Ireland presents Theresa May with an impossible choiceby Jonathan Lis / May 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Often in life we allow ourselves to be consumed by the complexity of a problem while ignoring the basic simplicity which transcends it. A complex challenge offers us hope that we may, through sheer force or wit, discover a solution. A simple one disempowers us with stark options that we may take or leave, but not change.
Brexit is the mother of all problems and the Irish border is its insoluble core. It is insoluble because the UK government is currently making too many demands and offering too few concessions. It is resolutely failing to take into account the weakness of its position and the strength of its partners’ resolve.
Senior officials and political figures that I have spoken to are clearer than ever in their assessment. The choice now open to Theresa May is simple and crushing: the whole UK either participates in the full customs union and single market, or it erects a sea border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Bluntly: we accept full free movement of people from the EU, or we impose trade barriers inside the UK.
Here’s why. For historical, political and economic reasons, Dublin will not tolerate a hard—which means an in any way visible—border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. For Northern Ireland after Brexit, avoiding tariff and rules-of-origin checks will require a full customs union, and avoiding regulatory checks on agricultural and manufactured products will require a single market in goods. Anything else will necessitate an internal frontier.
It then follows that if the whole UK does not align on goods with Northern Ireland and Ireland, there will have to be a tariff and regulation wall in the Irish Sea.
But that is not enough. The EU will not allow the UK to compromise the integrity of the single market by participating for goods alone. It will be seen across the bloc as another form of cakeism. If the whole UK wishes to apply the free movement of goods to prevent an Irish Sea border, it will also have to apply the free movement of services, capital—and people.
If the UK refuses this choice, then it must self-immolate with no European Union deal at all—an outcome which removes us from every EU umbrella without any domestic replacement, and crashes the economy, grounds planes and halts nuclear material overnight. This is not blackmail. This is the consequence of following the rules.