On March 31st, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk when outlining the EU’s negotiating guidelines on Brexit stated that “we will seek flexible and creative solutions at avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.
On Wednesday March 10th, on RTE Radio 1, Manfred Weber, chairman of the European Peoples Party Group (the largest political group in the European parliament since 1999) stated that in Ireland it was a choice between a border and no border and that his group is working towards avoiding a border altogether. He said that he does not understand the concept of a soft border and you have a choice between a border or no border at all and he does not believe in an “in-between solution”. This got me thinking.
What are the options in regards avoiding having any border post Brexit?
On the 9th May the Taoiseach stated that “the government has made clear its priority that there will be no visible, hard border on the island of Ireland”. The government position paper on Brexit states that “the avoidance of a hard border will require flexibility and creativity on the part of the UK and the EU”.
Think of the following scenario. If after prolonged negotiations, the agreed outcome of these negotiations results in maintaining strong training relation between the EU and the UK where the UK essentially leaves the EU and remains within the customs union, the border becomes much less of a necessity. Of course, this option assumes that the UK agrees to some form of free travel arrangement with the EU. Time will tell in this regard.
The second option is where Northern Ireland applies EU rules to remain within the customs union whilst the UK leaves (Source: Financial Times). There would be a border but the border would be at Belfast and Larne ports along with Derry and Belfast airports. This would probably entail the UK ceding customs controls to the Republic.
This third option is a border poll. If a majority north and south vote in favour of a united Ireland the EU would allow the “old Northern Ireland” to seamlessly join the EU as part of a united Ireland.
The fourth option is Brexit 2 referendum or no Brexit at all. If, after prolonged negotiations it becomes clear to the British public that Brexit is not going to deliver economic growth, reduced immigration and that the savings of not being in the EU are greatly exaggerated, the public opinion could greatly swing and demand another referendum or an early general election, which in the above scenario would undoubtedly be in favour of Remain. This change of mind (subject to the rest of the EU agreeing to let Britain stay) would mean that it would be business as usual, with no visible border on the island of Ireland.
Above are three initial options, but I am sure that during the negotiations many more “flexible and creative solutions” will come to the surface. As the meat of the negotiations will not place until after the UK election, stakeholders are keeping their cards close to their chests, for now.
In regards Brexit from a sectoral viewpoint, the Abrivia Salary Survey 2017 surveyed thousands of businesses throughout Ireland in a variety of sectors. It found that the Human Resource sector is most pessimistic regarding the implications of Brexit and interestingly the Legal sector felt the most insulated.
The first line of the document “Ireland and the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union” states that Brexit poses unprecedented political, economic and diplomatic challenges for Ireland. This statement cannot be underestimated so the sooner we have an extensive list of “flexible and creative solutions”, the better. It is better to arrive at the table with a list of solutions rather than await an outcome decided by others and then act. The border is only one of many issues this country faces post Brexit (assuming Brexit occurs), so there is no time like the present to get our thinking caps on.
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