Saturday 24 February 2018

Let's end wishful thinking and look at the hard facts

Brexit and a normal relationship between Britain and Ireland is simply not possible, writes Colm McCarthy

Gamble: Boris Johnson, one of the Brexiteers hoping for a clean exit from the EU. Photo: Reuters
Gamble: Boris Johnson, one of the Brexiteers hoping for a clean exit from the EU. Photo: Reuters
Colm McCarthy

Colm McCarthy

The UK Government is likely to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty sooner than had been expected, in the first months of 2017, according to last Thursday's remarks from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. EU Council President Donald Tusk indicated last week that this was also Theresa May's timetable, only to be corrected by the UK prime minister. The Three Brexiteers in the UK Cabinet (Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis) have been jointly charged with executing Brexit. While the division of responsibilities is unclear, all three appear to contemplate not just an accelerated timetable but also a clean exit from the single market and the customs union. The prime minister's office has been briefing disguised rebukes (Theresa May was a Remainer) but it is becoming clear that there will be no back-tracking and there could well be a 'hard' Brexit. The Tory party will do whatever it takes to avoid a split. If that means a harder Brexit than common sense dictates, that may well happen.

There has been much wishful thinking in this country suggesting Britain's EU exit can somehow be executed without costly changes for Ireland. The fact that some of this wishful thinking has been endorsed by British politicians lends comforting credibility - Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire reiterated in a recent newspaper article his belief that border changes can be avoided. But it is becoming difficult to see how an open border with Northern Ireland can be retained no matter how much Irish and UK politicians might desire this outcome. Their realism, not their sincerity, is in question.

Last Wednesday, any Romanian citizen keen to make a new life in London could have caught Ryanair's flight FR 1006 from Bucharest around midday for Stansted Airport, requiring just a current Romanian passport. There is no need for residence permits, work permits, job offers, or any paperwork at all, even though neither Britain nor Romania are members of the Schengen group of continental EU countries. If they were in Schengen, travellers would not even need a passport.

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