As we move
closer and closer to the purported Brexit end game, although never quite
getting there like the paradox of Zeno, the pressure mounts on Ireland to save
the brexiteers blushes. Not just the UK
media but elements within the Irish media have begun to mutter and muse on
whether we should not perhaps, just perhaps, consider dropping the backstop,
limiting it somehow, do SOMETHING to get Brexit over the line.
be foolish in the extreme. The backstop, let us recall, is an insurance policy.
It kicks in if and only if other arrangements cannot otherwise be found that
would keep a seamless border. Initially conceived by the UK as an arrangement
for Northern Ireland alone, that was shot down by the DUP/ERG, fatally
undermining the already tattered control of T May . We should have some
sympathy for that position, as it did
and will partition a country along internal customs lines. But then, it was the
desire of the country to be so partitioned, and despite the occasional
outburst, NI is already distinct in law custom and practice from the rest of
With the scuppering of the NI only backstop it
then, at the request of the UK, moved to
the notion of a backstop for the UK as a whole. While this preserved the
integrity of the UK from a internal trade perspective it enraged more than the
hard right DUP/ERG as it, if implemented, would result in BRINO – Brexit In
Name Only. So it too is no longer acceptable, it seems.
argument goes, if we Irish keep this insistence on the backstop as an insurance
policy we run the risk of a crashout no deal. Despite the fantasies of the
wilder shores of Tory right wingers, the UK cannot even under WTO rules simply
ignore its border. Nor can we ignore our obligations as EU members to police
and protect what will be a border with a third country. So the backstop, it is
said, will bring about the very thing it is designed to prevent. Why not then
drop it in whole or part?
would require one of two things. Either we give a timelimit – that it will last
X years and no longer, or that we would in effect ourselves depart from the EU
single market. Lets look at these.
charitable interpretation of the UK approach to the negotiations is that they
are at sea. But the other interpretation, one that has been given additional
weight by recent revelations, is that they were not recently, or perhaps ever,
negotiating in good faith. One does not have to be a brit-basher to have deep
and profound misgivings as to the faith in which the UK negotiates. With a time
limited backstop we would be negotiating alone against a larger party. There
would be every incentive and it would be quite sensible for them to simply run
down the clock, to stall, and then when the backstop expired look us in the eye
and say “and?”. We would have no EU backing and we would have in effect “bottled
it” in giving in on the backstop. So that would result in enormous pressure for
the second, for us to depart in whole or part, but in fact, from the EU single
market. We would be flouting EU rules and leaving open the EU external border and
that would not be tolerated.
be folly on the most enormous, unforgivable, egregious scale. Every indicator of
economic progress in Ireland shows two major recent breakpoints. The first is
the accession the EEC as it then was, and the second, and arguably more
profound, the advent of the Single Market. Any weakening of our membership such
as would be required were we to allow a semi-permanent open border with a
non-EU member would be massivly dislocative. FDI would in all likelihood slow –
while we can query our reliance on same and its composition the reality is we
benefit greatly from companies using us as a fiscal or product bridgehead into
the EU. Irish exports to the EU would at best face additional checks, at worse
be seen as potentially contaminated by non EU components and thus decline. A
reversal of the last 27 years of economic growth would be put in place because
of our desire to keep an open border.
government know this. They know that in a no deal we will have to protect the
economic best interests of the state which is served by EU and SM membership.
Any Brexit makes our economy somewhat weaker than otherwise. To compound this
to spare what are in aggregate terms relatively small, relatively unproductive regions or sectors would be
economic insanity. Yes, additional checks and rolling customs will be of huge
impact on border communities. Yes, it will harden further attitudes in the North.
Yes, it will fuel further a narrative In the gutter press of the UK and the
less than a fringe movement that is Irexit that we are poodles of the EU. But
cold hard economic reality dictates that even if we lose 50k jobs from a hard Brexit
that is the price of defending 100’s of thousands more that would be at risk
from any weakening of our SM membership. That’s the harsh political dilemma.