The Irish Border and Brexit

From Fennel Wellings – CEFEUS Undergraduate Research Assistant

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The Good Friday Agreement signed in April 1998 has achieved ‘twenty years of relative peace’ as well as ‘enhanced prosperity’. Brexit has the potential to fracture this agreement unless a robust solution is put into place that avoids any disruption to the peace process. Below are three options that have been suggested in order to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic:

 

1. UK remains in the customs union

This would mean that the UK would have to accept the flow of goods, services and regulations set by the EU whist leaving it without a seat at the negotiating table. This would arguably be leaving the UK in a worse position than it is being a EU member state, as it would require the UK to accept rules and regulations that it had no part in negotiating. This is something that would be hard for the government to float politically and would be immediately shunned by Brexiteers, as it would put restrictions on UK trade.

 

2. The soft ‘invisible border’

This would oversee the creation of a soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. This model is something that Brexiteers believe is achievable but in reality appears fairly unworkable, and is something that the EU has already referred to as ‘magical thinking’. Even if this option were technologically viable to implement there would still need to be cameras at the border, which has caused the police to worry that ‘that kind of infrastructure would be attacked’. In May this year Karen Bradley the Northern Ireland Secretary ‘reiterated the government’s pledge to have no new cameras at the Irish border after Brexit’ stating that any new infrastructure would represent a security risk.

3. A united Ireland, a border in the Irish Sea

This would effectively separate Northern Ireland from the UK, placing their economy under EU rule. This is something that the DUP are set against, so it is unlikely that it is something that Theresa May is likely to pursue herself as she lacks ‘the votes in parliament to go against that party’s wishes’. This proposal has been set out in a draft agreement by the Commission and referred to as their ‘backstop’ plan that will become effective unless a better agreement is established. This does avoid a hard border effectively as well as providing protections against British goods sneaking over the border, but Theresa May has stated that she will not reside over the break up of the UK.

 

These three options that have been suggested in order to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic each present their own difficulties and barriers to being politically and logistically viable. It is also worth noting that the Good Friday agreement requires ‘the secretary of state to trigger a border poll if it appears likely that a majority in Northern Ireland would vote to join the Republic of Ireland’, in December 2017 polls found that in the event of being faced with a hard Brexit 48% would vote for a united Ireland and remain inside the EU, with 45% stating that they would prefer to remain as part of the UK and leave the EU. In the event of this becoming a reality the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative Party and the DUP would have crumbled, leading to their parliamentary collapse.

 

The Chequers deal looks to have made some key policy shifts that would move the UK towards a Norway style arrangement, a deal that would cover ‘at least part of the EU single market’. The proposed model of a “free trade area for goods” that sees the continuation of ‘existing regulatory and customs arrangement for manufacturing and agricultural products’, is not inclusive of services, something that does set alarm bells ringing when considering services cover 80% of the UK’s economy. This stance has already been viewed by some negotiators in the EU as unworkable due to the difficulty the UK will have in detaching services from goods. In spite of this the UK still views this stance as the solution to the Irish border problem and is included in the white paper, the most recent development from the government concerning the UK’s exit from the EU.

The paper sets out the need for a ‘principled Brexit’, stating that the UK is committed to ‘protecting the peace process and avoiding a hard border, safeguarding the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK’. In order to maintain a frictionless border the white paper sets out details for a free trade area for goods in order to protect the peace process as well as avoiding any harm being caused to the internal market of the UK. The UK’s proposal of a free trade area for goods states that jobs and livelihoods and will also ensure that there is ‘no requirement in any scenario for new permits for transport services between Northern Ireland and Ireland’.

John McGrane the director general for the British Irish Chamber of Commerce has echoed the EU’s concern with plan for the border that was initially set out at Chequers, stating that a goods only Brexit deal would be unworkable and would be ‘resisted by business leaders’. McGrane held that the separating of goods and services would be impractical as ‘goods do not exist in isolation’, as well as stating that ‘a goods only deal would not remove the need for an Irish border’ as this does not solve the freedom of movement of people across the border that impacts ‘EU citizen employees, tourism and communities’. This is also something that the EU will not look upon favourably as it is inclusive of an element of ‘cherry picking’ from the four freedoms, something that the EU will want to safeguard whatever the outcome.

It therefore looks as though the question of the Irish border may rumble on for some more time, and if the proposed plans in the white paper are unworkable then the most likely outcome will be the ‘backstop’, the fall back plan proposed by the EU. The questions of the Irish border has most definitely presented itself as a barrier to the Conservative party seeking a hard Brexit and going forward will require the cabinet to address the matter devoid of ‘creative ambiguity’ and ‘magical thinking’. If the Conservative party are unable to achieve this they run the risk of presiding over the disintegration of not only their own party, but also the disintegration of the UK, whilst throwing the peace process into disarray as a possible consequence.

References

BBC. (2018). Bradley repeats ‘no new cameras’ on Irish border pledge. Available https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-44133527. Last accessed 12th July 2018.

Barker, A. (2018). The Soft Brexit Chequers Deal: What it Means. Available: https://www.ft.com/content/aeb53c82-82ac-11e8-96dd-fa565ec55929. Last accessed 11th July 2018.

Green, D A. (2018). The Politics of Brexit Has caught up with Harsh Reality. Available: https://www.ft.com/content/6cd2421c-838b-11e8-a29d-73e3d454535d. Last accessed 11th July 2018.

Henley, J. (2018). Brexit: What is the UK’s Backstop Proposal? Available: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jun/07/brexit-what-is-the-uks-backstop-proposal. Last Accessed 11th July 2018.

HM Government. (2018). The Future Relationship Between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Available: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/724982/The_future_relationship_between_the_United_Kingdom_and_the_European_Union_WEB_VERSION.pdf. Last Accessed 13th July 2018.

Leary, P. (2018). There are Three Ways out of the Irish Border Impasse. All are Closed to Theresa May. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/01/irish-border-hard-theresa-may-brussels. Last accessed 12th July 2018.

O’Carroll, L. (2018). Soft Brexit Proposal Welcomed on Both Sides of Irish Border. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/07/soft-brexit-proposal-welcomed-both-sides-irish-border. Last Accessed 11th July 2018.

Rankin, J. (2017). UK accused of ‘Magical Thinking’ over Brexit plan for Irish Border. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/25/uk-accused-of-magical-thinking-over-brexit-plan-for-irish-border. Last Accessed 13th July 2018.

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Exploring Parliament: New Publication by Dr Mark Bennister

a43792be25e33138c120cbf7a74be9d93b0d0edfDr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics has contributed to an important new textbook on the UK Parliament. The book is a unique collaboration between those who research parliament and officials who work there. The book has nearly 60 contributors and over thirty case studies to provide an extensive and topical exploration of parliament in the 21st century. Dr Bennister contributed the chapter on accountability with Dr Phil Larkin and the case study on the Liaison Committee which he is currently researching during his parliamentary academic fellowship. The book will be the new core textbook for the Parliamentary Studies module which Dr Bennister leads in the politics programme.

The book, published by Oxford University Press is available herehttps://global.oup.com/ukhe/product/exploring-parliament-9780198788430?cc=gb&lang=en&

Rebels Leading London

Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone
30 Apr 2012, London, England, UK — London Mayor Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone at the Times Cycling Hustings in Central London — Image by © Andrew Parsons/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Reader in Politics Mark Bennister together with Ben Worthy at Birkbeck College, University of London and CCCU Politics PhD student Max Stafford – who is conducting comparative research into mayors – have published a comparison of the mayoralties of the first two directly elected Mayors of London, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson in the journal British Politics.

The position of mayor offers a commanding electoral platform, but few direct powers to lead a city widely regarded as ‘ungovernable’ (Travers 2004). The two mayors had some obvious points of comparison: both were party rebels, mavericks and skilled media operators. Both also used publicity to make up for weak powers, but courted controversy and faced charges of corruption and cronyism. Utilising Hambleton and Sweeting (2004), this article compares their mayoralties in terms of vision, leadership style and policies. Livingstone had a powerful vision that translated into clear policy aims, while Johnson’s time as Mayor was more cautious, shaped by a desire for higher office. Livingstone built coalitions but proved divisive, whereas Johnson retained remarkable levels of popularity. Where Livingstone bought experience and skill, Johnson delegated. In policy terms, the two mayors found themselves pushed by their institutional powers towards transport and planning while struggling with deeper issues such as housing. Livingstone introduced the radical congestion charge and a series of symbolic policies. Johnson was far more modest, championing cycling, the 2012 Olympics and avoiding difficult decisions. The two used their office to negotiate, but also challenge, central government. Livingstone’s rebel mayoralty was a platform for personalised change, but Johnson’s one was for personal ambition. This is a timely article with Johnson once again indicating his personal ambition.

For advanced online access copies see http://rdcu.be/Fsfp

 

New House of Commons Briefing by CCCU academic Dr Mark Bennister

Yesterday, British Prime Minister Theresa May made her second appearance before the Liaison Committee, a year after her only other appearance. These sessions with the Prime Minister have occurred since 2002 and have now become an established part of the scrutiny mechanisms available to Parliament.

Dr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University and one of only 5 Parliamentary Fellows in the House of Commons, has now produced a briefing with the House of Commons Library that sets out the background to the evidence sessions. You can read the full briefing by clicking here or on the cover page below.

Mayors Going Global: The Curious Case of Brexit

Max Stafford is a PhD candidate in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. His doctoral research looks at the leadership of mayors in London, New York City and Amsterdam.

It is not new, these days, to talk of mayors and the irony of their playing a role in global issues, despite being local leaders. These issues include climate change, migration and security. However, within the context of the UK, mayors are also managing to play a vital role in the foreign policy issue of the day – Brexit. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, mayors’ increasing strategic involvement with issues previously assumed to be reserved to national or global-level policymaking raises the well-rehearsed concept of place-based leadership and its future in relation to local political leaders. But who are these mayors and what are they actually doing about Brexit?

  The most vocal mayor on this topic so far has been the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Though only early in his first term (having been elected in May 2016), Khan has put effort into casting his mayoralty in an internationalist perspective. Faced with an opponent (Conservative, Zac Goldsmith) whose campaign was the recipient of allegations of “dog-whistle” politics and racism, Khan spent much of his 2016 campaign talking about both the diversity of the city that he aimed to lead and also his own heritage as the child of immigrants. After the June 2016 vote to leave the European Union, he sought to remind both London and the rest of the UK (as well as his European counterparts) that the city was a key player in the global economy.

London mayor Sadiq Khan in the European Parliament | image via europarl.europa.eu

Continue reading “Mayors Going Global: The Curious Case of Brexit”