Throughout the negotiation of Mrs. May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA), and her subsequent attempts to have Parliament approve it, the issue of the Irish border loomed large. In fact, it was the EU’s intransigence over the border issue that finally undermined the WA.
But it has now become totally clear that the EU’s position on the border was a falsity peddled in order to exercise maximum pressure on the UK while they negotiated the terms of the WA and then to maintain that pressure, via the backstop, while a free trade agreement was established.
The EU’s argument was essentially as follows:
Any Withdrawal Agreement must simultaneously assure the integrity of the Single Market and the adherence by the UK to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). It was claimed that the GFA requires that the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland be open at all times, thereby prohibiting border infrastructure/a “hard border”.
The argument continued that the only way to achieve this, without breaching the integrity of the Single Market, was to keep Northern Ireland within the Single Market (the backstop) until such time as adequate technology existed for customs controls to be implemented away from the border. The EU further insisted that, without its agreement, Northern Ireland would not be entitled to exit the backstop.
Had the UK signed up to the backstop, it would have been locked into the EU – possibly in perpetuity – without any say and obliged to adopt all EU laws as well as freedom of movement. As a result, it would have found itself without any negotiating position while the future trading arrangements with the EU were being established. It was the invidious potential effects of the backstop, amongst other things, that prompted many, including myself, to describe the WA as the equivalent of political and economic unconditional surrender by the UK.
But the EU’s position has now been busted.
First, the Good Friday Agreement does not require an open border. The only place in which the border features in that agreement is in the section on security. During the Troubles there were heavily fortified army barracks, police stations and watchtowers along the border. The GFA merely required the removal of these and the demilitarisation of the border. It refers to the normalisation of security arrangements. There is no suggestion that there should not be any arrangements for customs to be collected or passports checked.
Second, it is frankly impossible to close the 300-mile border. The notion is absurd.
Third, also from a practical perspective, the value of cross-border trade on the island of Ireland is about €2.6 billion per annum or less than 0.5% of total UK trade with the EU – it is tiddly in trading terms. Irrespective of the mechanisms put in place to collect tariffs, any customs leakage would not even amount to a rounding error in the accounts of either the UK or the EU.
And finally – and what has prompted me to write this article – is the declaration by the Irish Government yesterday that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it would not implement a “hard border” and that customs checks would, as has been argued by the UK Government for years, take place away from the border. It has at last admitted that it can live without such a border.
This admission has revealed that the EU never actually needed the backstop. In that revelation it has proven itself to have always been in bad faith in its negotiations with the UK.
In commercial negotiations of lesser importance, such bad faith may have been tolerable, but this act of bad faith all but triggered a constitutional crisis in the UK. It is abhorrent that the EU held such a false position, given the enormity of the consequences. It proves that the institution is entirely untrustworthy. Armed with that knowledge, we must decline any further negotiations with it. We must simply leave the wretched institution at the very earliest opportunity.
The post The Irish Government has revealed the bad faith with which the EU has treated the border issue appeared first on BrexitCentral.