Monday 16 September 2019

Kevin Doyle: The Brexit jargon that you're afraid to ask about as endgame approaches


Overdue visit: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Government Buildings in Dublin on Monday. Photo: Getty
Overdue visit: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Government Buildings in Dublin on Monday. Photo: Getty
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

We are entering the Brexit endgame, but it remains hard to keep up. Words once reserved for financial reports and government papers are now part of our everyday dictionary. But are you afraid to ask what they all mean?

Backstop

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

Collins dictionary has defined the backstop as "a system that will come into effect if no other arrangement is made". The Irish Government says it is an insurance policy. Boris Johnson argues it's an anti-democratic trap.

The open Border on the island of Ireland is facilitated by the fact North and south trade under EU rules. Once Northern Ireland leaves the EU, it will be free to change its production, safety and environmental standards. If this were to happen, then goods moving into the Republic would have to be checked. Both the UK and Ireland say they don't want a hard Border but so far they have found no way of avoiding one other than retaining the status quo. The backstop effectively keeps the UK closely aligned to the EU's regulatory system "unless and until" alternative arrangements are found.

Northern Ireland-only backstop

When the backstop was first mooted, it was designed to apply only to Northern Ireland. However, the DUP claimed that by singling out the region, then prime minister Theresa May was putting the existence of the UK at risk. Ultimately, Mrs May said no prime minister could ever do such a thing. She went back to the EU and negotiated so that the backstop would apply to the whole of the UK - but this met major opposition in her party.

With the threat of no deal looming, the UK is believed to be looking again at the Northern Ireland-only option. It may look to introduce some element of 'consent' to involve the North's politicians.

Customs union

The customs union is an agreement between member states that they will not apply taxes on goods coming from other countries in the EU. There is also a pact on the tariffs applied on goods entering from outside the union. Individual members are forbidden from negotiating trade agreements separately.

Single market

This is a system that allows goods, services, money and even people to easily move between EU countries.

Countries in the single market apply many common rules and standards. Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are also in the single market.

Divorce bill

There is a common misconception this is a bill being sent to the UK as punishment for leaving the EU. It is actually based on pre-commitments made by the UK. It includes contributions to EU budgets up to 2020 and continuing liabilities such as EU civil servants' pensions. The EU expects the UK to honour its obligations, regardless of whether it leaves with or without a deal. The bill will be about €43bn and paid over several years.

Citizens' rights

The rights of EU citizens living in the UK is one of the three issues to be resolved before Brexit moves to the next stage.

There has been no agreement on how to safeguard the rights of citizens, should the UK leave the EU without an exit deal. If the Withdrawal Agreement is eventually passed, the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the EU, will be protected.

Article 50

Article 50 is a section of the Lisbon Treaty (remember it?) that is triggered by a country that wants to leave the EU.

It set outs the process for exiting, including a two-year timetable. Theresa May triggered it at the end of March 2017. This is why the original deadline for Brexit was March 2019. The EU agreed to the extension until October 31. The UK can revoke Article 50 at any time, including if it was to hold a second referendum.

Transition period

Leaving the EU was always going to be a complex situation, so the UK/EU agreed to a period whereby the UK would be outside the union but treated as though it was still a member state. During the transition, the UK would not be allowed to participate in the European Parliament or the European Council.

Under the deal agreed by Theresa May, the transition period was to run until the end of 2020 - but the timeline could be extended by up to two years.

Free-trade agreement

A free-trade arrangement is a deal between countries aimed at removing trade barriers.

The UK wants a free-trade agreement with the EU after Brexit but it could take years of negotiation. Ireland's nominee to the EU Commission, Phil Hogan, was this week put in charge of trade, meaning he will have a central role in those talks.

WTO rules

When countries don't have a free-trade arrangement in place, they usually operate under rules set by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Each country sets tariffs on good entering. For example, the EU puts a 10pc tax on cars entering from non-EU countries. The real concern for Ireland is what tariffs will apply to agriculture products. European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee has said the prospect of tariffs on beef and dairy exports to the UK from the Republic would be "absolutely disastrous for Irish agriculture".

Prorogue

This is a new one on most of us. In Ireland, it is generally the Government that proposes when the Dáil sits, but Opposition TDs can try to change the timetable. In the UK, a government can shut down parliament without consulting MPs. It's a power, known as proroguing, that rests with Queen Elizabeth, done on the advice of the prime minister. After a period of 'prorogue', the parliament is reopened with a speech from the queen.

Boris Johnson asked the queen to suspend parliament until October 14, saying he needed time to work on his legislative agenda. MPs claimed the five-week shutdown was about limiting opportunities to debate Brexit.

The UK's Supreme Court will decide next week who is correct. If it finds against the government, it could be very serious for Mr Johnson as he will be accused of having lied to the queen.

No deal

A no-deal Brexit means the UK will crash out on October 31 without any arrangements in place to mitigate the impact.

While governments across the EU have been preparing for such a scenario, there will be severe disruption. While some in the UK see this as a 'clean break', the Irish Government has warned that after a period of disruption both sides will have to get back to talks.

And the same issues will be top of the agenda: the divorce bill, citizens' rights and the Irish question.

Yellowhammer

This is a five-page document which outlines the UK government's 'planning assumptions' for no deal. It warns of rising food and fuel prices, disruption to medicine supplies and public disorder. In Northern Ireland, the prospects are even bleaker, a revived black market described as "likely", particularly in Border areas where smuggling is already a problem.

Irish Independent

Also in Business