Brexit: Heading for Disaster or Brinkmanship? Part Two

The Irish Border was always going to be the stumbling block to BREXIT. Part of the problem is that the House of Commons is not representative as the 7 Sinn Fein MPs have not taken up their seats as it would mean them taking the oath of allegiance to the Queen. The people of Northern Ireland voted to “remain” whereas the 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs favour BREXIT. A border down the Irish Sea would not be acceptable to the DUP any more than a border in Ireland would be acceptable to Sinn Fein.

All parties agree that a “no-deal BREXIT” would be disastrous for the economy in that 44% of our exports go to Europe (with only 18% of Europe’s exports coming to Britain) and a further 20% of Britain’s exports go via trade agreements with Europe. Most of our food comes from Europe, and Spain in particular, and the World Trade Organisation Tariffs could add up to 10% to prices. No amount of trade deals around the world could compensate for the loss of trade with our nearest neighbours. The recent deal with Japan replicates the deal the UK already had with Japan via the EU.

The “common market” was formed in 1957, and President Charles de Gaulle vetoed Britain’s application to join throughout the 1960s most notably in 1967. Britain eventually joining in 1973. The “common market” became the European Union with the Maastricht Treaty and which established “freedom of movement” in 1992.

People in Ireland cross the border daily and to reimpose a border would for many mean putting a customs checkpoint between their home and work or between their home and shops. As it will for the people of Gibraltar, who like Scotland voted “remain”, who cross the border with Spain daily and it is of real concern that little attention appears to have been paid to Gibraltar.

The whole of Ireland was part of the UK from the Anglo-Norman invasion in the late 12th century until the 1920s. The Easter uprising against British rule in 1916 (halfway through the first world war) gave rise to the “Irish War of Independence” which waged between 1919 and 1921 and which was brought to an end by the Anglo Irish Treaty signed on the 6th December 1921. In June 1922 Ireland was partitioned under British Law by the “Government of Ireland Act” which led to an eleven-month civil war in Ireland, The South declared independence on 6th December 1921, but this was not ratified by the British Government until the Republic of Ireland Act in 1949. Moreover, quite understandably many in Ireland long for a united Ireland which the invisible border of the EU and “freedom of movement”, which they have had since 1992, has all but given them.

No one wants to go back to the bombing campaigns of the 1970s and 80s with bombs in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Gilford and, of course, the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton. Tanks on the streets and fighting in Belfast was a regular sight on television news. And only recently there have been concerns about the killing of unarmed civilians by all sides in the conflict.

Britain has left the EU, although the future relationship has yet to be agreed and during the transitional period which ends at the end of this year it has been business as usual, so the impact has yet to be felt. January 2021 is crunch time. There is no going back in that if the UK were to re-apply for membership, it is highly unlikely that the EU would agree to Great Britain retaining the pound and would insist upon the Euro. The difficulty has always been that the “red lines” Theresa May would not cross were not compatible one with the other.

The best solution for the economy may be to stay in a “customs union” and “free trade area”, with appropriate representation and involvement in negotiation, which may also be the only solution for Ireland and Gibraltar.


* Chris Perry is a former Director of Social Services of South Glamorgan County Council, a former Non-Executive Director of Winchester & Eastleigh Healthcare NHS Trust and a former Director of Age Concern Hampshire.

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  • Peter Martin 23rd Sep '20 - 2:50pm

    I must say I have never understood how Gibraltar can ever be considered to be part of any Customs Union when Customs and Taxes are virtually synonymous.

    There’s no VAT, no inheritance tax, no wealth tax and no capital gains tax. Income taxs are also much lower. A special scheme exists called Category 2 residence which qualifies ‘residents’ to pay a maximum of less than £30k tax on their worldwide income.

    It’s hardly surprising that Gibraltar residents don’t want to be a part of Spain. If there were no VAT etc etc in the Isle of Wight I dare say the residents there wouldn’t want to be a part of the UK.

    So if the border between Spain and Gibraltar can be said to be open it shouldn’t be too hard to keep a relatively open border in Ireland.

  • John Marriott 23rd Sep '20 - 3:48pm

    I’m getting a bit tired of this never ending Brexit debate. Quite frankly, it would appear that both parties (the U.K. and the EU) want to have their cake and eat it. The problem at the moment would appear to be that the latter has the muscle largely to get what it wants. Despite what Peter Martin says, I can’t see things changing that rapidly. The $64,000 question would appear to me to be who will blink first and when.

  • Innocent Bystander 24th Sep '20 - 9:01am

    Your view on English exceptionalism is completely accurate and correct.
    The problem we have is that
    a) this disease has been the ruin of all former empires and it will be ours
    b) the cure is so radical and drastic that, not only is it not in anyone’s manifesto, it is too unpleasant to debate.

  • Mario Caves 24th Sep '20 - 6:07pm

    “it would appear that both parties (the U.K. and the EU) want to have their cake and eat it”.

    I don’t agree. That’s not really the situation with Brexit at all.
    We used to sit at the table with the EU and share both the cake and the cost of providing it.
    The EU has neither asked for nor demanded any changes to how it works, but now we want to have the benefit of the cake without paying for the shopping or complying with the ‘house rules’. It’s only the UK that wants to both have it’s cake and eat it.

  • John Marriott 25th Sep '20 - 8:58am

    @Mario Caves
    How the EU works IS precisely the problem for us pragmatic remainers, or at least this one. You could say the same for the USA and little old us, or, perhaps in our case, it should read ‘NOT work’.

    Already cracks are appearing in the European project, led by East European countries such as Hungary and Poland. If only it had stuck to trade and not tried to move towards federalism. I’m sure you’ll disagree and say we knew what we were signing up to back in the early 1970s; but, back then, beggars like us couldn’t have afforded to be choosers. In any case, is that really what the idea of “pooling sovereignty” actually meant?

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