The British Government is taking steps at present to prevent the EU Withdrawal Agreement being used to put Northern Ireland into the position of France, Germany or any other EU member state in the event of Britain leaving the transition period without a deal with the EU. Some people think this would break international law, others think it wouldn’t, but what no one appears to have thought about is what would happen if the British Government did nothing.
We don’t know if there is going to be a deal with the EU. Much of what is going on is simply both sides manoeuvring. The EU since the beginning has been concerned that Britain must be seen to be punished for Brexit and that we gain no advantage. They have cleverly, or perhaps cynically used Northern Ireland to gain an advantage. Losing Northern Ireland is the punishment.
Ireland was horrified by Brexit because of the amount of trade it does with the UK and wished to keep Britain in the EU if possible. This was the purpose of weaponizing the border in Ireland. Having failed to keep Britain in the EU Ireland is trying to keep us as close as possible.
But what if the British Government left without a deal and did nothing whatsoever to prevent a regulatory border developing across the Irish Sea? Some have suggested that Mr Barnier threatened to prevent Britain supplying Northern Ireland with food and with other goods. Well what if Britain left without a deal anyway and took no steps to prevent this sort of blockade happening?
I have recently been watching Pop Goes Northern Ireland, a series of rather brilliant half hour programmes, that go through a year of Northern Ireland’s recent history illustrating the major events with pop songs of the period. I was too young to remember most of this period, but I was quite shocked by how bad it was. Every year of The Troubles has endless bombings and murders. The cruelty is extraordinary.
As a child I watched the news, but didn’t really understand it, but this series has brought back to me with vividness how awful it was when there was no peace in Northern Ireland.
Well what would happen if Northern Ireland while being an integral part of the UK should find itself effectively still in the EU and with in effect an international border between Britain and itself? What would happen if trade between Northern Ireland and Britain was seriously disrupted? After all Northern Ireland is part of the UK’s internal market and its economy depends much more on trade with the UK than trade with Ireland.
Imagine if there were food shortages in Northern Ireland’s supermarkets because the EU prevented Tesco lorries from crossing the Irish sea. Imagine if Northern Irish consumers had to pay more for whatever goods they bought from Britain because the EU put tariffs on these goods. How long would this situation continue?
Neither Ireland nor the EU has thought through their strategy. Peace depends on both communities in Northern Ireland being treated with respect. The Unionist community did not consent to a regulatory border down the Irish Sea and they did not consent to the EU’s external border being between Northern Ireland and the UK. This is to put an international border between Britain and Northern Ireland without the people of Northern Ireland voting for that to happen. But this is contrary to the whole principle of the Peace Process that the status of Northern Ireland depends on the consent of both communities.
The EU negotiating team is desperate for Britain to make concessions. This is why they have raised the threat of making the border down the Irish Sea a reality. But if Britain failed to give in to these threats and left without a deal anyway, it would be the reputation of Ireland and the EU that would suffer.
If the British Government did nothing to protect the UK’s internal market and allowed Ireland and the EU to do its worst, we might quite rapidly find food shortages in Northern Ireland. Ireland would lack the capacity to compensate. We might find a steep fall in the Northern Irish economy made worse by Covid, but particularly made worse by disruption to Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market. Northern Ireland would be unable to integrate rapidly into Ireland’s internal market, because it hardly exists. Northern Irish consumers would not instantly be able to buy what they need from Ireland because the Irish economy would not instantly be able to provide these goods and services.
Who would the people of Northern Ireland blame if their lives and their economy was wrecked by Ireland and the EU? If Britain said I’m sorry Northern Ireland, we can do nothing. International law prevents us sending food and prevents us supplying you with the goods and services you require, which British politicians would be blamed? Those who tried to get around the Withdrawal Agreement or those who insisted that international law must be upheld.
The truth is that if Britain did nothing to prevent the subversion of our internal market and left without a deal anyway, both the Irish Government and the EU would have to give in within days. Imagine the scenes of empty shelves in Tesco supermarkets across Northern Ireland and Tesco lorries stopped at the ports by Irish and EU officials. Imagine massive job losses in Northern Ireland because they depended on free trade with Britain.
But this is not a game or brinkmanship. It is not very long ago that people from both communities in Northern Ireland were willing to murder each other. The violence has gone away but the divisions and the wounds still remain.
Ireland may think that its diplomacy since 2016 has put it one step further on the road to a united Ireland but alienating one of the communities in Northern Ireland is hardly a sensible long-term strategy. Northern Ireland’s peaceful future depends on both communities being at least content and hopefully happy no matter what happens.
If Ireland and the EU think they are contributing to a future that everyone in Northern Ireland can live with they are mistaken, because both Ireland and the EU are acting without the consent of the British people of Northern Ireland. For this reason, they are damaging the Peace Process.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2020/09/ireland-and-eu-are-damaging-peace.html