The EU quietly U-turns on Northern Ireland
If only negotiators displayed this kind of pragmatism five years ago
According to reports today, EU negotiators have agreed in principle that goods shipped from Great Britain to Northern Ireland which are destined to stay in Northern Ireland will not need to go through the same set of border controls as those that will then be moved on to the Republic of Ireland. If true, such an agreement would be a major step forward, meeting at least one of the DUP’s demands for reform. It is, in short, something to be welcomed and cheered as an example of constructive pragmatism.
On the face of it the EU’s move is also a straightforward concession — a decidedly rare occurrence since 2016, given Brussels’s negotiating strength and Britain’s corresponding weakness. Under Theresa May, British officials had proposed such a scheme of “red” and “green” lanes at the border, differentiating between UK and EU-bound goods, but it was rejected. In fact, the reports emerging today suggest not only that the EU is prepared to accept such a system of border controls for manufactured goods, but also for animal and plant products: so-called SPS checks. This was something that the EU had previously insisted was impossible, according to one former UK official with whom I spoke today.
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The first point to make is that we have yet to see the details. The EU — like the UK — has a habit of briefing concessions which prove to be less than meets the eye, with many in Brussels still believing that the problem remains, essentially, one of style not substance.
However, if the EU really has changed its position, it is proof of what should be a relatively uncontroversial position: that mistakes were made by both sides in the initial negotiations. If the EU now believes something to be possible that it previously said was impossible, we are entitled to criticise its previous position.
To be sure, there are plenty of mitigating factors — most notably in the form of Britain’s behaviour. But the initial negotiations were conducted by Theresa May, hardly an intransigent hardliner. The EU rejected practical solutions to the border dilemma under a particularly moderate prime minister. It is only now, amid a potentially permanent threat to power sharing in Northern Ireland, that it has changed its position. This is something for which it should be criticised whether you believed Brexit to be a sensible or a stupid decision.
And yet, as a commentator, if you raise this relatively simple point — to argue, as I do, that Brussels did not take seriously enough the warnings about unionist disquiet — the opponents of Brexit immediately seek to pile all the blame back onto the UK. If only Britain had acted more reasonably from the beginning, its detractors argue, then the EU would have done the same. If only it had not stamped its feet and made demands, Brussels would have shown the kind of pragmatism it is showing today. Britain has certainly made its share of mistakes since 2016, but this reflexive defence of everything EU far too easily lets its negotiators off the hook.
As I have written before, for example, Irish negotiators knew from as early as 2017 that the shape of the agreement being discussed would destabilise the political settlement in Northern Ireland. Yet all sides pushed on. It is certainly true that any solution to the Northern Irish border dilemma might have led us to where we are today, but that does not excuse the failure to agree to the solutions at which we are only now arriving.
Neither London nor Brussels did enough to ensure the final agreement was anywhere near delicate and pragmatic enough to deal with the special reality of Northern Ireland. Remember, even the Protocol itself has not ever been applied in full because to do so would be unacceptable. Almost everyone now agrees with this. The reality is that the Protocol was never fit for purpose and for this both sides must take responsibility, whatever your feelings about Brexit itself.
Let’s not have a revisionist take that suggests that the EU intransigence was a response to the UK.
Very early on the EU in conjunction with the Republic of Ireland sought to use Northern Ireland as a means of trying to herd the whole UK into alignment.
It was despicable to do so – and I think in hindsight the EU have realised so.
Precisely, and Theresa May was ousted by her colleagues largely as a result of seeking to appease the EU, which was only ever going to try to make things as difficult as possible for the UK. Now reality has kicked in, and the EU are finally starting to see sense.
The Irish and British border authorities were actually quite far progressed in discussions about how customs could operate seamlessly in 2017 and then suddenly the EU and RoI decided to play hardball on the border. It certainly caught the British by surprise (which says a lot about their naiveite too).
I bet the final system will be very similar to those discussed by the two authorities five years ago.
Why should it be? Red and green lanes cannot be what the Dublin government wants to see, the distinction between North and South marked out starkly. This though is their bed. Once an fresh agreement is signed the UK is very, very largely off the hook on Brexit. The Irish have missed a golden chance to increase influence and erase North/South distinctions.
That assumes the Republic had any say in the matter – as has been shown time and again they are subject to Brussels’ flights of fancy. Fair enough, he who pays the piper and all that, but it shows what sovereignty Ireland has lost in negotiations even between them and their only neighbour.
Why not? Please explain.
That opportunity assumes the ROI was/is a major player in this debacle. It clearly is not. This is a 95% EU-UK issue with Ireland in largely an advisory role.. get real; such an opportunity never existed in the first place.
In the meantime you had that wrecking ball Frost making a dog’s diner of negotiations.
The ROI has little influence on this. Clearly it concerns EU (not Irish) regulations and standards. the Good Friday agreement was and is of major concern of course but bear in mind the EU is bound by law to uphold that as well. If you think the ROI tail is wagging the EU dog you must be very naïve indeed. Our influence within the EU is very limited – surely that is obvious is it not?
I have argued all along that Barnier should be recognised as a (war?) criminal … and be formally charged and sanctioned …. for deliberately using Northern Ireland as a negotiation chip. It was a deeply immoral move which illustrated his bad faith and vindictive attitude towards the UK during the negotiations.
Now you’re just being silly! Gross Distortion is too mild a term to apply yo your rant.
Absolutely. The EU’s negotiating record over the many years with various member countries has been one of the dominant schoolyard bully. ‘Do as we say or there will be consequences’.
The EU didn’t need to ‘herd the whole UK into alignment’, since the British political class is anyway all too eager to keep us aligned with the EU.
Of you want to export to any country your standards have to comply / align with the standards in that country. The EU is no different. Every EU state will have to do likewise to export into the UK, ie conform to your British Standards.. nothing new there!
No one with any sense should had been surprised by behaviour od EU (sorry Fourth Reich).
Dreadful comment. You should be ashamed.
Wasn’t so much of the creation of this entirely unnecessary nonsense the deliberate handiwork of May and Robbins? Davis believed he was negotiating, but it was all a lie (that the EU was in on), as realised with Chequers. Even Tories can’t trust Tories given this example.
and no one, absolutely no one in his right mind would trust today’s Tories would they?
If I have to select between your very popular take and original piece I’m I’m going with the latter.. the truth lies in between but far closer to the thoughtful article. This rant is far too black and white to be taken seriously.
I wonder if we will ever hear anyone in the EU acknowledge that giving Cameron a better deal would have stopped Brexit?
I wonder if anyone over there looks at what David Cameron asked for and thinks “My God. What we would do to go back to that now”.
The EU couldn’t seriously compromise to keep the UK within the EU as that would have set a precedent that other member states would take advantage of, and the EU would degenerate into an association of sovereign states (perish the thought).
Not just sovereign states but greedy, uncooperative, troublesome states.. yes, that would have been disastrous.
Wishful thinking I’m afraid. The EU has moved on.. nobody there (except Ireland) talks about it anymore. It’s yesterday’s news. The NI issue is a very minor distraction, largely solved in the minds of EU officials.. except for a few tweaks.
I think the EU unintentionally demonstrated that it knows little about Northern Irish politics and the various issues. Our leaders should have known better too (especially as it is still UK territory), but the EU’s full backing of Ireland, and by default, the Nationalist position was always going to alienate the Unionists. Everything in Northern Ireland requires numerous compromises and trade offs before any agreement and progress can be made. High time all parties involved that this is about more than mere lines on a map and where certain sign posts are located.
Naw.. it just needs the DUP dodos to die off or slink away after they are decimated in the polls. The future of NI is all but assured. 90% of the UK is either disinterested or wishes to see the back of NI. The support for the diehard DUP is miniscule. NI business is doing really well with a foot in each camp (UK + EU Single Market)..
Largest designation under the GFA are Unionists.
Ask you mummy to get her calculator and do some sums for you.
NI is in recession…..the UK taxpayer funded huge public sector is what is saving it so far. GB-NI trade is many times bigger than NI – Ireland and now with EU adding additional taxes on things like steel…. NI will crash even more.
This reported agreement does not come close to being acceptable. The root cause needs to be addressed, not a minor symptom.
NI will not accept foreign laws or foreign courts making ruling over British citizens resident in the UK.
As confirmed by the UK courts, the 1800 Act of Union has been broken by this imposed NI Protocol, which means that citizens in NI do not have the same rights as everyone else in the UK. Nobody else in any UK region would accept this discrimination.
The Good Friday Agreement is supposed to underpin the United Kingdom sovereignty. Laws made in Brussels with no UK input and ruled on by foreign judges undermines the safeguards in the GFA. Even if a loophole is exploited in the GFA wording, it is the intent that is important. Not a single Unionist, which represents about 40% of the population backs this annexation of NI.
The current situation is akin to Crimea being controlled by the Russians….. NI will not accept this same situation.
I think that’s a bit hyperbolic. Nobody has invaded NI. But does pose the question – why did Boris sign if off?
That aside NI voted Remain, and probably would vote for the Protocol if given the chance. Being in the Single Market still has some advantages.
Kent voted remain, but that does not justify putting border posts up, applying foreign laws and changing the Union.
Remember, NI is the the UK, a la the United Kingdom of GB and NI.
No way any other country would accept this situation.
Boris will go down in history as a traitor to the United Kingdom…..he has undermined it ….. especially after lying to the contrary.
NI is quite unique. The power sharing arrangement is unique. The history of the NI state is unique. And the fact a good majority of the NI population would be chilled about it suggests we can be pragmatic. Given Brexit was about taking back control it is ironic how tightly you then chose to draw the line on who’s doing the controlling – a small Westminster cabal.
NI is not unique….. NI land has been under British control from the tenth century. GB and NI are the UK and the Act of Union 1800 sets out the equal treatment of all it’s citizens.
To push a different narrative is an attempt to give credence to those who wish to undermine the UK.
The Good Friday Agreement was an attempt to create an environment that allowed a balanced and shared society.
Unfortunately, that has not played out at all and today the imposition of the NI Protocol is the straw that will break the camels back. The EU, driven by Ireland , have a lot to answer for and it takes little extrapolation to predict serious societal damage and probably bloodshed due to the undermining of a fragile balance.
No other nation on the planet would accept foreign laws imposed on them and a border inserted inside their country.
Just on your first point – you need to look up Govt of Ireland Act 1920. Your 1800 Act of Union was the whole of Ireland. Subsequent Belfast Agreement 1997 power sharing and legal entitlement of Eire to be consulted on range of matters pretty unique I would suggest.
Regardless of some indignation we will be accepting ECJ jurisdiction almost certainly in NI and checks that do not apply on the mainland. Words and phrases will be found, and the EU will be chilled about it, that make it look like we’ve extracted concessions and allow UK Govt/DUP to accept it. That’s essentially what’s now happening. EU doesn’t care how we play it for our public’s consumption. They know the game. But the impact will be much the same.
Reason is Brexit. All routes back to this. With the GFA once we opted for a Hard Brexit it made this an inevitability. EU has used it’s leverage in the way everyone predicted.
The one blessing is the population of NI will be ok with it. Some will be proper annoyed but the majority will be ok. We should be grateful for that having got in this dreadful muddle through lack of thought in the first place.
I do not agree with you at all.
I am very aware of the AoU 1800 and it covered all of Ireland. When Northern Ireland became a separate entity to Southern Ireland ( Eire/ Republic/ Ireland), the Act of Union thus applied only to NI. This is UK sovereignty and is a protected element in the GFA….. which has not been honoured, by treasonous Boris.
The GFA does not provide any legal basis for Ireland to have any say in NI in the UK.
Strand 2 and 3 are the cooperation mechanisms north/south and east/west, there is no input to NI, accept for’ the desire to work together’. Hardly possible, when backhanded dirty deeds have been done by Ireland.
In terms of fudging this through…… If you have any understanding of the consent principle in the GFA, you will understand that the largest group are still Unionists and without their consent, there will be no Strand 1 = No devolved government ever.
A political vacuum, with no support for the NI Protocol and open hostility by the LCC and tens of thousands of Unionists will result in border posts and ‘ foreign ‘ occupation becoming a bit more than troublesome!
The North-South Council not something that exists elsewhere to my knowledge.
But that aside, there is a possibility extreme Unionists seek to block, but it’s a dead end road eventually. Not all Unionists are anti-EU. In fact many business people are the contrary and can see advantages unique to NI in all this. DUP would thus have a core for sure, but might force away those who want to just move on. Continuing to block Stormont also has mounting political costs as required reform of services stalls.
But yes there is a possibility a small element take to more extreme protest. NI is not the same as it was though. It wouldn’t have the support extremes had some decades ago. They know all this so watch for the concessions expressed as negotiated victories.
What you are saying is basically continue with the approach adopted so far, which is ignore the principle of consent and Unionists in NI.
If the DUP were to try to sell a fudge to their electorate, it is unlikely to be accepted. Arlene Foster tried to sell and spin the NI Protocol as positive, but their voters saw through that and at the last election they took a noticeable hit, to loose the largest party. Moreover, the (7%?) swing was to the TUV, which was absolutely against any sovereignty grab by the EU. The only reason the TUV did not get the seats that the votes suggested, was because of the single transferrable vote (STV) voting system used in NI.
The DUP will be toast at the next election if they don’t reflect their voters wishes, which is that the GFA is null and void, until the NIP is changed to remove the imposed foreign laws, courts and EU standards in NI against the AoU. The imposed Irish sea border is a symptom of these core issues and meddling with lanes is irrelevant.
With a political vacuum and just like Ireland’s Vadaker threatened the UK, the (EU) border posts will become legitimate targets for loyalist terrorists, if they are ever built.
Were it my choice we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. We’d have stayed in the Customs Union, and probably SM too, at least if we were going to do Brexit for exactly this reason. I don’t at all buy that Norway and Switzerland aren’t sovereign nations. That’s utter rubbish. So we chose this mess and deserve considerable criticism for it.
But that aside we’ll see if the framing of some concessions sufficient for the DUP and what the electoral implications then are. As you mention there is a chance they split the anti-protocol vote and also more of the electorate just run out of patience with this stance. Watch for the reframing to drop the word ‘protocol’ too. That’ll need rebranding as toxic now, as I’m sure we’d agree.
I think longer term almost inevitable some extreme loyalist undertake some terrorist activities as they worry about an inexorable drift to border poll. Had we left things alone such a drift would have been less likely IMO. But I’m not sure Loyalist terror would ever gain the traction Republican did. The ‘dreary steeples of Fremanagh & Tyrone’ I’m sure remain a stubborn reality but the world has changed considerably.
NI would become a NSGT
If the EU are allowed to impose foreign laws.
As far as I know, at present there are 300 foreign EU laws that would be imposed, with zero input by the NI people.
On top of that, removing any element of sovereignty, even a small slice as contained in AoU article 6, is not acceptable, even if the high court deem it does not breach the GFA today because it is not the whole lot in one tranche.
The EU forcing damage like this…..it is little wonder that the world is stoking division….. Putin might be more transparent, but the EU and US also undermine and destroy societies outside their borders.
If the protocol stays in any form, then the GFA is dead and buried for good. It was based on cross community consent and NOT ONE Unionist representative gives that consent so a political deficit of perhaps 40%….. hardly a basis for harmony.
Dublin could be the new Belfast for warzone history.
We disagree on cause and effect, but good exchange nonetheless. You are right in some of the dangers which of course is why many would have done things differently right from the start – and certainly that’s what NI wanted overall.
Suspect a subject UnHerd will return to again between now and GFA anniversary and a potential compromise is formulated. So we’ll pick it up again I’m sure.
Supreme court ruling this morning has confirmed that the Act of Union has been broken by the NI Protocol.
This ratifies the assessment that devolved government is dead, as a result of not respecting consent of the affected population.
I hope the EU rethink and respect all the people in NI and remove their imposed laws, otherwise the political vacuum will lead to a breakdown in society back to the 1970s, only this time it is more likely to be Dublin that is leveled.
Maybe “not one Unionist” politician, but thousands of Unionists are smart enough to see the writing on the wall and are fully agnostic on political oversight. Economic reality trumps all that old drumbeating these days. There is far more cooperation and divisions are rapidly dying away among the vast majority on both sides. The guys you’re talking about are diehard dodos and rapidly declining in numbers. If GB’s economy tanks in 2023 as forecast then rejoining the EU will look very attractive indeed to NI. Westminster or Dublin? Who cares if there is enough devolved NI regional government and the economic outlook is vastly improved.
The DUP support is rapidly depleting. Loyalist terrorism has almost no support. NI has moved on and the inevitable is in sight.
You are not very well informed at all, are you.
Assuming you are actually aware of the designation under the GFA? = The Unionists are in a majority….today and at every historical vote too.
In terms of support, the DUP only lost support to the TUV (7%) at the last election due to the misdirected stance of Arlene Foster…..by being far too soft on the imposed foreign laws from the protocol. The STV voting mechanism meant that the 7% was not reflected in seats at Stormont. Now that the DUP are doing what the Unionist population want, they will likely get more seats next election and like SFIRA, they will not sit in government, until the foreign laws are removed.
The NI Protocol is damaging the NI economy too and also causing some diversion of trade, which the NI Protocol is forbidden to do.
Maybe you need to go do some research before posting!
It’s a point view I suppose.. but widely off the mark I’m afraid. DUP = Dodos under pressure!
You are correct.. not popular but correct all the same.
Rubbish. If you think Unionists are still in the majority you are sadly mistaken! There will be no foreign occupation either. NI will be “occupied” by the people of NI as always. The likely solution in a unified Ireland will be a federal solution with a largely autonomous NI regional government.
Irish don’t want to pay for NI….€10000 per year per person for ever.
On top of that, Dublin would likely become a new warzone. SFIRA took bombs to economic London, you think that tactic won’t be repeated?
You are obviously too young to ever watch terrorists killing in the 1960s and 70s….. The EU, SFIRA and the Irish government are forcing NI back decades, into the old times again.
The day that Ireland with its 1% of the EU’s population will “Drive the EU” is the day I will eat my hat! If the mighty UK couldn’t “drive the EU” what makes you think tiny Ireland can?
A voice of reason, crying in a wilderness of little Englanders yearning for the glory days of the Empire when might was right!
Do you seriously see no difference between Kent, a county in England and NI a nation state like Scotland and Wales. The UK is a Union like the EU is a union: your comparison is ludicrous.
The EU is more like a religious cult…..the UK are trying to escape, including NI, but the cult are proven to be causing as much trouble as possible… starting societal damage and breakdown in NI …
Little wonder the UK choose to escape in the first place; totally vindicated.
..major advantages! NI is doing very well economically thanks to it!
They are in recession…..the only reason not much worse is because of the UK taxpayers funding a massive public sector in NI.
Go read, before posting…you are looking rather silly
A question for you, pilop, since you seem to be knowledgable about that part of the world:
When the DUP first came out in favour of Brexit, and second voted for Boris Johnsons withdrawal agreement – what outcome did they expect? And how would that outcome have played with the Good Friday Agreement and peace in NI?
I would need to check the Westminster voting records, but I believe that the DUP did not vote for Boris’s NI Protocol (Withdrawal Agreement).
In terms of the GFA…..this is totally unrelated to Brexit.
The UK ( Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England) decided to leave the EU under a democratic referendum. The EU is not seen as a force for good by many. And this has been borne out by the NI Protocol damage that has undermined the fragile peace.
There is today and always has been a border with Southern Ireland. The currency is different (£vs€), the laws are different, the speed limits are different, the tax is different, the schools are different….etc.
The GFA has nothing related to trade borders.
The GFA created the environment to remove the security border with Ireland, as the Irish terrorists used to cross the border to avoid UK security forces. These security posts were removed and the border was ‘normalised’ without any security checks remaining.
Going forward, the NIP has voided the GFA and it is only a matter of time until this EU land grab of UK territory in NI results in serious societal damage.
The GFA has been misquoted very often. US, Ireland and EU are all guilty of incorrectly implying what the GFA says. The author Trimble was very clear that the NIP totally undermined the GFA, with its inbuilt consent principle. Changing the Act of Union art 6, is totally unacceptable, given UK sovereignty is protected in the GFA.
The other point of note is that there is a Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK. This predates the EU/ EEC …..in the 1970s. The EU were threatening to attack that too at one point.
You are right and I was wrong – the DUP did not vote for the withdrawal agreement – but they were in favour of Brexit. And I would still want to know what situation they envisaged, and what that would have done to a peaceful NI.
Because, sorry, it does not sound realistic that Brexit followed by the economic decoupling of NI and Eire, cessation of cross-border trade, cutting of the institutional ties represented by common EU membership, would have made no difference to any of the warring parties. And that is what you would expect from a hard Brexit with no distinction being made between NI and the rest of the UK. If the unionists are so upset by the mere principle of NI and the rest of the UK being treated differently, would not the other side be no less upset by a hard trade border? Again, what border arrangements did the DUP expect they would get?
Oh, and there is no point quoting Trimble as an authority on what the GFA really means. He is no more neutral than Gerry Adams or Martin McGuiness.
The DUP represent British citizens in NI. They get the biggest vote ( except the TUV loss last election as noted above).
The other parties are there to represent their voters. SF are controlled by the IRA army council and they can go to Westminster and vote to oppose Brexit, should they wish. Likewise for the other parties…… none except SF are a wing of a terrorist organisation. (This is not debatable….SF openly said it on transmitted TV news, but today they try to rewrite history).
In terms of Brexit.
~100 years ago Southern Ireland ( Ireland today) came into existence. A border was created then and exists today. It is only in the 1970s, that the UK joined the EEC.
NI/GB trade flows are many times the NI/Ireland trade flows. GB to NI has been seriously impacted, despite grace periods still active. An imposed border between the far far bigger market is just stupid.
In terms of UK blocking trade to Ireland….they said it was never going to happen, they would never put up trading posts. BUT the EU are the party insisting in protecting their ‘ single market ‘ and to be truthful, it is their problem, same as at French ports. UK policing the EU single market on UK territory is rediculous and the EU border posts will become a target, with the political vacuum created by no Strand 1.
What do they do at Vatican city……this is a non EU country and no border protection?
So, the EU are the protagonists that have destroyed the peace process and undermined the GFA in NI.
Do not believe the lies told by Ireland and the EU….. they can’t justify societal damage and return to terrorism based on protecting their single market on a tiny corner of the EU, with a population smaller than Kent!
There was simple solution. Britain could have arranged its Brexit so as to avoid causing trade problems with the EU in Ireland. Britain chose not to. Then the EU insisted on various concessions as the price for an orderly withdrawal. Britain could have refused and gone for no-deal, but Britain *accepted* those conditions. And signed the agreement. The situation was stable, pre-Brexit. Then Britain broke it. You cannot put the blame on the EU for refusing to pick up the pieces for you. And whatever democratic right you may have to leave the EU, it does not give you the right to refuse responsibility for the consequences of your own actions.
“There was simple solution. Britain could have arranged its Brexit so as to avoid causing trade problems with the EU in Ireland.”
Explain this please?
The UK want to pursue trade with the rest of the world and without EU rules and constraints. The rest of the world is bigger than the EU and philosophically the UK wish to control their own destiny instead of being dictated to by non UK parties….that was a democratic choice for the whole of the UK, whether you agree or not.
NI should be given the same opportunities as the rest of the UK and not held under foreign control and subject to laws made in a foreign jurisdiction, which violates the Act of Union.
In terms of Ursula Von Putin trying to annexe NI into the EU, she will be met with the same dedication as the brave Ukrainians. Peace in NI is draining away, all due to the EU intransigence…..the reason why the UK choose to leave in the first place.
No-one wants to acknowledge this, but if you look at the voting pattern it is obvious that the 2016 result was a vote against immigration. Areas with high immigrant populations, particularly Commonwealth or other non-EU populations voted Remain, areas with low immigrant populations voted Leave.
There were two notable anomalies to this. Kent voted Remain because of its close trade links (it is pretty much the whole local economy apart from London commuters) and the East European populations of East Anglia mostly do not register to vote, so Boston became “Brexit Central” despite its high population of East Europeans employed in gang labour in agriculture.
The one additional thing worth noting PP is that using the ‘consent’ principle underpinning GFA seems to have then not been applied to Brexit. There was no consent for Brexit in NI. They voted v clearly to remain. So we need to be aware of when we are inconsistent in application of the consensual argument.
That aside we are talking about checks on goods here – hardly the biggest issue under the Sun. EU never threatened as much as you contend either.
Nonetheless it’s a v thorny problem because checks on goods, despite really not being something any of us would notice much, has become totemic for DUP and a minority in NI.
Consent under the GFA is a forced coalition, in that both parties have to be involved and one side can use a petition of concern if required. The design of this mechanism was to remove the exact problem we are seeing with the imposed laws and border ….. The solution must be agreed.
In terms of goods, I am having big problems eg optics, motorcycle kit and gardening supplies…..all blocked or made more costly to get from GB.
Agree PP that the GFA has the agreement principle. That said if we use that ‘moral’ argument, (as much as the legal), we have to recognise Brexit cut straight across that esp when we went for Hard version. Now the DUP never indicated how they’d square a Hard Brexit with the GFA, which is why I don’t think they can claim they’ve been entirely responsible either. Had they said we want Brexit but a ‘soft’ version to protect the GFA and the Border issues arising then they’d occupy a strong moral position too. I suspect like alot of Brexiteers they thought we’d have cake and eat it, with EU just rolling over on continuing SM access without the obligations.
Fingers crossed though everyone now finds a compromise can settle behind, even if not ideal.
Again, I do not fundamentally agree with you or the arguments put forward.
Brexit was a single UK nation wishing to make decisions about its future, without foreign constraints or input.
The GFA is nothing more than a forced coalition mechanism for two groups to work together for the benefit of their local population, in a balanced manner ( designation, cross community consent, petition of concern). Strands 2 and 3 are cooperation desires, for support by GB and Ireland.
In terms of what each individual political party preferences were…..it’s irrelevant.
There is today and always has been a land border between the UK and Ireland. ~50 years before UK EEC membership. Today there are different road speeds, laws, taxes, schools, etc.
The GFA does not consider anything related to borders, except to normalise security….which was necessary because Irish terrorists used Ireland as their refuge to escape the law and security services.
The CTA was in place before the EEC/EU and enabled Irish citizen to travel to the UK, including NI as a part of the UK. The EU were meddling with that to cause further trouble at one point too.
Moreover, the border was weaponised by republicans and Irish politicians. Vadaker informed the EU that Irish terrorists would bomb and kill if any infrastructure was erected.
The bottom line is that the EU have imposed their laws on NI and the Conservative and UNIONIST party have complied and damaged the Union. The EU have done this under lies and false claims…… NI has a smaller population than Kent and the EU have attempted a land grab under false pretences.
The only politicians who have been honest during all this have been the DUP….. they wish the whole UK to benefit from freedom of EU constraints. The EU is a failing state…..the only medium term benefit is that it is a large trading market for goods. NI trade is far more GB based, in multiples of Irish trade flows. Moreover, diversion of trade should not be allowed under the NI Protocol, so that is not a valid argument.
If the EU want to protect THEIR single market in Ireland, then they can build their infrastructure or they can put other solutions in place, as per the other thousands of miles of external border. By forcing a UK region to comply with foreign laws for this reason and destroy hard won peace is totally immoral.
They deserve disgust, no better than Putin forcing his will over Ukraine.
Remember SF and the SDLP exist solely to drive NI into Ireland control ….. Their goal is to undermine everything in NI ( refused to even acknowledge NI Centenary!). They want nothing more than to have Irish involvement and trade. SF are under the control of the IRA army council …..the same people who killed 3000 people for their ideology.
SF clearly do still have united Ireland as an objective. I’m not entirely certain there would be majorities for that both sides the border in fact, but a separate discussion. Regardless I think the way DUP and Brexiteers have played all this has increased it’s chances. All rather stupid and unthinking IMO.
The majority in NI will accept the ECJ. 50% of citizens didn’t have civil rights in NI until quite recently thanks to blatant discrimination and flagrant gerrymandering etc. 1800 Act of Union my ass!
More lies and republican propaganda.
The old claim about Catholic discrimination in housing has been studied and proven to be total lies …..look up the reports and stop listening to lies and terrorist propaganda in pubs.
Again, you don’t seem to be able to think for yourself…..go read the facts and learn.
Maybe you should read about the Act of Union 1800 ( and 1707) to try to understand what the supreme court ruling was last week.
You clearly know nothing of the GFA, the NI Protocol, British isles history or current NI economics….
Have you asked your parents if you can use the computer without supervision?
Very good news if true. This option – maximum facilitation – was always obviously the correct approach.
Most of the comments miss the key point entirely.
The crux of the issue is not about Brexit, hard or soft, or borders.
It is that a region of the UK has had foreign laws imposed on it, thus breaking the UK trading laws from 1800. The NI population are now second class citizens in the Union with reduced rights, subdugated by laws that are made solely by a foreign (and now proven hostile) regime.
What makes it worse, is that the population were under the impression, via the 1998 GFA that their UK rights were fully protected. Now that that and the other ‘checks and balances’ in the form of consent mechanisms are also proven to be useless, the situation is a complete collapse of ‘the peace process ‘. The Unionist population have been conned and walked all over.
This political farce may be less bloody at present, but is no different than Putin imposing his will in Ukraine.
As the late Baron Bannside ( The Reverend Ian Paisley) would have said:-
NO SURRENDER TO POPERY (the EU).
It always works in the end.
Soft Brexit and a Norway/Swiss approach and we wouldn’t be reading articles like this and getting in a lather about whether we’ve been crass and stupid or the EU unfair and manipulative. In fact we’d have all moved on some time ok with just a few grumbles at the margins. And the British state could be focused on other fundamentals. The ‘opportunity cost’ of time spent on this must be huge.
One suspects there is quite a bit of detail yet to be worked through but some signs of compromise on both sides is good. NI though will have some additional requirements not applied to the rest of UK – the issue is to what degree. The EU v unlikely to budge on the ECJ role in NI. Nonetheless a rapid push for a deal both sides before the 25yr GFA anniversary in a couple of months. Will the DUP swallow it being perhaps the biggest question?
Even then though this is likely to get revisited when TCA up for renewal in 2025. Yet again we’ll be in a negotiation off balance and more needy than the other side. This is not a great position to have got ourselves into, yet was predictable. Had we landed many other trade deals and reduced our reliance on EU trade we’d be better placed, but we haven’t and the slow puncture we’ve given ourselves means by the time of that next negotiation there been even less air in the tyre.
Excellent summary. Looks like we are coming from a similar place, but you are doing this argument much better than I am.
I’ll believe it when it actually happens.
Until then I’m sceptical.
The EU has used NI as a pawn in their power play and the US President and certain members of congress who pretend to be Irish for votes have been their lap dog.
…the EU always conducted themselves as though the end-game was the UK Government ignoring the electorate, and abandoning Brexit, and were encouraged in that belief by a great many “influential” (as they thought themselves) voices in the UK…and by a PM who tried as far as possible to be emollient and conciliatory…although in fairness to Her, I don’t myself think that this indicated an intention to ignore the vote…
…more that as a genuinely decent, democratic, well-intentioned…but honest and rather naive…politician…in a real democracy…it never occurred to Her that her European Counterparts were none of the above, and worked on the assumption that Her main priority was to find a way of ignoring the UK vote, getting away with it…and remaining a member of the club…
…the difference between genuine Democracies where you can’t ask the question and ignore the answer…or others like France and the Netherlands on the European Constitution (six other planned votes promptly abandoned) or Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty (subsequently re-run, with “assurances”)…
The Northern Ireland Protocol is lawful, the UK Supreme Court has ruled.
We know that. It finally conforms what the Unionists have claimed about the Conservative and UNIONIST party all along since Brexit.
The Supreme court have confirmed that the 1800 Act of Union art 6 has been overridden by the NI Protocol.
They have also confirmed that the GFA consent principle (forced coalition) is not fit for purpose. If you have any recollection or knowledge from the time, majority rule was not acceptable by the republicans, so designation, consent and petition of concern were setup to remove the ability of one ‘side’ to force though items. Today, these republicans and others don’t like these GFA checks and balances and they want to completely change the mechanism and force the Unionists under majority rule, against their wishes.
There is meaning in the term power SHARING under the GFA.
As the protection in the GFA for the Union has been confirmed to be unfit for purpose and the Conservative and UNIONIST party have started to dismantle the Union as confirmed by the Supreme court, the conditions for devolved government in NI are no longer valid.
The NI Protocol has undermined the GFA, which itself has proven to be not respected either.
With the Conservative and UNIONIST party so openly abandoning the Union, as confirmed by the Supreme court yesterday, I would like to offer good luck now to the Scots. They have the smoking gun and in effect “explicit photographs” of the Conservative and UNIONIST party destroying the UK as we know it.
I’ll believe it when it actually happens.
Until then I’m sceptical.
If you go through the Green lane at any airport your are still subject to random checks aren’t you? ..and if challenged you’d better have the required paperwork. So, unless you have something else in mind, it will only solve the delay priblem; not the paperwork problem. If there were no random checks who would ever use the Red lane?
To quote Rev Mervyn Gibson on the matter of a border –
“If it walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck,”
“If there’s red and green lanes, it looks like a border, then it is a border…”
And the law says that a border breaks the Act of Union and thus by imposing foreign trade laws in NI, the Unionist population no longer support the GFA.
There will be no GFA Strand 1, whilst these foreign laws apply in NI.
Big relief there is movement and likely shows Sunak is more trusted. One suspects the change in tone from the likes of ERG Steve Baker also helping.
The British position has tended to rely to technology that does not yet exist anywhere, so Author right to indicate we should wait for the detail.
Maybe EU overplayed its hand. But in mitigation Brexiteers failed to properly consider the NI border when campaigning, or later when opting for a Hard Brexit. May shouldn’t be deemed a ‘moderate’. Her Brexit was pretty ‘Hard’ too. She had option of Norway/Swiss model and opted to not go that way. We’d be hearing nothing about NI if we’d done a Norway. DUP was also told all about the problems before they pushed for Brexit so they were arguably quite cavalier about the GFA and peace process. And they are not in line with the way NI voted. One wonders if they actually wanted this impasse to happen and to endanger the GFA?
Then if you are the EU would you have trusted Johnson and Frost? Track records count.
More broadly we are finding what was predicted – being a 3rd country gives one much less leverage in a negotiation than you’d like, esp after EU out manoeuvred us by insisting Withdrawal agreement signed first. One to watch again when the TCA comes up for renewal in 25. This is a poisoned chalice from which we will have to repeatedly sip.
The problem with doing a Norway is that it involves still having to abide by large parts of EU law such as free movement and contributions to the budget. If you’re going to do that you’re better off with being a full member as at least then you can have some influence (however small) on the decisions
That exactly sums up the post-referendum debate. The voting pattern was a circular firing squad in both polls and parliament: Hard Brexit trumped remain (‘we want out and need to respect the referendum result;). Soft Brexit trumped hard Brexit (‘Cutting all the ties is endless trouble for little expected gain’). And Remain trumped Soft Brexit (‘If that is all the gain we get it is not worth the trouble’). What people really wanted (myself included) it having our cake and eating it: The advantages of membership without the costs and constraints. But, as Prince Harry is finding out, that option does not exist.
Most of the comments miss the key point entirely.
Some deficiencies for sure, but Norway and Switzerland not doing too bad and seem ok with it. We’d have got ‘consultation’ rights.
As it is the TCA has the ‘level playing field’ clauses so in many regards we’ve stayed tied but without the access. Freedom to make a complete horlicks of our arrangements I guess was part of what we wanted.
what should be a relatively uncontroversial position: that mistakes were made by both sides in the initial negotiations
The entire mess was caused by Britain insisting on leaving, and then refusing to look for a deal that the other side could accept. It is not a ‘mistake’ by the EU that they refused to make concessions to solve the problems that Britain had caused.
I expected the downvotes, but think about it for a moment. The UK position was always ‘We will get what we want, because it is our right to demand that. Once that is settled, Britain and the EU will sit down as equals, make sure the new regime works well, and split the bill for any difficulties caused.’ Now: Why would the EU want to do that? Imagine for a moment you were breaking out of a trade deal with China. Would you expect China to collaborate in that way?
You have commented on enough articles here to know that what you are saying is disputed by those who were at the very heart of those discussions.
The Irish border should never have been an issue in the negotiations. It became the chosen battleground for the EU to prove the impossibility of Brexit. Our troubled history with Ireland lent itself perfectly to casting the UK in a poor light if they didn’t give ground when threatened with risking the hard won peace of the GFA.
The sticking point was the threat from the EU and Mr Varadkar. Yet the threat was a chimera. A phantom. It was leverage, pure and simple, and UK Remainers seized on it as the intractable impasse that proved Brexit was impossible.
As David Trimble noted: “It is not true that Brexit in any way threatens the peace process. There is nothing in the Good Friday Agreement which even touches on the normal conduct of business between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Leaving the EU does not affect the agreement because the EU had nothing to do with it. “
Lord Trimble was one of the architects of the GFA, unlike Mr Blair and the various EU Bureaucrats who merely turned up for the photo-op signing. He actually knew what he was talking about – rather than those who used it as a slogan.
The reasons it became an issue were political not practical. It was all about leverage – and nothing more.
So, it was not the UK Govt, but the EU Commission who were – from the very outset – acting in bad faith.
It is a matter of record that after the 2016 referendum Taoiseach Enda Kenny convened a joint committee of ROI and UK civil servants to resolve any border related issues. It was only after the arch EU supplicant Leo Varadkar became Taoiseach that the issue arose as he fell in with Brussels plan to use it as leverage in negotiations.
It didn’t go unnoticed at the time, as senior Irish diplomat noted “This emotive issue has been used as a weapon by those wanting to thwart Brexit — not least Michel Barnier. But Mr Varadkar, too, has pursued a high-risk strategy which could backfire badly, given that Britain is vital to Irish economic interests.”
What could have threatened the GFA was erecting manned customs posts along the border. Yet NO ONE was advocating that. The WTO adjudicated there was nothing in its rules that would force the UK, the ROI or EU to erect a hard border after Brexit.
The UK Govt categorically said it would not do so.
The ROI categorically said it would not do so.
The EU categorically said it would not do so..
The media talked of a “hard border” as though a new Berlin Wall were about to be erected! This idea that an ‘open border’ meant ‘no border’ was a misreading of the argument. Certain BBC journalists and pundits went on about it as though there was no (pre-Brexit) border between ROI and NI.
The UK and ROI have different currencies, different tax rates, VAT, excise duties, different laws and legal systems. There was always a border – one which Customs authorities managed by intelligence-led policing of freight, which could have continued after Brexit. Both the head of the UK customs and Irish customs said they could have operated without any customs posts but the issue since became heavily politicised – to no-one’s benefit.
David Davis’s team were planning to negotiate a Canada ++ style FTA – that was also the only offer that the EU themselves had countenanced – Had Theresa May and Olly Robbins not ceded the timetable to Barnier and indicated their own weakness, we might have got further.
Had we gone along with a Canada style deal the EU’s stated position was that “In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, flexible and imaginative solutions will be required, including with the aim of avoiding a hard border, while respecting the integrity of the Union legal order. In this context, the Union should also recognise existing bilateral agreements and arrangements between the United Kingdom and Ireland which are compatible with EU law.”
At the outset the preferred solution was for a bilateral agreement to be thrashed out between UK and ROI, with the EU giving assent once negotiated. (Despite what nay-sayers insist it was indeed possible to do so. ) If they actually read the damn treaties they’d see that “Only the European Union may legislate and adopt legally binding acts concerning areas within its exclusive competence. EU member states may only do so themselves if empowered by the European Union. Accordingly, it falls to the European Union to decide whether to empower member states to conclude international treaties in fields of exclusive EU competence. “
If a bi-lateral agreement was reached between UK and Dublin then all Brussels would have to do was give it the nod and the issue could have been resolved without erecting a hard, physical border.
All it required was goodwill and a genuine wish to see the matter resolved in a mutually beneficial way. However, it proved the sticking point that it became because the EU Commission charged M Barnier with the task of using the issue as leverage. To no one’s advantage. Indeed, the endless comments from Remain zealots about Brexit causing a return to the Troubles was fuelling the fire and potentially turning that threat into reality.
The bad faith was not coming the UK Govt at all – they were acting on instruction from the electorate to leave the EU and were abiding by all the rulkes laid out in treaties for doing so.
It was the EU who were using the idea of peace in Ireland as a bargaining chip – yet you seem to support them doing so, simply because you don’t like the idea of Brexit.
Not convincing. For one thing David Trimble (Ulster Unionist party) is the very opposite of neutral.
You are right in saying that it would have been perfectly possible for the EU to legally make a solution that suited Britain. All it would take is that the EU should be willing to sacrifice its interests to make things easier for Britain. The problem with that is that there was and is neither trust nor goodwill between the parties, and that the EU has a perfect right to prefer a solution that suits *them*.
Anyway, I do not agree that the Irish border was a pretext. The EU was working to safeguard the interests of Ireland, avoid a troublesome border, and protect the integrity of their internal market against possible British encroachments. If that meant going against British interests, that is just a side effect.
Jeez that’s 12+ paragraphs missing the point. We wanted a border. That was the whole point of Brexit. You can’t say ‘we want a border, but not the reality of that if and when that doesn’t suit us’
As regards negotiating from the position of a 3rd party – don’t blame EU. Naivety is no defence.
“This emotive issue has been used as a weapon by those wanting to thwart Brexit — not least Michel Barnier. But Mr Varadkar, too, has pursued a high-risk strategy which could backfire badly, given that Britain is vital to Irish economic interests.”
Source please: I can’t find it using Google.
“…but this reflexive defence of everything EU far too easily lets its negotiators off the hook.”
Thank you, Mr. Fogh. You illustrate Mr. McTague’s point to perfection.
The UK should have simply stated that the red/green lane system was what they were going to implement. If the EU didn’t like it then they were free to set up checkpoints on the Irish border but that the UK wouldn’t be doing the same for goods entering Northern Ireland from the south.
You could have done that. At which point you would have had a full-blown trade war. I do not know what the EU would have done. Barred British companies from operating in or selling to the EU? Stopped policing refugees crossing the channel? Built the world’s biggest refugee camp just south of the NI border, and moved all the refugees from Calais to there? Refused to sell electricity to the Channel Islands? All I know is that insisting on a bare-knuckle fight with someone stronger than you generally means that you will loose.
Because as the article points out, pragmatic solutions were available from day one, instead the EU chose to weaponise sectarian tensions over a political dispute, which was a despicable thing to have done.
The claim that trade between the Republic and Northern Ireland was a threat to the Single Market was laughable, by the EU’s own admission, more illegal goods enter through Rotterdam in a year than the entirety of cross border trade.
Did I expect the EU to roll over and give the UK whatever we wanted? No, the EU has a right to play hard ball in defending what it sees as its own interests. But for it to fan the embers of a bloody civil conflict over a dispute about a minuscule fraction of trade, that was always easily avoidable, is low.
There were several solutions available to the UK.
The May backstop – keep the relevant regulations the same – but you did not like that.
Build the customs border in the Irish Sea and make it work – but you did not like that.
Stay partially in the internal market – but you did not like that.
Give the ECJ jurisdiction to arbitrate disputes – but you did not like that.
You could cut down a lot on the paperwork by just harmonising some areas – like plant and animal health – but you did not like that.
Those would be pragmatic solutions, ways to avoid problems with the peace process while giving the EU what it wanted. But you did not like that. Instead you wanted the EU to solve the problems by giving you what you wanted. Why should they accommodate you just because you refuse to accommodate them?
The dispute was not over a ‘miniscule fraction of trade’, and the NI dispute was not a pretext. The EU is a legalistic system. Once there is a deal in place that allows Britain to export into the EU without controls or legal recourse, that is a loophole there for Britain to exploit. And Britain would have every incentive to exploit it. From an EU point of view, Brexit was an irrational decision. The only way it could make sense was if Britain got itself into a position where it could undercut the EU by laxer regulation combined with market access. So, even before Johnson demonstrated that he would not keep his word long enough to let the ink dry, the EU had every reason to expect that any concession would be exploited in bad faith.
There are practically friction-free border crossings all over the world. Take the Canadian border crossing at Windsor. 10,000 trucks cross each day, keeping ‘just in time’ deliveries needed by Detroit’s motor industry. Several thousand commuters make the same daily journey.
Canada uses a system called Free And Secure Trade for Commercial Vehicles, which allows truck drivers to register for “trusted” status. Customs forms only need to be submitted 30 mins before arrival, done electronically and with payment sorted in advance.
It is a “Good Faith” system. The cargo will not be checked automatically for correct payment, but punitive fines go to those caught breaking the rules.
The Swiss borders are rigorously enforced in terms of duties because they are not in the Customs Union, but the “paperwork” (all electronic of course) is done routinely by regular traders. Yet crossing the border itself appears invisible and frictionless.
Norway, shares a 1000 mile border with Sweden. It too appears frictionless to those that cross. It is regularly described as the smoothest border crossing in the world. IT systems allow goods to be declared to customs before they leave the warehouse. Their bespoke “Nordnet” network again allows customs to regulate cross border freight and travel– all without overbearing infrastructures at the border.
Are any one of these solutions a perfect fit for the Irish border? No. But you’d have to be wilfully obstructive – to eeyorish levels of pessimism – to imagine no such solution is possible IF BOTH SIDES SOUGHT AN ACCOMODATION. The major sticking point is one of intransigence rather than infrastructure.
Lars Karlsson, former director of the World Customs Organisation and deputy director general of Swedish Customs, envisaged a system that would incorporate automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), GPS tracking, radio-frequency identification, specialised smartphone apps and ePassports. He stated – back in 2018 – that he was confident there were neither technological nor legal barriers to creating a border with almost no noticeable difference from the ’soft’ frontier that currently exists and has said that creating a frictionless “smart border” between the UK and the Republic of Ireland was “perfectly possible and doable”.
He is a genuine subject-matter expert, yet a civil servant, Michel Barnier, – a man with a stated agenda – can merely dismiss his findings as unworkable and people immediately side with the civil servant – one who is tasked with securing leverage in negotiations – Why, I wonder?
As you say – these are ‘Good Faith’ systems. They can work if you can trust the other party. The problem is that the EU has no reason to expect good faith from the UK. I have seen the Norway-Sweden border and the EU-Norway deal described as full of holes. The reason that it is not a problem is that Norway is a small economy, whose main exports are oil, timber, and fish. Norway is not in a position to make major profits from undercutting EU rules, and if it ever tried, the EU could ‘easily deploy some crushing retaliation. Norway can be trusted to play nice and (also) protect the interests of the EU. Britain cannot.
The kind of electronic systems you are talking about would seem to require a high degree of trust between the two sides and/or direct access of (in this case) the EU into UK administrative computer systems. Without that, the UK could easily just fail to make the system work, or starve it of resources. After all, the UK has no interest in protecting the EU revenues or rules, and some significant interest in making it possible for UK-based companies to evade them.
As already stated, trade between Ireland and the EU is minuscule, for Britain to use it as a back door into the single market it would have to increase trade 100 fold, that’s not going to happen. Even then, the majority of trade from Ireland transits through the UK and so would be subject to checks. Your idea that the single market would be at risk has no basis in reality.
OK, there is clearly an upper limit to the trade volume. You are saying that the smuggling and rule-breaking ought to remain small enough that the EU could easily live with it, if it wanted to. The trouble is 1) that what matters is what they think, not what we think they ought to think. 2) They do not want to. And why should they?
Besides, Norway – famously – is a ‘rule taker’, having accepted to follow EU rules without a say in making them. If Britain had accepted a similar position, then, yes, a technical solution would not have been hard to achieve. But you did not want that.
Why should they accommodate you just because you refuse to accommodate them?
Oh Rasmus, the answer to that has been staring you in the face: in order to benefit all the peoples on the island of Ireland. That’s what will happen now the EU are starting to get over their hissy fit at the UK having the temerity to want to leave their bureaucratic clutches.
The answer to that is very easy. The EU is not needed in order to benefit the peoples on the island of Ireland. The UK is perfectly capable of solving the problems on its own. It just prefers to pass the work on to someone else.
Not sure that’s fair MP. EU early on said it would help to find a flexible way to manage the Irish Border, and this after UK had indicated a Hard Brexit was to be followed. They made an exception for this issue. So we had up’d the ante first. Had we wanted to be pragmatic and put a premium on this issue we’d have gone for a Soft Brexit. We chose not to do that.
Boris signed up to a border in the Irish sea. If he signed and it’s that which has caused tensions within DUP circles then he and his Govt are at least equally at fault. Would you agree? But then again it was all part of ‘Get Brexit Done’…or not as it appears.
instead the EU chose to weaponise sectarian tensions
You lost me right there…
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