Great preparations for a UK-free EU by 2019 are only just starting
Published 04/10/2016 | 02:30
Now we know Britain will trigger Article 50 of the EU Treaty next March. And given a two-year negotiating process, we also know that by April 2019 Ireland must cope with an EU without our second largest trading partner. We know that a de facto land barrier, which separates the two jurisdictions between on the island of Ireland, is at risk of becoming a de facto EU-UK frontier raising questions about customs and immigration checks.
We know that €1.2bn worth of trade between Ireland and Britain each week is at risk of becoming subject to trade barriers. And we know that the common travel area allowing unchecked travel between Ireland and Britain since the State's foundation is also in doubt.
Beyond the start date, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her government have given no specifics on how Britain would approach the talks.
Ms May certainly hit on the emotive issues of sovereignty, immigration and world status. The tone was pretty hardline. There will be a "Great Repeal Act" ending the primacy of EU law in Britain which has applied since 1973. For continuity, existing EU laws and rules will be absorbed into UK law. But it was notable that she was ruling out involvement by the EU Court of Justice in their affairs.
That said we must recall that she was speaking at a British Conservative Party conference. She was addressing some of the most rabidly anti-EU people on the planet. It will take time before we see how much give and take there will be. It may take a deal longer before the core concerns of every Irish citizen, cited above, are in any way elucidated upon.
Immigration has been the big issue in both the June 23 Brexit referendum and in the drive to implement the result in the weeks which have followed. Ms May certainly hit that topic hard. "We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration," she said.
The emphasis is important because it could bear consequences for the UK economy and serious knock-on effects for Ireland.
The EU says that a member state cannot keep access to the border-free market, effectively the world's largest tariff-free economic bloc of 500 million people, without also accepting the free movement of workers. So immigration restrictions by the UK on immigration would risk barriers to trade between Britain and the EU.
That is an economic nightmare for Ireland who must negotiate trade arrangements with the UK via the EU.
Ms May also rejected the idea that parts of the U.K. might veto the deal. The message was plainly aimed at Scotland, where six out of 10 voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU.
"I will never allow divisive nationalists to undermine the precious union between the four nations of our United Kingdom," Ms May said. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: "PM going out of her way to say Scotland's voice and interests don't matter. Strange approach from someone who wants to keep UK together."
These same sentiments will be echoed in Northern Ireland.