The Open Britain Campaign has listed seven promises that the Tory Government has broken in its welcome to the new draft of the Agreement for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. These are:
- A transition period will be about ‘implementing’ the future relationship, not negotiating it
- The UK will not pay money to the EU after March 2019
- The UK will not have to abide by EU rules during transition
- The UK will ‘take back control’ of fisheries policy
- Free movement will end in March 2019
- The UK will have new trade deals ready to come into force on 29 March 2019
- The implementation period would last for two years and should not be time limited
These however are not even the biggest. The most significant is the idea that Britain would take back control, beginning in the negotiations, at the commencement of which the importance of the UK to the EU economy would see the EU rush to agree a comprehensive deal that would suit the UK. Now, one explanation how trade arrangements would work after Brexit includes open borders without any checks – about as far from taking control as you can imagine.
And this is not a fringe option to be considered as a fall back in the event of a no-deal. For the only way to avoid a hard border inside Ireland and avoid a sea border between the island of Ireland and Britain is just such an arrangement.
The problems with this are not limited to those quoted in the last link to a BBC report – that even if the British did not have checks the EU would; and that the British would be compelled to let all goods flow without checks in order to be in compliance with WTO requirements that there could be no discrimination in favour of goods from or to the EU.
Already the part-time negotiator David Davis has stated that “we agree on the need to inckude legal text detailing the ‘backstop’ solution for the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in the Withdrawal Agreement is acceptable to both sides. But it remains our intention to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland, and therefore we will engage on the detail on all scenarios set out in the joint report.”
The problem is that the British Government proposals, as set out in the last May speech have already been rejected – there can be no mutual recognition of UK and EU standards, such that all trade can proceed in the frictionless way that now currently takes place. Any mutual recognition that the EU would agree to would be so limited as to make a border structure inevitable and significant.
There is no ‘technical’ solution that gets round the fact that the UK wants out of the Single Market (and Customs Union); mutual recognition as a general substitute for either is cherry picking on an industrial scale and ruled out, already by the EU, many times.
That this is the rationale for the Tory claim that they can avoid both a hard border inside Ireland and at the Irish Sea proves that the EU insertion of the “third option” – of full regulatory alignment of rules between the Northern and Southern Irish states – will come to pass.
Unless the British renege on their agreement. Not unheard of, it might be said. I came across the following on one web site – “North’s first rule of politics comes to mind: never trust a Tory. The second rule is: always obey the first.” As in this little ditty – “Never trust a Tory, they’ll betray you when it matters / They will scramble to the top and then they’ll kick away the ladder, hinny / Never trust a Tory, or a Tory in disguise, You can see it when you look them in the eye”. This is why EU figures are also stating that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
The British Government has hailed the draft Withdrawal agreement as a great step forward because it says it allows it a transitional period within which they can negotiate their own trade deals. This is not even a case of kicking the can down the road, as in the sense that the cliff-edge of leave is simply postponed, because the reality of leaving will still kick in before that, as it is already doing, and the failure to agree better trade deals than have been, or can be, achieved by the EU will become clearer. It is generally agreed that no substantive deals can be negotiated within two years, and the Tories haven’t even got that long.
The prospect of Northern Ireland within the regulatory framework of the EU would be a bitter pill for the DUP and many unionists in general to swallow. They have not barked opposition because they are possibly even more deluded that the Tory Brexiteers, although also more paranoid, so more likely to smell betrayal.
The Tory Brexiteers meanwhile are running out of justification, fabricated or not, for leaving the EU. They also aren’t barking very loudly, and now simply want out, willing to accept more and more acts of capitulation until they get it. As if they could then turn round when they’re out and implement their ultimate agenda of a deregulated dystopia on the edge of Europe. Neither they nor the DUP have really appreciated that, in or out, the UK will remain under the shadow of the EU and subject to its more powerful economic interests, to a greater or lesser extent.
Just as Mays’ list of special arrangements she wants from the EU in a final deal beg the question, why is the UK leaving?, so will the period of transition make more obvious the rotten prospects that exit promises.
Even the deal on offer from the EU is far from any panacea. The inclusion of Northern Ireland within the EU regulatory framework will mean an EU/UK border at the Irish sea, and more trade from the Irish State goes over it than across the land border inside the island. The draft deal does not therefore solve the problems created by Brexit for Dublin. Again, unless the British state capitulates further, and proves that a Tory plan for no border controls will actually work (which can only arise if they agree to membership of the Single Market and Customs Union) there is going to be a hard border somewhere.
For unionism in Northern Ireland the prospect of membership of the EU trading arrangements while the rest of the UK is excluded, is not in principle totally unacceptable, as they are quite happy to do things differently on many issues, such as abortion rights for women and gay marriage. The real problem with the EU deal is that the Northern State will become more and more different from the rest of the UK as the EU develops. This is not a static solution but a dynamic one in which their artificial majority is no longer potentially always a veto on any issue they decide to make a question of their sectarian identity.
The draft Withdrawal Agreement states that “authorities of the United Kingdom shall not act as leading authority for risk assessments, examinations, approvals and authorisations procedures provided for in Union law made applicable by this Protocol.” So not only will the UK (as Northern Ireland) have to accept and implement EU law, in all those North-South bodies, it is the Southern authority that shall take the lead and the Northern authority will have to follow.
Of course, if one is a simple-minded Irish nationalist this is not a problem. But this assumes that what is good for the Southern State is good for the population of Northern Ireland (and for the population of Southern Ireland as well for that matter).
So, for example, in the single electricity market, mentioned in Article six of the agreement, it could well be that the population of Northern Ireland will just have to accept the leadership of the Southern State, which dominates the electricity industry through its state-owned companies. In the South this has led to ordinary domestic electricity customers paying higher charges than business, which involves yet another clear subsidy to multinationals and an effective tax on working people for the benefit of capital as a whole.
That this will cause aggravation amongst unionists will hardly come as a surprise to anyone. However, a lot of the declaration of concern about a hard border endangering the peace process misses the point. Where this peace process the success it is claimed by the same people fretting about its future there would be little concern about changed customs and trading arrangements. What makes the border, and what happens at it, important is not so much the symbolic arrangements that may apply there, but the fact that behind it the peace process is failing, as the lack of an agreed Executive at Stormont makes abundantly clear. Additional strain on the process is therefore widely considered unwelcome.
Maybe this is why Article 13 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement on ‘Safeguards’ is included, which states that “if the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties liable to persist, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate measures.” In other words, if civil unrest erupts again the British State will be called upon to assert its control, perhaps in the customary way it has done so in the past.
As we have noted, the Tories have celebrated the latest EU document as a success even though they have retreated on issue after issue. Even the hard Brexiteers have been relatively quiet, complaining mostly about the fishing industry, or about ‘vassal’ status during the transition (how ironic),yet not so quiet as that other principled opposition – the supporters of Lexit on the left.
These people discounted the reactionary Brexit campaign in their support for leaving the EU, and have discounted all the reactionary political developments we have witnessed since in order to confirm their position. So why, if getting out of the EU is so important that it over-rides all this, are they not now condemning the sell-out Tories for prolonging UK membership, or denouncing their capitulation to condition after condition of EU membership that the Tories want to continue after the transition period?
The reason for this is their entirely light-minded and totally unreflective attitude to politics that has substituted protest for alternative and national reformism for working class politics. These supporters of Lexit could learn a lot from their failure to get this right but it seems they have no desire to do so.
This, however, is much less important than the attitude of the leadership of the Labour Party, which it would appear thinks the reactionary consequences of Brexit, including under-cutting the basis of its social-democratic programme, are of limited consequence. The most I have heard argued is that the Party should call for a vote on the eventual deal. But this is meaningless outside fighting for an alternative and a principled campaign against what is clearly a reactionary decision with reactionary consequences. On this, some dogs should be barking!