What the Brexit deal says about Ireland

When I first heard that the British Government had agreed that there would be “regulatory alignment” in trade across the Irish border I immediately though ‘perfidious Albion’ again – appearing to say one thing when meaning something else entirely; in fact almost its opposite.  When I then heard that this formulation replaced the Irish Government one of “no regulatory divergence”, I believed my suspicions were confirmed.

While appearing to accept harmonisation of regulatory regimes, “regulatory alignment” is perfecting consistent with parallel regimes, as in parallel lines that never meet and that never involve harmonisation.   Such an arrangement might even mean a UK line of “bargain basement” regulation far below that of the higher EU line of more stringent regulation.

So, my immediate question was whether the EU were going to buy it?  I thought that the Irish Government could hardly do so, even if it had most to gain from getting progress to an overall trade deal it could not let it be based on separate regimes that would require a ‘hard’ border to police the different goods and services that were the products of two regulatory regimes.  But it had always been wondered in Ireland how much and how far the EU would back the little Irish State that had been so easily bossed about during the collapse of its banking system, to the benefit of the larger member states.

But then the Irish border is not simply an Irish border, something the thickest of Brexiteers have had difficulty in understanding, but is an EU border, and the EU could not compromise its internal market by allowing the free circulation of any old “bargain basement” crap within that market.

My suspicions about British intent seemed confirmed the next day when the British Minister for cocking up the negotiations David Davis said that Teresa May had “made a very plain case for the sorts of divergence that we would see after we left . . . that there are areas in which we want to achieve the same outcomes, but by different regulatory methods”.

“Alignment is not harmonisation. It is not having exactly the same rules; it is sometimes having mutually recognised rules, mutually recognised inspection and all that sort of thing. That is what we are aiming at”.  “I have explained to the House that regulatory alignment is not harmonisation. It is a question of ensuring similar outcomes in areas where we want to have trade relationships and free and frictionless trade. Anything we agree for Northern Ireland in that respect, if we get our free trade area, will apply to the whole country”.

In other words, the British had been continuing their policy of cherry-picking the EU Single Market, which the EU had rejected, and an approach accurately described as ‘having your cake and eat it’.

The DUP then came along and torpedoed the deal, making the British Prime Minister look like the disaster she patently is.

But now we have a real deal (?) agreed by all sides, where once again we see that “In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union . . “ (para. 48) That word again.

But this deal has been signed off and Leo Varadkar has called it “bulletproof” with only “stylistic changes” from the earlier draft while newspapers have run with headlines proclaiming a “soft’ Brexit.  On the right, Nigel Farage has been declaring the deal a “capitulation”, although he’s been declaring a sell-out for a while now and, true to his little Englander outlook, he’s much more exercised about the so-called ‘divorce bill’ that the Irish question.  And when I say the Irish question, I mean the problem the Irish have when they vote one way and the British state decides you’re having something else.

Crucially, May has retained the support, for now, of the leading Brexiteers in the Tory Party, although it’s an open question how long that will last.  She has got it past the DUP, who are nevertheless unhappy with it.

So, what’s in the new deal?

Well, if you read it, the first thing that might strike you is that it’s not really a deal, at least not in the sense that it’s a locked down agreement.  The deal is a “joint report”; it “records the progress” made and that both parties have only “reached agreement in principle.”

In paragraph 5 it says:

“Under the caveat that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, the joint commitments set out below in this joint report shall be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement in full detail. This does not prejudge any adaptations that might be appropriate in case transitional arrangements were to be agreed in the second phase of the negotiations, and is without prejudice to discussions on the framework of the future relationship.”

So there is no final agreement.

In the section on Ireland and Northern Ireland paragraph 43 restates the British promise of no ‘hard border’ (presumably in Ireland), which, without the necessary deal or detail, means not very much; while it also promises to preserve the integrity of the UK market (para.45) – so no border on the island and no border at the Irish sea either, it would appear.  But unless the EU decides that its Single Market and Customs Union will not be protected, this cannot be the case – there has to be a border somewhere, if the UK is to leave the EU.

The next paragraph states that:

“The commitments and principles outlined in this joint report will not pre-determine the outcome of wider discussions on the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom and are, as necessary, specific to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland. They are made and must be upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement between the European Union and United Kingdom.”

This appears to say that the deal, in so far as it actually is a deal, is for Ireland only, except a UK commitment made in the previous paragraph states that it applies to the UK market as a whole in the sense that the integrity of this internal market will be preserved.  There is evidently a problem here so how will this be addressed?

Paragraph 49 appears to provide some guidance:

“The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all- island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”

Here we have the problem of avoiding he hard border restated and a promise that the British will propose a solution, one they have promised since the start and on which they have delivered nothing.

Except this time, the report states what happens if this failure continues and it is on this that the supporters of a ‘soft’ Brexit might seem to be right – that a soft Brexit is the result of the joint report.  Without a solution to avoid a hard border, agreed with the British, the single market and customs union will apply.  Of course, this application is qualified, limited by the terms after the word “which”, including the 1998 Belfast Agreement and implicitly the specific areas of economic cooperation mentioned in it, and it still only talks about alignment.

But the next paragraph appears to address this limitation:

In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market.”

But this doesn’t remove the problem of continuing barriers on the Irish border but restates that there will be no barriers at the Irish sea – so we are back to where we were in terms of mutually incompatible promises of no real borders anywhere.  This paragraph simply adds that there will be no new barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain unless the NI Assembly decides there should be, except the next sentence rule out the North deciding the trade position of the rest of the UK.

More contradictions are thus included in this paragraph on top of those already existing.  Except this paragraph has effect only if there are no agreed solutions to the Irish border arrangements, and that gets us back to the text of the previous paragraph, and that the UK will “maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all- island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”

Paragraph 49 restates the UK commitment to avoiding a hard border and describes that “any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching arrangements.”  But it then says that the UK’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. In other words, the way to avoid a border within Ireland and one between the island and Britain is to have no real border between the EU and the UK – a really ‘soft’ Brexit!

The short paragraph 51 is certainly compatible with such an approach – “Both Parties will establish mechanisms to ensure the implementation and oversight of any specific arrangement to safeguard the integrity of the EU Internal Market and the Customs Union.”  Of course, this could also mean that the British would have to police the Irish border if Northern Ireland was to leave the Customs Union and Single Market ,and not simply leave it to the Irish as some have declared it would.

So, what we have is an agreement that is only a “joint report” which is not finally agreed, with contradictory drafting.   In other words, it’s a political agreement and it is only politically that it can be judged, although of course the words on the page are not unimportant, if only because they set out the terrain of differences and Jean-Claude Junker has made it clear that it is the starting point for the withdrawal agreement.

On this count the only way to make what’s in it intelligible and remotely consistent is to see the UK remaining within the Customs Union and Single Market.  But we also know that cannot be the case, at least not yet, because the Tory Party has obviously not agreed it.

From Theresa May’s point of view the can has been kicked down the road on Ireland, while agreeing to the ‘divorce’ bill.  Despite the nonsense mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal” she appears to have woken up to the fact that no deal is the worst deal, but she can’t sell it to the Brexit fundamentalists.

She could not let the talks collapse at this stage because she would then have failed.  There would be no need for her and her Tory rebels could plan to get rid of her. The pace of withdrawal of business from the UK would accelerate and she would be to blame.  The accumulating contradictions of Brexit as a project would crystallise and her Government would collapse.

The EU has no reason to see the talks collapse now either.  They do not want ‘no deal’ and also want an agreement, if not as desperately as the British should, and more time allows, well, more time for the British to come to their senses, through whatever set of circumstances brings this about. – defeat for the Tory Brexiteers in parliament or a Corbyn Government.

From a political point of view therefore the fight against Brexit and this Tory Government goes on.  Its Brexit policy has been demonstrated to be indefensible and the contradictions that sit on the page of the ‘joint report’ will play themselves out in the living world.  The working class must fight its corner because it has a real stake in the outcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never mind Brexit?

When I wrote against Scottish independence in the run-up to the referendum I noted that one of the strongest motivators of many in the Yes campaign was the enthusiasm and vibrancy of the campaign itself, not the actual goal.  The latter promised wonderful things but these were free floating and detached from reality, and no amount of wishful thinking could make up for the lack of any realistic case.  Instead, the campaign itself gave tangible reality to the demand for independence.

It is now apparent that this is a cause that has to have such a movement, now through Indyref2, or it starts to crumble. The Scottish working class dodged a bullet when the majority of people in Scotland voted No.  Even prominent supporters of independence and erstwhile opponents of austerity are now saying that independence would need five years of austerity to work.  Of course, we’re told it would only be temporary, but then so is Tory austerity. When is austerity not temporary?

I was reminded of this when I read Owen Jones article in today’s ‘Guardian’, whose headline said it all – ‘As the media obsess over Brexit, they’re missing Labour’s revolution.’  In other words – forget about Brexit and look at the movement for change in the Party.

If you think my characterising this position is not really forgetting about Brexit, then consider the report – again in ‘The Guardian’ – that, “on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, McDonnell said it could not be guaranteed that Labour’s position on the single market would be finalised if there was an election in six months.”

When Theresa May made her Florence speech last week much media coverage concentrated on her ‘change of tone’ from the bombastic declarations of her Lancaster House speech. The usual in-depth reporting perhaps.

The media repeatedly tells us that Brexit is fiendishly complex while generally ignoring this complexity; although now and then it makes pathetic attempts to explain it; that is when it’s not wallowing in the knockabout political manoeuvring at Westminster and, as it has done from the start, treating Brexit as mainly an intra-Tory fight.  On this occasion however, the obviously superficial attributes of the speech were indeed the most significant thing about it.

Where the media failed yet again, was to explain why this change of tone came about. Or how the rest of the speech was actually a continuation of the La La Land Tory dream of Brexit, which some more informed commentators think will, to the Brexiteers delight, be delivering Brexit before Christmas.  Again unfortunately, before the Labour Party might decide to get its act together.

What appeared as the most significant policy initiative was May’s statement that there had to be a transitional phase, which she couldn’t even force herself to describe as a transition.  In this transition she hopes that some unspecified super trade deal, unlike any other, can be negotiated; one that will save the UK from the consequences of Brexit.

This reflects simply that Brexit is a looming disaster, with the hope that it can be made less so by postponing it, perhaps similarly to the way it is said that justice delayed is justice denied.  Unfortunately for her, and for us, Brexit won’t be delayed, or at least not by anything she’s doing.

May’s transition assumes more or less continued EU membership, perhaps without EU judicial authority continuing, which even the most ignorant must surely know is not possible.  Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator has made it clear again and again, immediately before and immediately after May’s speech, that the UK is leaving the EU in March 2019.  If it wants to discuss anything else, it has to first sort out the rights of EU citizens in the UK, agree the financial settlement for leaving, and propose a special deal to avoid a new border in Ireland.

May made unspecified promises on citizens’ rights, offered £20 billion – which I’m sure the EU welcomes although that is quite beside the point – and said nothing about Ireland.  In other words, the UK is heading for the exit with no deal unless it practically addresses these three issues, and that includes any deal on a transition.  They have been calling it a cliff edge for a while now.

Clearly the bitterly divided Tories are drowning and trying to take everyone down with them, if allowed.  Their position on Brexit is incoherent.  They cannot possibly get the trade deal they say they want, one that gives them more or less the same arrangements as retaining single market membership while leaving the EU.  To get the former they must ditch the latter, or rather to get the latter they must ditch the former.

The problem is that the Labour Party’s position, in so far as it has one, is now perhaps even more delusional than the Tories’.  Certainly, the Labour Party demanded a transitional deal before the Tories, but only the blind could have believed that the exit terms could be agreed, and then new arrangements negotiated, within Article 50 requirements.  These requirements were written precisely to ensure it made no sense to use them.  A classical Catch 22 – to get out you must use them but if you use them it shows it makes no sense to get out.

But Labour too wants just the same sort of wonderful trade deal as the Tories while leaving the EU.  ‘The Guardian’ article reports the following – “Speaking later at an event with Labour’s MEPs, Starmer said he believed a Brexit deal could be achieved that would be as good as being in the EU.”

This is as much a ‘have your cake and eat it’ policy as the Tories.  Leaving the EU means the UK becomes a third country, so it will have to face barriers to trade.  New trading arrangements will take potentially years to negotiate and the EU will not allow the UK to cherry-pick what it will buy into and what it will not.  There is no point looking at existing comparators because the UK is the only country ever to seek to leave.  It is both too important to let cherry-pick the power wielded by the EU bloc and too weak to impose its demands.

What sets the Labour Party position apart is not the claim that it can have a Brexit that cherry-picks the best bits, but one that appears to believe that you can have a Brexit that puts “jobs and living standards first.”  Such a Brexit does not exist.  Trading barriers and their consequences will hit both – that’s how capitalism works.

Socialists opposed to Brexit have argued that socialism cannot be built in one country, cannot arise by separating the UK or any other country from the international capitalist system, but can only arise from an international struggle for international socialism based on existing global development.

in more immediate terms however, socialists will not build an alternative by acceding to a Brexit policy that can only damage jobs and services and reduce wages, processes already in train, while blithely claiming the opposite.  No amount of social democratic intervention by the UK state can ameliorate the effects of increased isolation from the world capitalist market, or the alternative of supplicant trade deals with major power blocs.

The traditional socialist value of international solidarity is based on the identity of interest among workers in all countries because these interests can only be defended successfully together.  We are not talking merely of identification of common interests, but the identity of circumstances at the most basic level.  Socialist advances cannot be successful if not extended internationally, or imposed, for example at a European level, from the very start.

Just as in Scotland, celebrating the movement while ignoring the goal is a mistake; a Brexit Britain under a Corbyn Labour Party will fail, just as similarly if not identically, a separate Scotland would also fail to advance the interest of workers there.

There is still time to dodge the Brexit bullet; but if or when it comes don’t ask why everything is turning to shit – “send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  How appropriate this passage starts with “no man is an island entire of itself, each is a piece of the continent.”

Question Time

I’ve just finished watching Question Time and the performances of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.  I can’t remember the last time I watched it and I haven’t a clue when the next time will be after having watched this one.

The expectations of May were so low she exceeded them – damned by faint praise I think it’s called.  Not quite so robotic but incapable of smiling without facial contortions that reveal she is anything but genuine in any emotion she shows; itself revealing she is anything but genuine in anything she says.  As time went on her answers became less credible and her performance less impressive.  Tonight, she was helped by a relatively healthy dose of predominantly old reactionaries in the audience.

Six weeks ago I wrote a post that said that “the election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails”.  Tonight, for the umpteenth time, she did exactly that.  Asked what a bad deal was like, that made no deal more attractive, she said nothing.

But I got it wrong – she has hardly said anything about anything and performing a U-turn on what she has said. Her strategy has been to pretend that Jeremy Corbyn is such a disaster that she looks good.  Unfortunately for her, the media has been forced to give Corbyn greater opportunity to present both himself and his policies without distortion; the political classes and its media have therefore been shocked to find that millions of people actually like him and like his policies even more.  Not only that, but the BBC has been unable to continue to report on Corbyn through has-been Blairites claiming that he’s a disaster; mainly because the Mandelson’s of this world and Blair himself no longer matter now that people have a real decision to make.

The claim that Theresa May should be Prime Minister because she is Theresa May has therefore worn out rather quickly.  What she has been forced to rely upon is Brexit and the right-wing swing in British politics that Brexit has represented and accelerated.  Reactionary nostrums against immigration, foreigners, the EU – because they’re foreigners –  the peculiar virtuousness of the British as the counterpoint to aggressive foreigners; all this has been presented with her own unique dead as a robot delivery, in a reactionary nationalist stew that relies on prejudice and ignorance to fill in the gaps where a coherent narrative should be.

It has to be said, that in this she has been assisted no end by the cluelessness of the British media.  Like its treatment of Corbyn, this is not simply due to establishment prejudice and conscious antipathy to socialist ideas.  It is also due to its own ignorance of the clusterfuck that Brexit will entail.  Despite all the dramatic changes in world politics over the last few years, the British chattering classes simply cannot conceive of Britain not being the country that it now is with its rather prominent role in the world.

So, it is when Theresa May is pushed into a corner about Brexit and she comes out with ‘we are not afraid to walk away with no deal – no deal is better than a bad deal’, that total incomprehension switches on.  The next question is perfectly obvious – so what happens when there is no deal?  Paxman and all the rest can go no further than this response because they simply cannot conceive that no deal means the cutting off of Britain from the rules and regulations, the trade deals and agreements with other countries that allow Britain to trade and exchange with the rest of the world.  From being allowed to fly over other countries airspace to landing at their airports to being credited with having safe food and medicines, all these collapse with no deal.

The absence of such mutual recognition threatens the UK being thrown off the proverbial cliff with no rubbish about this also being the fate of the EU – none of this “the UK and EU will both lose”, because one will indeed lose but it won’t find itself isolated.  The threat of no deal always assumes unthinkable that there will really be no deal, but actually assumes that the EU will offer concessions after being threatened and cough up a better compromise.

The virus that has engulfed the Tory Party is not simply a Tory pathogen but is one that resides in British society as a whole.  Especially the privately educated journalist profession that is parasitical on the Westminster village and the privately educated politicians who went to the same schools the journalists went to twenty or thirty years before them.

I had naively assumed that May and Corbyn would be asked the same question at the same time and would take turns in answering; instead it was a programme of two halves.  It was hard not to conclude that May left the first half pleased that she managed not to have parroted ‘strong and stable’ – yet another U-turn, which of course was yesterday’s inane drivel.

So, if May exceed expectations only by not being so crass, so robotic and so contorted, she nevertheless remained unimpressive.  She is a very limited politician who has looked even worse than these limitations might normally have revealed by moving decisively outside her comfort zone, where lies being Prime Minister and leading her country at a decisive turning point in its history.  What a pity she sells herself on her supposed unique innate ability to do just this.

If Jeremy Corbyn slightly disappointed it is only because (1) he has performed so well so far and (2) I’m a Marxist who believes there is such a stronger case for socialism than he can make.  Partly his weaknesses are those of his party and his very incomplete transformation of that party and its programme, but partly it is due to the limitations of his own politics.

During the questioning he was put on the back foot most when he refused to answer directly whether he would press the nuclear button if Britain itself was under nuclear attack.  At one point this looked like it might get quite frenzied – testament to a number of reactionaries in the audience who seemed to be fully paid up members of the fan club devoted to the film ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’.

It took one young woman to make the point that there was something wrong with so many people demanding the murder of millions of people.  Presumably these reactionaries would have been satisfied with an answer something like this – ok, we’re about to be vapourised by a nuclear attack but don’t get angry that I might not press the button because I’m going to kill millions of people as well, people who, just like you, had no hand in this attack and who don’t deserve to die.  Oh, and another thing, don’t worry, our missiles will hit the intended target and not go off in the wrong direction like one did recently.  Such is the degenerate politics of the Tory party and the diseased prejudices of its die-hard support.  There can be no doubt the nasty party is back.

In general the audience showed greater sympathy with Jeremy Corbyn and those in sympathy showed more enthusiasm.  I am reminded of the reaction of football players scoring a goal for my football team – they smile and cheer – expressing joy at scoring; while when those of their erstwhile rivals score they almost invariably snarl and gesticulate as if venting a deeply pent-up rage.  The supporters of Jeremy Corbyn applauded declarations of hope and promises of a better society while the Tory supporters acclaimed declarations of ‘toughness’ and meanness.  You know when you’re on the right side when the warmest of human emotions best expresses your political views.

When I wrote that “the election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails”, I also continued – “and Corbyn can maintain that he will defend workers’ rights without threatening Brexit.”  The major weakness of the whole Labour campaign is the same as that of the Tories – the claim that there can be a good Brexit.  For the Tories this has a massive plus side – the opportunity to burn workers’ rights and slash taxation for big business.  For workers Brexit has no up-side.

Brexit will entail economic dislocation and deep attacks on working people.  Victory for Jeremy Corbyn would see him inherit a policy that will do nothing to assist his social-democratic programme – he cannot decisively reverse inequality and improve the standard of living of British workers while leaving the EU.  Not because the EU is so wonderful but because exiting it is to step back from the current level of economic development and invites an alternative model that the Tories have correctly identified as an off-shore dumping ground of low corporate taxes, de-regulation and super-exploitation.  In such an environment taxes for workers will rise, wages will fall and welfare and other public services will shrivel while inequality will increase.

A Corbyn Government, if it was to attempt to increase living standards, increase public services and reduce inequality would also have to prevent the damage that Brexit would inflict.  It would also have to fight the xenophobic demands that immigration be strangled.  While much attention has focused on the damage to living standards arising from reductions in trade, reductions in immigration will have just the same effects, if not worse.

If young people do not come out to vote, as the pundits claim they might not do, and they are the key to a Labour victory as the pundits also claim, then the Tories will be leading us into Brexit and straight towards their deregulated ‘free-market’ utopia within a few days.  One commentator has called it a new ‘charge of the light-brigade’ and he is right.

Either way, it will be the task of socialists and everyone roused during the election to continue to mobilise and organise the enormous energy and enthusiasm evoked by the promise of a different society.  Already, the threat of a return to Blairite control of the Labour Party should be buried.  Corbyn must remain leader and the process of creating a mass, active Labour party truly representative of its members and supporters should be the task of everyone who considers themselves left.  The elections will signal the end of the Brexit phoney war and there will likely be no dress rehearsal allowed for building a workers’ campaign to ensure we win the real one.

 

Free Trade and Socialism part 2 – the UK general election

Thersa May’s call for a general election has been hailed by the ‘Financial Times’ as a smart move that will give her and the pragmatic Tories some room to negotiate a trade deal with the EU that would be opposed by the zealot Brexiteers.  Today’s paper has a column by the chair of the Institute of Directors praising May while calling for some time for business to adjust to Brexit.  The rise in value of the pound after the news is seen as the smartest guys in the room welcoming the election announcement on precisely these grounds.  Whether this works or not is quite another matter and a decisive victory based on making sure Brexit happens is just as likely to strengthen the rabid demands of those clamouring for a hard Brexit as strengthen its more pragmatic supporters.

The election is therefore set to be all about Brexit and trust in May’s ‘leadership’, or rather her Tory arrogance that is sold as no-nonsense competence, seriousness and proficiency, which a certain section of workers still buy into on the basis of the everyday nationalism and class deference fed to them by the media.  However, even the newly moderated claims for Brexit are undeliverable: she says that she wants “a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world”.

The relationship after Brexit can’t be “as deep and special” as the current one so it’s a loss on that one, and the UK will not be “free to chart its own way in the world” no matter how hard it fantasises.  In an issue of the same pink paper last week (and also today) its readers learn that the EU are about to freeze-out British companies’ participation in the European space programme and other EU contracts and funding.  It sounds much better to the ears of Brexiteers when they threaten to just pull the plug and leave without a deal but not quite so comforting when it is reported that the EU bureaucracy is drawing up plans to do exactly the same.

It was also reported in the FT that yet another Minister was visiting India trying to sell it something; Sir Michael Fallon being the empty-handed messenger this time.  The paper reported that ‘military experts say it is a sign of how the UK has been left behind. “If you look at the main four or five players in India, the UK is not there at this point in time”, and It reports that British arms exports fell from £966m in 2010 to £34m in 2015.

So instead of selling arms, Britain now wants to sell India its “arms procurement expertise” because the British might “help them decide what they need.”   The same (or perhaps different) British official thinks reminding the Indians that “the Indian army was created from the British army” and “we share . . an overall ethos” is good sales patter.  This ‘expertise’, the Indians have pointed out, includes ordering two aircraft carriers “that are seven years late . . . (and) are running massively over budget”, and this is without also considering that other problem arising in this British procurement exercise – ordering another aircraft carrier without aircraft for it to carry.

So, Britain is not going to find it easy to chart its own way in the world”; in fact it’s going to find it so hard it’s going to be charting not its own but other, bigger player’s ways in the world, especially as everyone knows, the US way.

Even thinking from first principles – how can you make your “own way” with trade?  Surely you need someone to trade with, someone who will want some say on the rules that govern it; someone who is very likely to be bigger and more powerful than Britain, or will have joined a trading arrangement that makes them bigger and more powerful.  A common strategy – except now for the Brits!

In other words, even if the Financial Times and the money men were correct in the short term, which generally is how long they think about, that May will minimise the impact of Brexit, Britain is going to be worse off.  As I have said before, the threats of a deregulated UK after Brexit are an acknowledgement that the Tory way of attempting to pay the price of Brexit will be to deliver the bill to the working class.  This sugar coats the Brexit pill for business but there will be no sugar coating the poison for workers.

In my last post I argued against the view that the question of trade was one that socialists could not take a side on; or that it ‘depended’ on something else and was therefore perhaps of secondary importance.  In my exchange of views on Facebook set out in that post I said that something could be learned from what Karl Marx thought of free trade.  Then at least, we may have some clue as to what ‘depends’ actually depends on.  Marx obviously thought it was an important issue, just as it is now through the issue of Brexit, and he had a clear position on it.  But I will look at this in the next post.

It is important to understand first that Brexit is bad for trade and will therefore indirectly be bad for workers.  Many workers see the link much more directly – car workers hope that the cars they build can be exported easily into the rest of Europe; university staff seek maintenance of EU grants for their research work; airline staff hope the company retains its base in the UK; farmers hope that they continue to get subsidies; finance workers hope their firms don’t up sticks to Paris or Frankfurt or Brussels or wherever; the list is a very long one.

Because any deal can only be worse and the only thing worse than a bad deal is no deal, the more far-sighted Tories either oppose Brexit or seek a ‘soft’ one.  It is these people that the markets and the ‘Financial Times’ editor and commentators hope will come to the rescue.  Having backed the Tories in the last election, even though it was only they who could deliver them the disaster of Brexit, these people still cling to them again, even while the Tories swear to god that they will deliver it no matter what.  But even with the sugar-coated promise of deregulation, the Tories are going to dash their hopes – the Tories have already promised not to give them the single market or a customs union.  The continuing support of business for the Tories is yet more evidence of their wilful ideological blindness.

Their logic is completely without merit – if the balance of power lies with the EU and the pressure of time is all on Britain, this will very quickly become apparent, in fact it already has as May’s changed tone once article 50 was triggered has shown. May now talks not only the nonsense quoted above but also about a transitional deal, “controlling” immigration not lowering it, perhaps through voluntarily allowing cheap exploitable labour into agriculture when it is needed and then chucking it out afterwards.  Or allowing entry to skilled workers for companies that lobby for it.  Payments can still be made to the EU for some sort of trade access and EU courts will still have ultimate say.  To which it might be asked – what’s the point of leaving, although the Tories think that, with an election victory, answering such a question can at least be postponed.  After all, the May strategy in this election appears to be to say as little as possible.  And there’s a logic to this as well – the same logic.

The Tories cannot promise a ‘soft’ Brexit, or the detail of what it might involve, or even a transitional deal, which has become the favoured option of some business opinion who hope it might morph into something permanent that isn’t hard-on Brexit.  The Tories can’t do these things because those are decisions that are not theirs to take.

The EU will decide whether after less than two years the UK can get lost “making its own way”.  The EU will decide whether there is a transitional deal and what it will look like.  Making any sort of promise during an election would simply invite EU leaders to point out what the real situation is – ‘you say it best when you say nothing at all’ is therefore the only sensible thing to do.  It might make you look increasingly stupid during an election campaign but May is relying on an existing poll lead and a fully undeserved reputation for competence.  And, of course, a compliant media.  How could anyone believe that only she can be trusted to be a strong negotiator with the EU when she’s even afraid to negotiate her way round a TV studio in a leaders’ debate?

If a ‘soft’ Brexit does not exist for the Tories it cannot exist for Jeremy Corbyn either.  The defence of workers’ interests that is the Labour Party’s platform cannot be implemented while leaving the EU.  For those who believe that socialism arises simply from revolution against capitalism and that the EU is a neoliberal conspiracy this is incomprehensible. It is nevertheless true because socialism will be built upon the foundations of the productive forces of capitalism and from transforming its social relations, not merely overturning them.

The more Corbyn stands up for the living standards and rights of working people the more this will conflict with a Brexit agenda, although again and again he turns away from this truth and damages his own case and the prospects for winning over the Remain voters.  The election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails and Corbyn can maintain that he will defend workers’ rights without threatening Brexit.

As for the prospects for the election itself; at the start of the campaign the press is clear that Labour is finished.  It must become clear quickly that this is not the case and even by doing this Labour will have registered a success.  Simply by standing up it can continue to fight and by continuing to stand prove the pundits wrong.  Tory arrogance can then first be halted, then challenged, and then thrown back in their faces.  The worst sort of defeat is when you don’t fight, and if you fight there’s always the possibility to win.

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3

Free Trade and Socialism part 1

My last post on the potential effects of Brexit on Ireland or even worse, the effects of the Irish State leaving the EU, led to the following exchange of views on Facebook:

PF:  This piece could have been written by a not especially radical employee of whatever the Industrial Development Authority is now called. …… workers will suffer because their main trading partner is leaving the neo-liberal EU? At least the Sticky 1977(?) plan for Southern capitalism had the merit of claiming a class analysis.

Sráid Marx:  But is it true?

PF:  Depends!

Sráid Marx:  On what?

PF:  It depends on the standpoint. Our man on the Dublin omnibus views everything through the prism of Brexit. Right at the end he says the Brit ruling class is undermining itself. There is, no doubt an ongoing debate, with most of big capital (and their media) opposing BREXIT (the Economist looks forward to it being overturned) while more ‘domestic’ capital – about 90% of firms – in the main support it. Not much to do with intelligence; much more to do with class interests.

As far as the interests of workers go, he suggests that wages will fall, with the implication that if Britain remained, they wouldn’t. Real wages in Britain have fallen over the past period, well before the Referendum. So this is a bit of a dodgy argument anyway.

For the rest of the piece he speculates on tariffs, foreign direct investment, the benefits of WTO rules, migration between the 26 Counties and the UK, the value of trade between the EU, Britain and the Republic and finishes with a swipe at Corbyn, the most left wing leader of the LP – EVER.

All of the economic analysis can be seen in any broadsheet newspaper any day – but the main point is not its orthodoxy. That surely is a problem from someone whose tag line contains the word Marx? The problem is this: everything is viewed through the apparent stupidity of Brexit. He takes sides in an argument between two factions of the capitalist class and berates them for not really understanding their own interests. What’s Marxist about that?

Where does this orthodox analysis lead? To an attack on Corbyn. For not saving the British capitalist class from its apparent Brexit folly by mobilising more Labour voters to support Remain? The political conclusion is even more bizarre. Presumably, the LP should ditch Corbyn and would soar to electoral victory on the promise of the heavenly ‘single market’. Since when has ‘free trade’ been a socialist demand?

If he really wants to see where this leads he should look to ‘Open Labour’, the recent creation of O’Jones and others. In order to advance their ‘Left’ coup against Corbyn, they must shut out the Left. Jones’ diatribes against Stop the War and Stand Up to Racism are designed precisely for this purpose. If the coup from the ‘Left’ succeeds (Momentum, itself divided, has been far too timid in fighting the Right in the apparatus) the Corbyn project is a goner and we’ll be back to a soft left leadership kowtowing to the well funded Blairite right. And they’ll have the right line on Brexit, immigration controls and so on. But they’ll still lose – at least while workers remember what they were like.

Sráid Marx:  So it depends on your standpoint, does it? So barriers to trading the goods and services produced by workers won’t have any effect – is that what you are saying? Less investment won’t have any effect on employment?

In my series of posts on Europe I advance an argument that I think allows workers to take a standpoint independent of the small capital that seems mainly to want out of the EU and the big capital that doesn’t. As for the socialist standpoint on free trade, if you simply google ‘Marx and free trade’ you should get an answer to ponder.

And please don’t put words in my mouth about wanting Corbyn replaced by some soft left alternative that would inevitably pave the way for a Blairite. Some more familiarity with my blog would quickly disabuse you of that speculation. And finally, there really shouldn’t be a debate about whether Brexit will lower wages because it is already happening.

KH:  What about CETA and the Fiscal Compact – that effectively wipes out possibilities of reflation/deflation as well as ability to control inflation rates. It is a completely symbolic gesture if you cannot mandate your own Central Bank to carry out your own sovereign economic and monetary policies, which instead, will be set out entirely in the interests of German rather than Scottish economy.

Only a fool would voluntarily give away national control over fiscal and monetary policy. Six years of EU austerity policies and three structural adjustment programs brokered in a bid to save a massively dysfunctional currency as well as corporate and financial interests have probably guaranteed the election of at least two neo-fascist governments in the next few years.

Wages have been lowered to such an extent in the EU since 2008 that you are happy to accept the election of Wilders et al due entirely to the austerity policies imposed by your beloved ECB.

PF: “So barriers to trading the goods and services produced by workers won’t have any effect – is that what you are saying?” Nation states, including the South of Ireland, used such barriers to protect the economy up to about 1960’s. And the majority of the 26 County working class supported Fianna Fail for exactly the same reason. It only ended when the US ruling class decided post-War that they wanted to muscle in on the pickings of the British Empire (Commonwealth). ‘Free trade’ (one of the reasons the Democrats lost and the AFL-CIO sit on Trump’s Economic Advisory Council) is no more socialist than protectionism.

*           *          *

There are a number of obiter dicta that could be made about the objections to my post on Brexit and Ireland including exhibition of a left-wing variant of ‘Gove’s disease’; that is an aversion to ‘experts’; a reincarnation of that other pathology – ‘project fear’ – which seemed to be a Pavlovian aversion to some variant of capitalist arguments, but in this particular case capitalist arguments you don’t have a convincing response to.

The left-wing Gove’s disease consists of an ability to dismiss argument or evidence that comes from bourgeois experts or those who place some reliance on the argument and evidence they present because:

  1. You don’t like them,
  2. No one on the left should employ them and
  3. You don’t have answer to them (or not one that addresses the point).

Unfortunately, workers are often impressed, confused or frustrated by these arguments and only rarely simply dismiss them, as we have been invited to do.  Socialists therefore need to understand and respond to them, extracting what is of value from them for the benefit of our class.  By analogy – much like Marx did with all those hours in the British library, where he didn’t spend his time simply reading socialist writers.

We have, then, an allegation of bourgeois ‘orthodoxy’ and then an assertion that what we need is “reflation as well as ability to control inflation rates.”  You must be able to “mandate your own Central Bank to carry out your own sovereign economic and monetary policies, which instead, will be set out entirely in the interests of German rather than Scottish economy.”

So, what we have is not an alternative to some sort of bourgeois orthodoxy but a different sort of bourgeois orthodoxy, one that is false.  It is orthodox because what it asserts is state (‘national’) intervention – presumably on behalf of workers – which is nothing to do with socialism since socialism is based on the power of the working class, including the power to destroy and supplant the capitalist state.

The only assumption that could make the demand for different orthodox capitalist economic policies legitimate is that some capitalist policies provide better conditions upon which workers can fight for their own interests, although never forgetting that the bourgeois alternative is ultimately to the benefit of capitalist system and cannot suspend forever its contradictions.

But I am criticised for wanting to take one side in an inter-capitalist dispute (a charge I reject) while it is asserted that socialists should fight for “your own sovereign economic and monetary policies, which instead [in the EU], will be set out entirely in the interests of German rather than Scottish economy”.  Now this really is taking sides on an inter-capitalist dispute.

It is false because, if the capitalist state could, through monetary policy, control the price of money capital, it would equally be able to control the price of all commodities, and why would this not include the value of labour power?  Being able to do so, why could it not plan the operation of the capitalist system through suitable prices so that it could avoid austerity, allow ‘sovereign’ control in the interest of ‘our’ economy (Scottish, Irish, insert country of choice) and in doing so provide well-paid and secure employment, welfare and public services for everyone?

But these are digressions.  The main point is that the original post argued that the disruption to existing free trade arrangements etc. would be bad for the working class and that there is a socialist position on this development.

So what then is the socialist position on free trade and is it one of ‘depends’?

Forward to part 2

Brexit and Ireland – part 3

The North of Ireland is the weakest part of the UK so should expect to be hit most by Brexit.  Local news has reported two companies as already shifting operations to the Irish State in preparation for the UK leaving.  The EU is the North’s largest export market and while for the UK as a whole, for the period 2004 to 2014, the share of exports going to non-EU countries has grown more than that to EU countries, this has not been the case for Northern Ireland. Since it has been pointed out that some agricultural products can pass across the border numerous times, the scope for tariff and non-tariff barriers to stifle this trade is significant.  Such tariffs generally range between 6 and 22 per cent

While for the three years reported in this paper, the share of EU exports going to the EU has been around 50% for the UK, it has been around 60% for Northern Ireland (NI). In terms of cross-border trade, exports from the North to the South are more important to the North than exports to the North are for the South.   Foreign Direct Investment uses Northern Ireland to export into the rest of the EU so any exit will hit this investment and this employment.

Finally, there is the loss of EU funding, especially for farmers, not that this seems to have prevented many unionist farmers from voting for Brexit.  The UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that direct payments to farmers under EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies represented 87% of annual farm income in NI.

Brexit could impel the UK into trade based on World Trade Organisation rules, just when the US under Trump signals that it may ignore these rules when it doesn’t suit.  China is also reported to be breaking WTO rules but the length of time it takes to rule on any breach and the potential for retaliation are strong impediments to enforcement.   In any case the UK is already failing to manage its trade and might be fined billions of Euros by the EU for failing effectively to police the existing EU rules.  Hardly an endorsement of its ability to look after its own borders after Brexit.

The new US administration is hailed as a potential alternative to the EU even while Trump threatens to restrict and withdraw US investment abroad.  You know Brexit is a disaster when the nationalist policy of the Trump administration is put forward as the alternative, but more importantly you know how stupid the Brexit idea is in the first place when you admit you need an alternative and don’t already have one.

If Brexit makes no sense in the North it scarcely represents an advantage to the South.  It may benefit from firms relocating from NI and Britain but this is likely to be relatively minor compared to the disruption to trade with the UK, which is worth over €1 billion per week.  Exports from the Irish agri-food sector to the UK amount to over €3 billion or over 50% of that sector’s value.  The Irish State has the biggest share of exports going into the UK of any EU country, so has the greatest exposure to potential reduction of this trade.  It also has one of the biggest numbers of its citizens living in the UK of any EU country, exposing them to the threats to their rights the Tories are deploying in an effort to get a better deal.

Merchandise exports from the Irish State to the UK were over 25% of such exports in 2015 while services traded to the UK were nearly 19% of such services.  It has been estimated that in 2014 200,000 people were employed as a direct result of exports to the UK, or over 10 per cent of employment.   Again any reduction in markets could lead to reduced employment, wages, tax receipts and thus state-funded services.

In this respect, it is interesting to note that many of the economic forecasts of the quantitative economic impact of Brexit show greater falls in wages than in economic growth generally, which is no doubt a feature of the models but which shows that it is assumed that workers will pay most from Brexit.

None of this is particularly surprising and most people just get numbed by too many figures.  The effects are recognised and the question is how these are to be mitigated.  The Tories talk about opening up Britain to the world, but this world includes a growing protectionist US; a more powerful China that has already forced a British climb-down over a nuclear power station; Japanese car companies who have done the same; a Commonwealth that is supposed to welcome a return to a 21st century British Empire, and the rest of the world, much of which is part of trade blocs that the British are rejecting.  Given this context, were Brexit to go ahead, the direction of the British state will be less under its control than it was inside the EU.

Similar problems will face the Irish State if Brexit goes ahead. Up to now it could straddle a growing relationship to the EU with historic but declining dependence on the UK; and it could do this while acting as if it was the latest State to join the Union, that is the union of the United States of America.  Brexit threatens the second and Trump threatens the third.  The first is threatened by the nature of the type of Brexit that may occur and by being squeezed by the US and Britain.

If controls on immigration that are under the authority of the EU and British impede migration to the UK, the importance of this migration will decline relative to the Irish State’s greater trade with the EU, making it more attractive to enter into the Schengen area to facilitate such trade.  Entry into the Schengen area for any reason would make problematic any more favourable Irish migration arrangements with the UK compared to others, who might object to less favourable arrangements for their own EU citizens. Either way migration links to Britain could suffer, and such migration (just like that to the US) has always been a safety valve for the young fleeing a country that is regularly unable to promise it a future.

So, if the UK leaving the EU will hurt both Irish States, it is hard to see the sense in advocating that the Irish State also leave.  Unlike in Britain this policy is really confined to sections of the Left and more ‘radical’ nationalists and republicans.  But at least it is consistent with the latter’s nationalism, while how the Left expects workers to become more internationalist while their country becomes more isolated is another sorrowful mystery; even the Tories recognise the need to develop international links.  But why would European workers rally to a movement that declares that the problem is their ‘foreign’ capitalist states and not its own.

But of course, some new orientation to the world would be necessary for an Irish State outside the EU and there is really only one immediate candidate – back to the loving embrace of the similarly isolated British State, ludicrously trying to re-live its imperial youth.  A death-embrace of two states simultaneously pursuing a race to the bottom as a low wage, deregulated, offshore tax haven.

In doing so an Irish State would suffer badly, and just like the economic models relating to Brexit, we can be certain that it would be Irish workers who would suffer most for the nationalist fantasy that is Irexit.  The idea that something progressive or even socialist could develop out of such a project is preposterous.

The Euro area is by far the Irish State’s biggest trading partner, €109 billion in combined exports and imports in 2013/2014, compared to €52 billion for the UK.  Much of the foreign direct investment in the Irish State is because of its access to the EU market and could be expected to leave if it left the EU.  Foreign owned companies account for more than 20 per cent of employment while they dominate exports.

The Irish State would have to create a new currency, especially if (in the very unlikely event) its exit was motivated by the nationalist Left, which regards the Euro as a devil incarnate.  Establishing the credibility of this currency would require massive austerity while failure to do so would guarantee massive inflation.  In either case living standards could be expected to plummet.

In both parts of Ireland Brexit and Irexit is and would be a disaster.

The Left supporters of Irexit would have to find a new name for the above description of the results of Brexit and Irexit, as dismissing it as another ‘Project Fear’ wouldn’t quite cut it, as the experience of attempting to destroy capitalism by destroying capitalism only became a reality.

How ironic that it is the ideological supporters of capitalism itself that are inflicting this damage, rather than the relatively irrelevant proponents of Lexit.  Not only is this Left’s programme of breaking with the EU being implemented by the likes of UKIP, Tories, the Daily Mail and The Sun but the nonsense of a ‘progressive’ Brexit is being pursued by Corbyn’s Labour Party.  And we can see how useless that is as well.

Rarely does this Left get such an opportunity to see its big policies implemented. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they will learn anything from their errors, since they seem barely to recognise that what they have wanted is actually being implemented.

Concluded

Back to part 2

 

 

 

Brexit and Ireland part 2 – the hard border

border-brexitHaving at first said she didn’t want “to return to the borders of the past” between the North and the South of Ireland, Theresa May now says that “when the UK leaves the EU we aim to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”  What this means is that we will have a seam showing and lots of friction.

This is because, while Theresa May would like to portray the relationship as one between the North and South, the actual relationship is between the UK and the EU – this is the border that will exist post-Brexit.  Formulations to the contrary are but one example of the Brexiteers hopes to divide the EU so that it can obtain concessions from particular member states, in this case it would be in the form of a special deal for Northern Ireland.

This can range from continuing EU membership for the North (although this would create unmanageable problems in relation to Scotland) to border controls at Liverpool or Cairnryan.  This would then leave the need for potentially relatively minor checks at the Irish border itself.  Of course, we could get these checks at Belfast or Larne instead.

It was interesting that immigration checks into the UK at Dublin airport on behalf of the British was floated as a story a few months ago and flew longer than it should have, before being shot down on the grounds that the Brits can do their own dirty work (I paraphrase).  However, the Irish don’t mind the dirty work being done on their territory when it comes to the United States.  When it was also floated that the Irish State would not cooperate with racist immigration controls introduced by Donald Trump, it was quickly squashed when it was revealed, or anyway declared, that the Irish could do nothing about the pre-clearance carried out by the US immigration service on Irish soil.

Controls at British ports is about as good as it would get but it would only reveal that the fixation on the line on the map is a diversion by everyone involved.  Regardless of where the checks would take place they would be enforcing customs restrictions and any tariffs that have to be imposed.  Much of the work at the ports would just be checking while the real imposition of trade restrictions would take place in offices all across the UK and Ireland, processing the necessary paperwork and money flows.  It is these restrictions that would damage trade and thereby threaten employment.

The only point of checks on the border if they were already carried out at Liverpool or Larne would be if some smart ass thought they could avoid customs restrictions by siting themselves in Northern Ireland rather than in Britain, but if this happened to any extent the controls would move from Liverpool or Larne to Lifford, Dundalk and Newry.

Immigration and customs checks going into or out of the island might be sold as a special deal.  The British nationalism that is driving the demands for Brexit doesn’t give a damn about the Irish in the north of Ireland, if they get in the way of what suits the real British in England, Wales and Scotland.  The unionist supporters of Brexit in the North of Ireland might complain that they weren’t then being treated like the rest of her majesty’s subjects, but those of us old enough to remember the Belfast flight being off in some corner of the airport and having to fill in Prevention of Terrorism cards will have seen it before.

Besides checking on the import and export of goods, the other reason for border controls would be to check on people moving, so that those from the EU could not pass freely to the Irish State, then to the North and then to Britain.  The British, Irish and the EU have all signalled appreciation of the importance of the Common Travel Area between the Irish State and the UK, under which Republic of Ireland born are treated entirely the same as UK passport holders under the Ireland Act 1949, but this is within the gift of the EU.  Free entry, or looser entry from the island of Ireland would have to be compensated for by stricter controls within Britain itself, if it was believed that people from the EU were coming into Britain to get jobs through Ireland.  Already we have had xenophobic statements from senior Tories calling for registers of EU citizens employed in the UK.  This was rejected, but we haven’t gotten to the sharp end of the Brexit negotiations yet when the real aggro will start.  Welcome to the nasty world of a hard Brexit – the one we’re going to face.

Irish citizens living in the UK have had rights to welfare for decades before both the UK and Irish states joined the EU but under Brexit they will be EU citizens when the UK is no longer an EU member.  It cannot be assumed that the EU would be happy at discrimination against a majority of its citizens which favoured the Irish even if the British were happy to maintain these rights.  And what of those with Irish passports in Northern Ireland?  How are they to be identified, or rather identify themselves, to ensure that they don’t have second class rights as UK citizens?

All this explains the apparently surprising flurry of statements from Irish politicians talking about Brexit leading to a united Ireland – even from the most partitionist of sources.  But what they fret about is the cost to their own business and state on their side of the border, not sudden awareness of the calamitous results of partition on democratic rights.

That some people have taken these statements as more than bullshit is testament to failure to realise that the effects of the border are not primarily felt on the border itself but in the politics of the two societies that lie behind each side of it.  This is why much of the alarmist claims that Brexit will damage the peace process and/or will create conditions for a successful referendum to remove the border are so wide of the mark.

Everyone know the EU played a relatively minor role in the pacification of the North of Ireland.  The rush for Irish passports after the referendum is not enough to signal any mass change in political identity but a sensible pragmatic decision, which those choosing hope won’t come back to bite them.  They can, anyway, get two passports.  Northern Ireland voted Remain but even this split was very much, although not to the usual extent, based on sectarian lines.  Even where massive majorities of nationalists voted for Remain, such as in West Belfast, the turnout wasn’t great.  I know unionists who voted Remain and they’re still unionists, and being unionist means being trapped into a sectarian political state because unionism demands it even if these people don’t.

There is going to be no return to political violence because of a hard border, even if it does cause significant inconvenience for those living along it, which is the most likely outcome.  A bit of nationalist history is instructive here.

The recent ‘Troubles’ broke out not because of problems with the border – the IRA’s border campaign of 1956 to 1962 had achieved nothing and fizzled out.  It followed an earlier bombing campaign in Britain and previous demise of the original raison d’être of the anti-Treaty IRA, which was fighting the treachery of the Free State forces, in other words fighting the Southern State.  By the 1950s republicans had abandoned fighting the Free State and accepted it, so that now it is almost forgotten that this was the IRA’s primary purpose.  Instead, what drove the IRA to its more recent prominence was what society inside the Northern Ireland border was like – its sectarianism and capacity for violence in defence of it, particularly by State forces.

In other words, what will, and currently is, causing the degeneration of the ‘peace process’ political arrangements are the internal contradictions within the process itself.  This does not mean that external factors are unimportant.  In fact, my own view is that such factors will be decisive in clearing away the political slum that is Northern Ireland.  What it does mean is that the effects of Brexit will exacerbate the problems but not be their key cause.

It is not the erection of border posts that will matter, they will just be visible symbols of the changes occurring.  The IRA, of whichever group, is not going to relaunch any significant armed struggle directed against the border.  This border will be just as much an EU/Irish border as a British one and just as much, if not more, a requirement of the former as the latter, even if it is the British whose Brexit has brought it into a harder form.

What will matter is the damaging effects on the North and South of Ireland of Brexit and the competing demands of Britain, the US under Trump and the EU.  In periods of relative geo-political stability small countries and regions can appear relatively stable and entertain illusions of sovereignty and autonomy.  When big powers seek a reconfiguration of international structures they rarely give a f*** about the interests of small countries.

Forward to part 3

Back to part 1