Five reasons historic agreement will be welcomed throughout Ireland
You are already forgiven if you had long ago tuned out of the repetitive Brexit noise amid a sense of “déjà vu all over again” and a more immediate preoccupation with that other bundle of joy, Covid-19.
But the 27 European Union states are expected to formally back the post-Brexit trade deal within days.
Ambassadors from the member states were being briefed on the contents of the deal on Christmas Day by Michel Barnier, who led Brussels’ negotiating team in the talks with the UK.
They have written to the European Parliament to say they intend to take a decision on the preliminary application of the deal within days.
The timing of the deal has forced politicians and officials in the UK and Brussels to tear up Christmas plans.
British MPs and peers will be called back to Westminster on December 30 to vote on the deal, but MEPs are not expected to approve it until the new year.
Bearing in mind that we are still awaiting some Irish sting in the details to emerge from 2,000 pages of text, the deal is still good news for the average citizen of Ireland north and south.
Let’s say it again: At 1.44pm Irish time on Christmas Eve, 2020, the EU and UK signalled they had definitively agreed the terms of a minimalist Brexit deal.
It means the avoidance of total chaos on New Year’s Day, although there will undoubtedly be hiccups and problems.
Yes, it was after all four-and-a-half years to the very day since that fateful early morning of June 24, 2016 when we learnt UK voters had narrowly decided to end EU membership which had been in place since January 1973 alongside its interlinked old “frenemies” Ireland and Denmark. But we have for three years hovered around the brink of a no-deal, with ruinous trade tariffs and quotas hitting €5bn worth of Irish exports and putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.
That is the first positive – a deal is vastly better than no deal. But let’s not forget there will be customs papers to fill up and manage.
That means extra business costs – and that in turn means higher prices for shoppers and probably delays and shortages of your favourite products until exporters, transporters and customs officials learn how to manage all this paper minding.
But since it is Christmas, let’s focus on the five positives to this Brexit deal in order of importance:
1. No Border: All hail chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, whose first words on announcing the deal were that peace in Ireland and the no-return of a border were always a priority and had been achieved.
Let’s recall that the EU’s 1992 single market ended border customs checks and the EU’s €2.4bn in “peace grants” since 1995 have helped underpin the peace. The EU has done more for Irish unity than any other entity in our troubled history. Brexit will not cause death or injury.
2. No huge fallout for Irish jobs: Ireland can continue to trade without tariffs or trade.
The agri-food sector has a big challenge ahead, as have the lifeblood of Irish business, the haulage firms. We remain too dependent on the so-called “landbridge” for Irish EU exports via Britain.
3. Ireland stays with the EU but retains UK close links: EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen mused on the true meaning of “sovereignty” when the deal was announced. For her the word means being able to travel, work, study and settle across 27 member states which trade freely with one another.
It means solidarity and cooperation to promote prosperity and social well-being. The deal means Irish people benefit from all that. The preservation of the Irish-UK common travel area means we still also have that with Britain.
4. The UK gets “closure” with hopes of a better future: Brexit never made sense but it is the democratic will of the British people for the foreseeable future at least. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson did sound a hopeful note as he also welcomed the deal with the EU.
He pledged a positive future relationship with the European Union, one of friendship and cooperation. That means this minimalist deal can be enhanced over time making things easier.
5. You will hear less about the “B-word”: The draft deal still leaves important things undone. First up is implementation, which will have to be done on a provisional basis, pending ratification.
There is also the “law of unintended consequences” which will throw up major problems yet to be resolved. In sum, Brexit still has not gone away but it will be easier to “tune out” very soon.