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Potential Brexit Impacts on Ireland

Brexit: why the fate of Northern Ireland is holding up negotiations

While negotiations are supposed to come to an end, the problem of the Northern Irish border focuses all tensions.

The uncertainty in total. The European summit that was supposed to mark the end of negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU opened on Wednesday 17 October without any prior agreement. On Sunday, a last-minute meeting in Brussels between the British Brexit minister, Dominic Raab, and the European Commission’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, failed to unblock the situation.

At the top of the list of issues that focus all tensions is the North-Irish border. While the theoretical end of the negotiations is Thursday, none of the scenarios envisaged makes consensus. So much so that Michel Barnier proposed on Wednesday morning in the United Kingdom to extend by one year the transitional period following his departure from the European Union.

Scenario 1: a re-established border between Ireland and Northern Ireland

What would it look like? Since the United Kingdom has chosen to leave the European Union while the Republic of Ireland will remain, a border is expected to be re-established between the two countries. If this principle were applied to the letter, it would mean that the border posts between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which are part of the United Kingdom, would return to service. Customs controls would be re-established, and goods and goods would no longer move freely across the border.

Why is it jamming? That’s the solution no one wants to hear about. Every day, 30,000 people cross this old border. Above all, freedom of movement between the two territories is one of the fundamental points of the Good Friday Agreement, concluded in 1998, which put an end to thirty years of violence between nationalists and unionists, resulting in nearly 3,500 deaths. It is therefore difficult to imagine the return of the barbed wire and watchtowers along this border, which would inevitably be interpreted as a serious setback for peace in Europe.

Scenario 2: Northern Ireland remains in the single market

What would it look like? Europeans want to make sure that the UK does not get “card access” to the single European market via Northern Ireland, without being subject to the customs obligations associated with it. Michel Barnier has therefore proposed a temporary ‘backstop’ mechanism, which would consist of checks on products moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Until a lasting solution is found, Northern Ireland would, therefore, remain de facto part of the European single market.

Why is it jamming? This solution, favored by the Europeans, sprang the unionist camp in Northern Ireland and the British Conservatives. It would be equivalent to shifting the border into the Irish Sea. For the United Kingdom, this would mean a loss of sovereignty over Northern Ireland. “It would be a permanent annexation of Northern Ireland, coming out of the UK, and leaving us forever subject to written rules without us having a say,” said North Irish Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster in an op-ed by the Belfast Telegraph.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the DUP has ten members in the House of Commons and their votes are indispensable to Theresa May. Without the support of this small party, the Prime Minister is likely to lose her majority in Parliament.

Scenario 3: a provisional status quo pending a solution

What would it look like? Faced with the impasse, Theresa May proposed “a provisional customs arrangement” that would keep the whole of the UK in the single market and the European customs union, while a solution was found. In concrete terms, nothing would change from the current situation.

Why is it jamming? This proposal by the British Prime Minister caused an uproar in his party among the most ardent supporters of Brexit. In their view, such a decision could prevent the United Kingdom from entering into trade agreements with other countries. And so to turn the page on the European Union. Eurosceptics are also concerned that this” interim arrangement ” will continue. “Provisional means eternal,” said MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, anxious to get rid of the EU.

Before the European summit on Wednesday and Thursday, the situation seems to have stalled. Several members of the Government of Theresa May, including the Minister for Relations with the parliament, Andrea Leadsom, threatened to resign if the Prime Minister made new concessions to the Europeans. The prospect of a ‘no deal’, i.e., a dry exit from the United Kingdom without an agreement with the Europeans, is increasingly being raised in the UK. “Given the EU’s attitude and the way they cornered Theresa May, I don’t see what agreement would get the majority. So it is probably inevitable that we will end up with a scenario without an agreement,” DUP spokesman Sammy Wilson told The Belfast Newsletter.