Wednesday 20 February 2019

John Downing: 'We do not know how much 'planning for the worst' really is happening right now'

Reflective: Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers. Photo: Tom Burke
Reflective: Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

Where will we be in this Brexit farrago in January 2020? Well, when you pore over all we know, and try to factor in things most likely to happen, we are left with four diverging answers to that question.

Those four options can be summarised like this: 1. We could be looking at a Border going back in some visible form. 2. Brexit could have effectively been reversed. 3. Brexit could have been 'softened' into something which makes little difference to our lives. 4. We could still be stuck in this shoddy Brexit waiting room talking much the same dreary interminable things to one another.

Clearly, most of us want either option two, or at least option three, to come to pass. The vast bulk of people in Ireland North and south, and pretty well half the people of England, do not want this Brexit disruption. But we could live with the UK making a close-up and workable trade deal with the EU in a post-Brexit world.

Many of us, not least this writer, will fear that option four may be our lot, a sort of living Kafkaesque nightmare which drags on and on. As we ponder "extra time" in this Brexit drama, and the UK's political elite finally has a long overdue debate on the pros and cons of leaving the EU, such ongoing stalemate is not so unthinkable.

But the more immediate point we need to make again and again is that we need to prepare for the worst. As things are, on this very day, a no-deal Brexit continues to loom into view.

Nobody wants it. But as the Taoiseach himself eloquently said many times, wishing it away is not enough to avoid it on March 29. Yet during a Dáil debate on the Government's contingency plans, Tánaiste Simon Coveney staunchly rejected assumptions that a hard Border will happen in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Coveney described Ireland's obligations under the Good Friday Agreement and the EU single market as "competing responsibilities". But the Good Friday Agreement trumped all here.

The EU Commission has never directly spoken to this issue up to now. Other Brussels diplomats believe, however, that if the EU single market, covering 440 million people, is threatened, an Irish Border will be inevitable.

A senior German MP told the BBC yesterday that Ireland would have no choice but to erect a Border if a UK crash-out happens. Gunther Krichbaum, chair of the EU affairs committee in the German parliament, said: "It will take time but border controls would be the consequence of a no-deal scenario." He basically said that if you have no internal borders in the single market, then external borders become vital.

Mr Coveney ruled out "technology or slick camera systems" as an alternative to a Border.

In her contribution, Fianna Fáil's Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said everybody is "a little Brexit fatigued at this point" as we seem to be going round in a loop and solutions are as far away as ever. She correctly reflected upon the relative unity among the Irish political parties in contrast to what is happening in Britain. Ms Chambers said that we are all waiting for the UK government to "get their act together".

True. But we also need this Government to be more frank with the people it is leading about the Border and other related issues. Facts are user-friendly: let's have them.

Irish Independent

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