Monday 5 November 2018

Bordering on the Farcical

Brexit is 95% sorted, say some. It's 50/50! claim others. Whatever you believe and irrespective of your flavour of Brexit (or whether you don't accept it at all), we're moving to make or break point. The outcome of which is sure to have a lasting - and a less than benign - impact on British politics for many years to come. Yet remarkably, the main obstacle to sorting out a deal and following it up with a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU is still the Irish border issue. And it's the UK, sorry, the Tories who are entirely to blame for this impasse.

Consider the position of the Irish government. They want to avoid a hard border at all costs. Not just because frictionless movement of people north and south and unimpeded trade is central to the Republic's economy, but a also because of a justified desire of wanting to avoid anything resembling the resumption of the North's low level civil war. True, conditions now are not what they were before the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated and ratified, but the reimposition of a hard border carries with it the risk of sparking off new grievances. A staffed, patrolled, and very visible symbol of the division of Ireland into north and south is unlikely to gladden the hearts of committed republicans. Likewise, for loyalists - both retired and would-be paramilitaries - this could be taken as a licence to re-entrench sectarian divisions, up to and including targeted killings of anyone who earns their displeasure. Unfortunately for the people of the two Irelands, the UK government of Theresa May and her ghastly cast of hoorays, chinless place-seekers, and gilded wastrels, they care nothing for the consequences of wrecking the Good Friday Agreement and trampling on the democratic rights of the overwhelming mass, north and south, who voted for it. Some referendums are more deserving of respect than others, it seems.

Nevertheless, playing hard and fast with the Irish border suits some. Despite their lip service to uninterrupted traffic with the Republic, the DUP are very much in the government's van. In fact, they know at the bottom that reinstating a border is in the party interest. Which is why Arlene Foster is unashamedly, recklessly pugnacious on matters Brexit. With no checks between the province and the Republic, the two parts have enjoyed a brisk social and economic convergence over the last 20 years, more or less rendering the north increasingly redundant and with it the long-term viability of unionism, and the DUP itself. As the rising generation in both communities and either side of the border view the continued division as an anachronism, thanks to their receptivity to socially liberal values courtesy of the immaterial economy and experience of large-scale emigration, particularly to mainland Britain, so the DUP finds it difficult and will increasingly find themselves out of sorts. Their response is not a liberal unionism, but a deeply backward, sectarian identity the accentuates the supposedly unique character of themselves, their community, and their statelet. For all the hypocritical whingeing we've seen about the inviolability of the bond between Britain and Northern Ireland and how a customs border in the Irish Sea is utterly unacceptable, they are quite happy to separate themselves from the rest on abortion and equal marriage. They do so because it is politically convenient for them, it gives the north a distinctive identity vis a vis the Republic. Once, the latter served as Unionism's Big Other because of its papist character. Now, with secularisation speeding forward at pace, the North can distinguish itself from the Republic because of its Godlessness.

May's official position, aided by Foster and crew, leaves many hostages to fortune. Presently, the backstop is there will be next to no dislocation between the Republic and the UK for an arbitrarily set period. The open border is protected for now and what can happen to it can get sorted by a trade deal somewhere down the line. If all the Prime Minister had to worry about was getting a deal through her own party, this would appear to be fairly pragmatic and sensible. But she has more than a bunch of cranky and otherwise irrelevant backbenchers to please. Rightly, Ireland is worried that a time-limited commitment implies that the UK could rip up Good Friday and the Common Travel Area if it suited future political manoeuvres. They are also no doubt alarmed by the disdain the Tories have shown the previous agreement signed by the PM before last Christmas. You will recall the Irish border issue was supposed to be sorted by that, and yet here was are almost a year later. Typical of their decadent stupidity, the Tories are allowing Albion to be perceived as perfidious over its treaty obligations. That's all well and good, but if your Brexit owes everything to swashbuckling your way around the globe with a series of bilateral trade deals, demonstrating a light-minded and unserious approach to negotiations and agreements is about the dumbest thing you can do. Would you sign a trade agreement with a demonstrably unreliable and untrustworthy partner?

Still, the truth of the matter is that the difficulties of May's position is thanks to it being an impossible one. If she accepts the Irish position and treats the border as inviolable in perpetuity, not only are the miserable wretches of the ERG going to pile in, there is the possibility of touching off a wider rebellion in Tory ranks. By the backdoor, an open border means unrestricted and uncontrolled immigration. "Controlling our borders", the pathetic totem the Leave campaign emblazoned on its banner, becomes an impossibility. But unless that happens, the a no-deal catastrophe comes into play. This means alienating permanently significant sections of business, centre leaving voters, and the further repulsion of younger voters. Having got this far by following the narrow interests of the Tory party, May is faced with an inescapable dilemma - a scissors crisis of its immediate and medium-to-long-term interests. Does party management of the moment win out at the risk of the destruction of the Tories later, or does going cap in hand to Labour rebels to offset her headbangers but make things less bad for the Tories in the long run win out? The clock is ticking, we've run out of road for the can to be kicked down, and the fatal hour of decision is almost upon us.


Boffy said...

Channel 4's Brexit Programme last night, showed from its extensive polling that the electorate now back Remain 54% to 46%. It showed that in addition to the previous majorities for Remain in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the main cities of England, there are now majorities for Remain in Wales, and in England, including all those Northern areas, such as Tyneside.

So, it would appear that all those whose only fig leaf of an argument for continuing the increasingly damaging policy of Brexit, was some ridiculous belief that because a tint confected majority for Leave had occurred at a single point in time, two years ago, have lost even that excuse, and are now exposed bare in their defence of Brexit.

If they truly believed the arguments about respecting the will of the people, they would commit themselves to then respecting the will of the actual people alive today, and demand that Brexit be stopped.

Its a strange commitment to democracy otherwise that privileges the votes of around 1.5 million dead voters, who voted for Brexit in 2016, over the votes of around 1.5 million young, and very much alive Remain voters today, who didn't get to vote in 2016.

Dipper said...

The literal insanity of so many Remainers since the referendum has been a thing to behold. Wishing people dead, and celebrating their death, as some have, for a start.

But here's the main problem with the GFA and the UK leaving and the post above. Consider the following: Once the UK has left the EU, and the EU introduces new regulations which mean NI and the UK are no longer compliant with EU regulations so NI and UK products cant be freely imported into the EU, what does the government of ROI do? It is committed in the GFA to only introducing changes through agreement with NI and UK government bodies. If that is not forthcoming, then it has the choice of either not implementing the EU regulations in RoI, or unilaterally breaking the GFA. Neither of which are acceptable.

So could one of you political wizards and experts on all things Irish please point out to me either where my analysis is wrong or what the solution is.

I'm just not even going to start on the rest of the post. Just beyond words..

Johny Conspiranoid. said...

This might be a stupid question but what is to stop the UK from not impossing any tarrifs on imports from the EU after Brexit?

Jim Denham said...

"So could one of you political wizards and experts on all things Irish please point out to me either where my analysis is wrong or what the solution is." Dipper, you are clearly *not* wrong on that particular point.

The solution, of course, is simple: stay in the EU.

Dipper said...

@johnny Conspiranoid - not a stupid question, and many have proposed low tariffs particularly on food and clothes, Jacob Rees-Mogg for one.

The issue though is not tariffs it is regulations, and how to confirm regulatory compliance. Leavers such as me argue that the EU is using regulatory compliance as a political weapon to produce political subservience. We maintain there are better ways of organising internationall regulations, ways that would not require countries to hand over their laws, finances, and control of their borders to the organisation that owns the regulations for a start.

The use of regulatory compliance in the Brexit has been a thing to behold. How, without EU regulations, can we be sure that the beef we are eating isn't actually horse? How, without EU regulations, can we be sure that the money in the European banking system hasn't been laundered by Russians through major European banks in sums equivalent to national GDPs through some of the smaller states?

And obviously, for those with short memories or limited news sources, those are things that have happened under the fantastic EU regulatory regime.

Boffy said...

To Johnny,

Absolutely nothing. Its what the right-wing economists like Patrick Mitford propose, not just for EU products, but all products. Its why he is at least honest in saying it would destroy UK farming and what's left of UK manufacturing as a flood of cheap imports came in. The problem is not the UK not imposing tariffs on EU goods, though a collapse into WTO terms, if Trump hasn't already by then destroyed the WTO, is that it requires tariffs to be imposed, the problem is that the EU most certainly will impose tariffs on UK produced goods and services, and that will encourage BMW to move production of Minis, currently exported, to Germany, and so on, to avoid those tariffs and all the other higher costs that Brexit will impose on them.

On the question of Ireland, there are a number of solutions. First of all, faced with chaos and economic dislocation, Northern ireland could well just vote to join the republic which solves the problem quickly. The latest polls suggest a majority for a United ireland in the event of a No Deal Brexit. The Unionist parties are already a minority, compared to republican and nationalist parties, which is one reason the DUP are not keen for the Assembly to be resumed.

The Republic could alternatively just say, we don't want to impose border checks, and so given that we don't know if what you want to trade meets EU standards, we will just block all trade from the North. That would quickly make the DUP and the Tories sit up.

The UK will continue to need to import large amounts of commodities from the EU, but the EU will have a diminshing requirement to import UK commodities, because production of them will move out of the UK to EU, and in any case its much larger size, the economies of scale it enjoys over the UK will make EU companies increasingly more competitive than UK companies.

DFTM said...

“The use of regulatory compliance in the Brexit has been a thing to behold”

Regulatory compliance can often be the most efficient and convenient way of standardising processes. Or it can be a way of ensuring standards are maintained, so for example regulations around how food is manufactured.

If a nation wishes to stand outside a regulatory framework then it will inevitably face issues in an integrated world, just as a company will face problems if it decides to reject the use of Microsoft products within its business.

“How, without EU regulations, can we be sure that the money in the European banking system hasn't been laundered by Russians through major European banks”
Not sure why you singled out Russians in this, when money laundering covers almost every nationality on earth, including the UK, no particularly the UK, the money laundering capital of the world no less! A nation whose primary purpose seems to be providing the rich with money laundering opportunities. Enough of Russians already, see the corruption right in front of you!

An example I would have used is the Volkswagen emissions scandal, can you believe that not one executive has been executed for putting Volkswagen’s profits above the future of planet Earth.

No one was executed for putting horse illegally into the food chain of all things, the fucking food chain!

What is going on here!

The Middle Class Marxists says,

“If they truly believed the arguments about respecting the will of the people, they would commit themselves to then respecting the will of the actual people alive today”

Firstly you wouldn’t do this based on polling. Secondly given the fact that working class people die younger than Middle class people I would call on all those who work for the Labour movement to decry people like Boffy who want to add a metric to democracy called likely death date! This would taken to its insane logical conclusion mean that fewer working class people would get to vote! Boffy has talked about winning the battle for democracy in the past, this is taking that concept into lunacy.

Of course having a one off yes or no vote on the relationship with the EU was an act of lunacy in itself. Now the horse has bolted I can’t see any easy way out of this, if Britain stays in the EU this will have one short term affect, namely it will give a boost to the far right in the UK and one long term affect, it will put back the prospect of a more unified Europe by decades, as Britain will thwart any attempts at closer integration.