today; and the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, will take centre stage in the Brexit endgame. As the EU have stubbornly refused to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement itself, Cox’s aim is to secure a legally-binding protocol on the backstop. The hope is that this will enable him to update his legal advice, which currently sets out that the backstop could exist “indefinitely” if negotiations on the future UK-EU trade deal break down.

History shows that when the EU’s refusal to renegotiate collides with the reality of domestic politics in a member state, Brussels has shown flexibility to facilitate ratification. Crucially, the legal instruments favoured by Brussels – protocols, addendums – have legal force even if the treaty itself remains untouched. At Open Europe, I have recently published a briefing which outlines historical examples of the EU revisiting a trade deal which was supposedly done and dusted. None are perfect analogies for the backstop impasse, but they illustrate wider points: that the EU is more flexible than it seems, and that it isn’t over until it’s over.

In 2009, the Republic of Ireland secured legally binding guarantees which enabled it to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. This included a commitment to a protocol, later annexed to the Lisbon Treaty, which clarified that the Treaty did not compromise Ireland’s sovereignty in several sensitive areas – abortion policy, tax policy and military neutrality. Whilst this did not directly contradict the provisions of the Treaty itself, it shut down unfavourable consequences of the Treaty which Irish voters feared. Although the UK’s case is a question of ratification by MPs, not voters, there is a parallel here. Many Brexiteer MPs object to the backstop not so much because of its substantive provisions, but because they fear the UK could end up ‘trapped’ there permanently. The EU may insist this is not its intention, but only by putting this commitment into stronger legal terms can they hope to win enough MPs over.

Ireland also convinced the Council to agree to legally-binding terms that the reduction in the number of EU Commissioners, established as a default by Article 17 of Lisbon, would not go ahead. Then Taoiseach Brian Cowen said at the time: “Ireland wanted firm legal guarantees. We got them.” If Theresa May can stand up and tell her backbenchers something similar on the temporary status of the backstop, there is hope for the deal yet.

Another example of EU flexibility came in 1992, when Denmark voted down the Maastricht Treaty. In the quest to unblock Maastricht’s passage, the Danes secured guarantees even stronger than those of the Irish. Though Maastricht itself was unaltered, its potential future effect in Denmark changed markedly. In particular, the European Council legally recognised two unilateral Danish guarantees recognising that any further integration in two areas – Justice and Home Affairs, and EU Citizenship – would be put to referendums in Denmark. This provided the Danish people with commitments in international law that they wouldn’t be sold out by a pro-integration government. 

The Danish example bears parallels to today’s conundrum too. A key reason why the DUP (and indeed other Northern Ireland Unionists) oppose the backstop is because it can be superseded “in whole or in part” – raising fears that a future UK government might abandon Northern Ireland behind in the customs union while Great Britain leaves. Bluntly, the DUP does not trust London, which is why it poured scorn on the unilateral commitments offered by the UK to Northern Ireland in January. However, if the EU were to give legal recognition to these and other unilateral commitments, this would lend them much more weight. It did so for Denmark; it can do so for the UK.

There are two other examples of the EU offering legal guarantees to get a deal over the line. In 2016, a Joint Interpretative Instrument on the EU-Canada deal helped overcome the objections of the Wallonian regional parliament in Belgium. In the same year, another legal instrument – an addendum – was used after voters in the Netherlands rejected the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in a non-binding referendum. These examples are less directly analogous to the backstop, but add further weight to the broader point that the EU can be flexible when it needs to be.

Many argue that the EU can’t, won’t or shouldn’t offer the same kind of concessions for the UK as it would for a non-departing member state. But this is an unreasonable argument which makes a virtue of inflexibility – and also flies in the face of the evidence that the EU is prepared to at least consider additional guarantees for the UK. The key question will be what guarantees Cox can obtain from the EU, and what legal effect they will have. Even Brexiteer MPs are now recognising that substance matters more than form, and are no longer insisting on a reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement. It remains to be seen what the new legal scrutiny group, fronted by Sir Bill Cash and Dominic Raab, will make of ‘Cox’s codicil.’ But if the EU is willing to show the same flexibility that it has done in the past, then a smooth, timely Brexit is still possible. 

The post As the Brexit talks reach their endgame, the EU may again demonstrate its capacity for flexibility appeared first on BrexitCentral.

As we rapidly approach the final showdown on the Withdrawal Agreement, it’s worth recalling what the problem with the backstop is.

At a visceral level, it really is about how we see our country. Are we going to keep the United Kingdom together? And what sort of trading country do we want to be once we leave the EU?

The United Kingdom as a whole gave notice under Article 50 that it was leaving the EU. That’s how it has to be under EU law: only states can be members. The EU has no legal basis at all, under the Treaties, for requiring that one part of the departing state be treated differently from the rest.

Yet we have acceded in that requirement without demur and the Withdrawal Agreement provides that Northern Ireland will be treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. Some say that this is because the Good Friday Agreement demands a different treatment and that it “trumps” the UK’s legal right to leave the EU under Article 50.

I have given my own views on the core issues in Ireland here. Our Government could have argued that there was hardly a word about borders and trade in the Good Friday Agreement and that it could be made perfectly consistent with our departure from the EU. The Government could have pointed out that, when Ireland ratified the creation of Article 50 in the Lisbon Treaty, it entered no reservation or objection that it might be inconsistent with the Good Friday Agreement – perhaps because it isn’t. As far as I know, these arguments were never made: we accepted that Northern Ireland had to be treated differently.

Now Northern Ireland is indeed different in one important respect and that is that its constitutional status within the UK is subject to the Good Friday Agreement, an international treaty that both recognises that it is fully part of the UK and makes provision for it to leave the UK and become part of the Republic, subject to a separate referendum in the two parts of the island of Ireland. In effect that provides the people of Northern Ireland with a guarantee of no constitutional change without their consent. It also means, as the Irish Taoiseach said at the time, that the decision on Irish re-unification is no longer one for the British government.

I have no doubt that the British government will and must adhere to that binding commitment. But we should bear in mind that it has two elements: the people of Ireland will decide if there is to be constitutional change; and the people of Northern Ireland have a veto on it, solemnly, through a referendum. The Withdrawal Agreement is heavy with declarations that it does not involve constitutional change in Northern Ireland. But this is like a burglar leaving a note in your ransacked sitting-room to say that he hasn’t burgled you. It doesn’t make it any less of a burglary. And the fact is that major constitutional change is being imposed on Northern Ireland with only opinion poll evidence that the change is acceptable. The people of Northern Ireland get no say and all but one (Lady Hermon MP) of their only functioning elected representatives are opposed.

And the constitutional change being imposed on them is significant. They will, under the backstop, be subject to the direct effect of EU law with no representation and a border will be erected in the Irish Sea going way beyond the plant and animal health checks that currently operate, putting Northern Ireland firmly in the EU’s economic sphere and outside that of the UK.

We will not therefore be leaving the EU together, as a single country, as we are entitled to do under international law, but in two broken bits, Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

But this backstop may never come into effect, surely. And the EU assures us it is temporary (but they won’t re-open the text to commit to that) while we sort out our future relationship. In fact no: the backstop as drafted is effectively permanent and it determines everything about the future relationship.

That is because the Withdrawal Agreement is explicit that the Irish Protocol stays fully in place “unless and until” it is replaced. Replacement is contemplated of course, in the form of a new trading relationship between the EU and the UK, but that new relationship will require assent from all EU member states, including Ireland.

So imagine if Ireland said, as is very likely, that they wanted the special economic status that Northern Ireland has in the backstop rolled over into the new trading relationship. Without that they’d veto the future trade deal. The UK could say no, and do without a formal trade deal. But then the backstop would remain in force, because it wouldn’t have been replaced. So if we agree to the demand, Northern Ireland retains its special status. And if we say no, Northern Ireland retains its special status. It’s the perfect EU snooker. Who would sign that?

So much for keeping the United Kingdom entire. But how does the backstop determine our future trading relationship, not merely with the EU, but with the world?

The impulse to maintain the Union is strong in the Conservative Party and not at all absent in other parties represented at Westminster. Mrs May and her team clearly decided at some stage that the economic severance between Northern Ireland and Great Britain would be too stark if the backstop kept the former in the EU economic sphere while the latter became an independent trading entity able to strike its own deals around the world: the full panoply of EU border controls at Larne, on UK sovereign territory, wouldn’t look good. So she persuaded the EU, somewhat against their will, that in the period when the backstop applied, Great Britain too would have a special status: not quite as fully under EU law as Northern Ireland, but in a basic customs union.

Confusingly (and the confusion may have been deliberate) she dubbed this proposal the “backstop to the backstop”, later shortened to “backstop”. So when the Government uses the word, it can mean one of two things or both, as the mood takes them. And it is probably true that many Conservative MPs, when they object to the “backstop”, are more fussed about this separate relationship between the EU and Great Britain than they are about the special status imposed on Northern Ireland.

This basic customs union for Great Britain is, in the eyes of the EU, definitely temporary: it was a concession they never wanted to grant. Both they and the UK expect to see it replaced in the future relationship. But with what?

It could in theory be with a Free Trade Agreement modelled on that signed by Canada. The EU has offered this (though it wouldn’t include Northern Ireland). It could be a much closer and subordinate relationship, similar to that between Norway and the EU. It could be as distant an economic relationship as that enjoyed by Moldova. In fact the EU has a whole suite of off-the-shelf models from which it has been inviting us to select for the last year.

The Government has declined to make that selection, partly because to choose is to divide your own followers, but also because selecting a point on the spectrum between “close and subordinate” and “distant but free” exposes the fundamental sacrifice of UK sovereignty in Northern Ireland.

The Government accepted early, and certainly by December 2017, that the decision as to what constituted a “hard border” in Ireland would be made by the EU and has spent the time since trying to pretend that this doesn’t oblige the UK as a whole to choose between maintaining its economic integrity and having an independent trade policy. That is the nub of the obfuscation and mistrust in which the Government has covered itself.

But behind the smoke, the Government, in agreement with the EU, has set a direction for the future relationship that resolves that choice at some mid-point between the two extremes. The special status of Northern Ireland, in the EU Customs Union and in large parts of the Single Market, will be set forever if we sign the Withdrawal Agreement. And to disguise the severance that creates in the economic integrity and sovereignty of the United Kingdom, Great Britain will enter some form of permanent Customs Union, shorn of any substantive ability to make trade deals and willingly subject to a broad array of EU law and regulation with no say.

This is not Brexit. Disruptive though it may be, we cannot go ahead from this point. We cannot sign the deal as it stands. The Irish backstop must go, or be rendered time-limited or terminable at the sole discretion of the British government. If the Attorney General cannot negotiate text (with the same legal status as the Withdrawal Agreement itself) that achieves one of those outcomes, then we need to take another path. That can only be fulfilling our obligations to British democracy and leaving with No Deal.

The post Why the Northern Irish backstop makes the draft Withdrawal Agreement unpalatable appeared first on BrexitCentral.

This past week has sadly brought further damaging rhetoric in the Brexit process and some who ought to be statesmanlike have been anything but.

This is surely a moment for statesmanship and for finding a way through the current impasse. We must calm things down and focus on developing a common sense solution to Brexit and the Irish border question in particular. In this context I welcome the visits of both the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach to Belfast and the meeting between both leaders in Dublin: this is the kind of engagement and leadership that is needed to help find a sensible way forward.

I recognise that the UK and the Irish Republic do not agree on Brexit itself and that many in Ireland feel hurt by the decision of the UK to leave the EU. Nevertheless, it is important we all respect democratic decisions of this nature, even when we don’t agree with them. Undoubtedly, the last two years have seen damage done to the three sets of relationships that formed the core of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

The absence of the political institutions, including the Assembly and the North-South Ministerial Council, has been to the detriment of all of us. Just think how differently we might have handled this very difficult situation if such institutions had been in place to provide a forum within which Belfast and Dublin could engage and take a more considered view on all of this. Instead, the politics of cooperation has been replaced by the old ways of megaphone diplomacy.

However, we are where we are and leaders on both sides of the border have hitherto shown a remarkable capacity to overcome enormous challenges in the peace process to find our way to the common ground. In the remaining weeks leading up to 29th March, we must do so again. Whilst it is London and Brussels who take the lead in negotiations, I believe that Dublin and Belfast can play a constructive role in helping to find the solutions.

We can begin by recognising that we already occupy significant common ground.

We all agree that the need to protect the peace process and the political and institutional arrangements of the Good Friday, St Andrews and Stormont House Agreements is vital.

Secondly, none of us want a hard border on the island of Ireland or the creation of a new border in the Irish Sea. Both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland do a substantial amount of trade with Great Britain as well as with each other. The Common Travel Area ensures the free movement of people across the islands and is accepted by the EU. Now we need to find a sensible solution to ensure a similar approach on the smooth movement of goods. We in the DUP are of the view that a pragmatic approach can deliver an outcome on customs and trade that does not fundamentally undermine the EU single market or the UK single market.

Thirdly, both countries want to avoid a ‘no-deal’ outcome if possible as we recognise this could have significant implications for the short- to medium-term economic stability and prosperity of both parts of the island. Building stability and prosperity goes hand in hand with building peace.

For us, the primary problem with the draft Withdrawal Agreement is the backstop. It is not only the DUP that has concerns about the backstop and our opposition to it has been supported by many from all parties across the House of Commons.

On two occasions now, the House of Commons has voted decisively to reject the backstop in its current form and to call for legally-binding changes to these potentially harmful proposals. Our position on the backstop is also supported by other unionists like Nobel Peace laureate Lord Trimble, who has said that the proposals have the potential to “turn the Belfast Agreement on its head and do serious damage to it.”

Lord Trimble is in the process of taking legal action to challenge the legality of the backstop and his case is supported by leading experts on the Good Friday Agreement such as Professor Lord Bew. For such key architects of the Good Friday Agreement to raise serious concerns about the damaging nature of the proposed backstop must surely encourage the Taoiseach and others to pause and consider other options which are capable of commanding a wider cross-border and cross-community consensus.

If the current impasse between the UK and EU over the backstop results in no-deal then it will further damage relationships between Northern Ireland and the Republic and undermine the prospects for restoring the political institutions. The absence of these institutions over the past two years has seen a re-polarisation of attitudes on both sides in Northern Ireland.

In my opinion, securing a deal on Brexit that is broadly acceptable can only improve the prospects for restoring the institutions. It may suit Sinn Fein to have a chaotic situation, but it surely can’t be in the interests of anyone else. Sinn Fein has tried to exploit the uncertainty over Brexit to raise the border poll issue, hoping to force a referendum in the near term. This is, of course, a party that was fiercely opposed to Ireland’s membership of the EU and sought to vote down each successive European Treaty. Clearly, Sinn Fein is self-serving, and its claim to act in the wider interests of the ‘Irish people, north and south’, is bogus.

The consequences of a no-deal outcome will undoubtedly impact on the economies on both sides of the border, with their heavy dependence on the agri-food sector. InterTrade Ireland commissioned the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), an Irish think-tank, to conduct an analysis of the impact of Brexit on the Irish border. ESRI looked at several different scenarios, including one where trade between Ireland and the UK would be based on WTO rules. The resulting imposition of tariffs and non-tariff barriers in this scenario could result in Irish trade to Great Britain falling by 12%, British trade to Ireland falling by 6%, Irish trade to Northern Ireland falling by 14%, and Northern Irish trade to Ireland falling by 19% – resulting in a total reduction in cross-border trade of 16%.

Agri-food in particular is a sector that has expressed concerns about no-deal. A study of the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the EU’s agri-food industry has claimed that beef and cheese exports from Ireland to the UK could collapse by up to 90% with the loss of over 3,500 jobs. No amount of preparation by any government can nullify the significant economic implications outlined.

Additionally, a further fall in the value of sterling in a no-deal scenario would worsen the outcome for Irish exports to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In this scenario, Irish trade to Great Britain would fall by 20%, British trade to Ireland would remain broadly similar (at +0.3 %), Irish trade to Northern Ireland would fall 21%, and Northern Irish trade to Ireland would fall 11% – so there would be a total fall in cross-border trade of 17%.

Despite these stark statistics, there are some who seem determined to impose the backstop. Yet the Withdrawal Agreement and backstop in their current form have been roundly rejected in the UK Parliament because they could lock us indefinitely into an arrangement that undermines the economic integrity of the UK. The backstop is designed to prevent a hard border but could ultimately result in no-deal and actually compel the EU to impose a hard border in Ireland.

Having been an MP for over 20 years and in frontline politics since the early 1980s, too many times have I seen politicians become wedded to an idea and intent on implementing it, even when they are aware of the dire consequences. Now is not a time for brinkmanship but for leadership.

I am convinced that there are better solutions than this. Whilst I am not going to be prescriptive in this article about what they may be, I am aware of several ideas, including the ‘Malthouse Compromise’, that are surely worthy of serious consideration. If the political will is there on both sides, I firmly believe we can find a solution.

The people of the United Kingdom voted by a majority to Leave the European Union. Despite this, the leadership of the EU and some in the UK have sought to frustrate the will of the people and to make it as difficult as possible for our country to Leave. The indefinite nature of the backstop would harm the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK.

The EU leaders have asked Parliament to state clearly what we want. That answer is now clear and the EU must address British concerns about the backstop if a no-deal outcome is to be avoided.

If the EU truly want to avoid harm to the peace process and to protect the political arrangements established under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, then they need to take account of unionist concerns as well as those of nationalists, otherwise, as Lord Trimble has said, they violate the core principles of the Agreement.

The post Statesmanship, not brinkmanship, is now needed to deliver the right Brexit deal for Northern Ireland appeared first on BrexitCentral.

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