The Irish government has made a bold and daring move. It has said that the next round of EU-UK talks cannot go forward unless the UK guarantees that under no circumstances will there be a hard border on the island of Ireland. In theory, this shouldn’t be tricky given the UK government has assured everyone throughout all the bluster that this will be the case. However, this impediment to talks erected by Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, sort of calls their bluff on this, as in reality there are only two real options for the UK if it wishes to avoid a hard Irish border: either the UK remains in the Customs Union, or Northern Ireland is allowed to stay in the Customs Union. The first item would mean that the UK couldn’t strike any trade deals of its own, and besides, the government has ruled it out completely over and over again; the second would bring down the government, as the DUP would never, ever go for this option, as it basically unites Ireland in all but name.
This has caused the Brexiteers to go nuts. They have accused the Irish of the lowest treachery, in some of the worst instances of this laying bare the underlying notion amongst many of them that Ireland isn’t a real country; that not acting as Britain’s little brother, fighting our corner, is completely out of order. Can’t we bloody well kick them out of the Commonwealth or something? Oh, right, they already left of their own free will. You know, became a republic, i.e., a real country by anyone’s reckoning. Or maybe not anyone’s, judging by this week.
So, the question I have is this: shouldn’t the “no deal” Brexiteers be loving all this, cracking out the champagne as a direct result? Not seething with rage about it all? After all, rumour had it that May was about to get out the chequebook, allowing the transition to hover into view, replete with all the trimmings they despise: freedom of movement, EU laws still being accepted as they come hot off the Brussels’ press – even the dreaded ECJ holding court over us all. Varadkar’s move makes that all less likely. For instance, what if one of them had said this:
“The Irish Taoiseach has acted in what he clearly feels is Ireland’s best interests this week. Our own prime minister should take Mr Varadkar’s lead and act in Britain’s best interests by seeing this as the latest, surest sign that achieving a deal with the European Union is going to prove impossible. When even our closest historical cousin is putting up barriers, isn’t it time to throw in the towel and simply leave on our own terms?”
This would have been both closer to their supposed beliefs as well as being a better PR job than the “how dare these jumped potato farmers defy Britain’s will?” shtick of the last few days. Maybe they don’t really believe a “no deal” is a good idea after all?
My hunch is that Leo Varadkar and the Irish Government have been seeking advice about any fall back position of the UK and has concluded that the UK position is desperately flimsy: “Sometimes it doesn’t seem like they thought all this through.”
I would like to know what a fall back position would be. How easily would the UK rejoin the WTO? Would WTO rules apply even if the UK was not a member?
I understand that a customs border is a requirement of the WTO and that all third party states are treated equally. Am I correct to think this? Does the UK have to treat b orders with Ireland, France Belgium and the Netherlands in the same way?
The other issue is would rejoining the WTO be automatic or would it be time consuming and need to be negotiated with the organisation and WTO members?
Toby Fenwick says
The UK joining the WTO in its own right is not that controversial, but it wouldn’t solve the problem of the hard border in Ireland, as customs checks would still be necessary as they are when US goods arrive in the UK.
In actual fact, if Varadker holds this line (& I can see no reason why he couldn’t/ shouldn’t) then the most likely outcone is that the UK would stay in the Single Market indefinitely as well.
Paul W says
I think people in Dublin have forgotten that Theresa May made a particular a point on the steps of Downing Street last year of saying that she was a Conservative & Unionist. It would be unwise to test her resolve.
Wouldn’t it be controversial if the UK was clearly not intending to comply with WTO rules about customs controls. Do you think that whatever the state of Brexit, there would be no impediment to joining the WTO? – I really do not know.
May is the one doing the testing and yes she is being very unwise. Mind you she did say a lot of other things which were obviously thoroughly vacuous, so there is little reason to pick out one as being any different.Toby
Paul W says
The Irish Republic benefits from certain privileges so far as its historic links with the United Kingdom are concerned. But if it overplays its limited hand by acting as a catspaw for unfriendly and protectionist EU policies, a miffed unionist-minded Conservative government could find itself under pressure to retaliate by withdrawing those privileges and treating the Irish Republic on exactly the same terms as any other EU state such as France or The Netherlands. It would be sad development if that were the case. But that’s why it would be unwise to test or provoke Mrs May and her government in that way.