Johnson’s new proposals take us back to square oneby David Henig / October 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
So another UK Brexit plan greeted with scepticism in Northern Ireland and the Republic, and across the EU. The wonderfully nicknamed “two borders and four years” plan appears to make half a step forward in recognising that Northern Ireland needs to be part of the single market, but then gives the unionists a veto over introducing this, and every four years, with no clarity on what happens then. On top of regulatory checks on Great Britain-Northern Ireland trade, customs checks are introduced into the island of Ireland without being called that. If not dead on arrival in Brussels, Boris Johnson’s plan certainly seems to be in intensive care.
It may appear that we are doomed forever to go round this same loop, with the same discussions had in exit negotiations, or if no deal then future trade negotiations. Jokes suggesting that in 20 years’ time we’ll still be discussing this amuse briefly, then become seriously scary on second thought. We start to wonder if there’s a way out other than staying as EU members or never having a deal. There may be, but it will require real changes to the way negotiations have progressed to date.
By now the fundamentals of Brexit and the Irish border problem are well established. The Good Friday Agreement rested on allowing both major communities of Northern Ireland to identify as they wish, with either Ireland or Great Britain, with no virtually no barriers to either. However if the UK diverges from the EU in terms of regulations or tariffs for food and other goods, processes need to be put in place. Outside of the EU this currently always means border checks, where goods and paperwork can be examined, and duties and VAT paid as appropriate.
In order to protect all-Ireland trade and identity, the EU initially proposed that the UK carry out GB-NI border checks at ports of entry to Northern Ireland, angering unionists, rather than on the land border, which would anger nationalists. Northern Ireland would thus be part of the EU customs and regulatory area, in this then Northern Ireland-only backstop.
The UK government under PM Theresa May initially sought to persuade the EU that customs checks would not be required, but having failed, suggested a UK-EU customs union as a compromise, with Northern Ireland inside…