Monday 25 March 2019

John Downing: 'Stark reality is burden may fall on Dublin to protect EU 27'


British Prime Minister Theresa May speaking at a Select Committee hearing in London. Parbul TV/Handout via Reuters
British Prime Minister Theresa May speaking at a Select Committee hearing in London. Parbul TV/Handout via Reuters
John Downing

John Downing

The threat of a crash-out Brexit, with an accompanying return of a 'hard Border' in Ireland, remains very real. Theresa May's chances of getting her Brexit deal endorsed by the London parliament remains a major long-shot, though she will put up a great fight.

The Irish Government's battle for a good outcome over 20 months of Brexit negotiations has delivered the best possible outcome in the circumstances and the senior officials involved, and their political bosses, deserve kudos.

But if this draft deal is not ratified in London, we are headed for some perilous and previously unknown political terrain.

It raises the simple question: How and why should we have a hard Border? Let's recall that the EU, the UK, and Ireland, were agreed since Brexit happened in June 2016, that there should be "no hard Border".

So, why cannot that piece of mutual agreement survive a breakdown in ratifying the UK-EU Brexit deal? How would a hard Border simply have to kick in?

In London the ultra-Brexiteers, who have heaped such unnecessary economic uncertainty upon their fellow citizens, periodically run out the mantra that London will not "put up a hard Border in Ireland". These are the same people who appear to have rarely glanced at an atlas to know Ireland is an island adjacent to their larger one close by.

If as looks likely, Mrs May loses next month, a range of possibilities loom. There could be a new Conservative Party leader; a Brexit-themed general election; a re-run of that British parliament vote after sterling tanks; a less likely second Brexit referendum; or maybe even a delay of the UK's departure date of March 29 next year.

But defeat would increase fears of that "no-deal" where the UK just crashes out. In that case, there would be no backstop that guarantees no hard Border in any circumstance. True, a "no-deal" Brexit is in nobody's interest. We would cling to the hope that some way may be found to avoid it. Those same ultra-Brexiteers have begun talking presumptuously about a "managed no-deal Brexit". It is based on the assumption nobody, but nobody, would risk such a scenario.

But let's recall that assumptions like this prevented London from seriously engaging in the Brexit talks and led to them getting a very poor outcome. They remain the slowest EU learners.

Back with our question: who would put up a hard Border? Well, Ireland would face EU demands to control imports into the single market, and no amount of continuing goodwill in Brussels could erase the reality that the other 27 member states require protection.

Ireland also needs to protect its access to an EU 27 market of 460 million people. Hi-tech options do not exist as of yet we were told. So, it may yet fall to Dublin, with EU support, to re-create that hard Border.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss