Business Brexit

Monday 22 October 2018

Northern Ireland is already a 'special' case - in spite of Arlene Foster's wishes

The statue of Edward Carson in front of Stormont. Dormant anxieties about pushing for a border poll and a united Ireland have been reignited and are likely to blame for some of the DUP's intransigence. Picture: PA
The statue of Edward Carson in front of Stormont. Dormant anxieties about pushing for a border poll and a united Ireland have been reignited and are likely to blame for some of the DUP's intransigence. Picture: PA

Shona Murray

The countdown is now under way for a breakthrough between EU and UK officials over Brexit. There are just 10 days to go before a crucial summit of EU leaders takes place in Brussels to decide whether Britain has done enough to allow trade talks with the EU to begin.

In the first of a series of milestone meetings this week, British Prime Minister Theresa May will have lunch with president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker this afternoon.

She is expected to 'put something on the table' and present Britain's offering on the EU's three priority areas: safeguarding EU and UK citizens' rights; the UK's financial commitments; and resolving the Border issue.

Until there is sufficient progress in these areas, the EU will not agree to open negotiations on its future relationship with the UK.

Officials from both sides were locked in talks and there was close contact with representatives of the Irish Government all weekend.

If a deal materialises, the North will maintain 'regulatory alignment' on certain EU-related sectors, such as agriculture, energy, and packaging.

This would require Northern Ireland staying in a customs union arrangement which satisfies the EU's single market regulations.

However, a considerable impasse remains in getting this proposal over the line because of the highly sensitive political environment in Westminster and Northern Ireland.

According to sources, sides have only inched closer together. Dublin wants to see a logical plan and a concrete commitment from Britain, mapping out how it reconciles leaving the EU while protecting peace on the island of Ireland.

The Irish question remains the most complicated matter to overcome. Since Britain is adamant that it is leaving both the EU's customs union and single market, a solution which involves Northern Ireland being designated as a 'special' case is still being considered, in spite of threats from the DUP to withdraw its support for the Tory government.

Kevin Doyle: May caught in the headlights with Dublin and DUP bearing down

The DUP is against anything that will set Northern Ireland apart from the rest of the UK.

"Isolating Northern Ireland from its largest market" was not a "sensible" option, DUP leader Arlene Foster said yesterday. She also said the situation had turned into a "zero sum game", where protecting the "integrity" of the UK and having good cross-Border relations was, in the eyes of some, "mutually exclusive".

But it is impossible to ignore the fact that Northern Ireland is already a special case and cannot be exactly compared to the rest of Britain. The fundamental essence of the Good Friday Agreement allows for people in the North decide whether they wish to be British or Irish - and therefore citizens of the EU. This alone means particular consideration should be given to the North.

In recent weeks, harsh and factually incorrect commentary - mainly in the British press and among British politicians - has driven the sides further apart. Trust and confidence between the governments have therefore dwindled.

Dormant anxieties about pushing for a border poll and a united Ireland have been reignited and are likely to blame for some of the DUP's intransigence.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has tried to temper these fears by telling unionists the Government is simply seeking to defend the status quo.

Irish Independent

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