By John Bruton, February 10,2019
We seem to be sliding inexorably toward a “No Deal” Brexit.
Mrs May’s decision to prioritize a deal with the Brexiteers in her own party, over a possible deal with the Opposition, and the time limits imposed on all of us by Article 50, make a No Deal much more likely than it was a week ago.
The EU is a rule based organisation, and it cannot afford to break its own rules if it wants to maintain its moral and political authority. The technical fixes, advocated by the Tory Brexiteers, cannot be worked through between now and 29 March.
At this late stage, Mrs May can afford to gamble, because, politically, she has little left to lose.
The EU cannot do so.
Its credibility is vital to its trade agreements with the rest of the world. Its internal cohesion depends on consistent application of common rules.
Where will a No Deal leave Ireland?
On the 1 April, the UK will be a non EU country. By law, the EU will have to treat it as such.
Ireland has opted to stay in the EU, and will have to continue to apply EU law, including the EU Customs Code, in all its dealings with non EU states, including the UK and Northern Ireland. That is a clear general principle.
The detail of how this might be applied at Irish ports and land boundaries, on traffic arriving from the UK, should now be clarified in minute detail.
There is no negotiating advantage now in withholding this information at this late stage, in light of Mrs. May’s choice to prioritize a deal with the Conservative Brexiteers over a deal with Labour.
In an article last month, the UK journalist Quentin Peel quoted a recent opinion survey in Northern Ireland on how people might vote in a referendum on leaving the UK adjoining a United Ireland.
I have to say I found the results he highlights to be quite surprising.
The opinion poll, conducted in early December by the Belfast-based pollster Lucid Talk, asked respondents how they would vote in a border poll in three different circumstances:
If there were a “no deal” Brexit crash-out of the EU: 55 % said they would either certainly or probably vote for a united Ireland, against 42 % certainly or probably opting to stay in the UK.
If there were a Brexit based on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement: the outcome would be wide open, with 48 % opting to stay in the Union, and 48 % wanting Irish unification.
Only if Brexit doesn’t happen, and the UK stays an EU member, is there a clear majority for remaining part of the UK: 60 % in favour, against 29 per cent for a united Ireland.
On the whole, the vote splits clearly on ethno/religious lines:
80 % of self described unionists would opt for the UK even with a no-deal Brexit.
93 % of nationalist/republicans would opt for Irish reunification.
What makes the difference in the poll is the crucial swing vote of the “neutrals”, who are neither self described unionists nor self described nationalist/republicans.
If there is no deal, ONLY 14 % of these “neutrals” would vote to remain in the UK!
If there is Brexit on May’s terms, that rises to 29 % choosing to remain in the UK.
Only if the UK as a whole opts to stay in the EU, do 58 % of the “neutrals” (Alliance, Greens, etc) vote in favour of the Union.
This poll should be read by the MPs of the Conservative Party who stress their support for the “Union” as one of their reasons for opposing the Irish Backstop.
According to a study by University College London, support for the Union of Northern Ireland with Britain is given by many Conservative MPs as the reason for their opposition to the Withdrawal Agreement, and their willingness to contemplate a “No Deal” Brexit. This is perverse.
If this poll is to be believed, in the name of support for the Union, these Conservative MPs are opening the way to a No Deal Brexit, the very outcome that would make a breakup of the Union most likely.
By backing Brexit at all costs, including a no-deal Brexit, the Democratic Unionist Party has enhanced the likelihood of a border poll that would end the Union. This is not a wise course for a “unionist” party to have followed. It plays into the hands of Sinn Fein.
This DUP approach shows how the politics of identity can lead sensible people to adopt policies that lead to the very outcome that they do not want.
The poll data also raises questions about how the vast UK Exchequer subsidy towards public services in Northern Ireland could be met from the much smaller Irish Exchequer, in the event of a United Ireland being chosen by voters in a referendum in Northern Ireland. The implications for tax, and for public services and pay, in both parts of Ireland would be substantial.
There is also the question of how Loyalists, who passionately support the Union and who have a record of violence, might react to a referendum decision that did not go the way they wanted, and how the Garda Siochana and the Irish Army could cope with this.
Neither of these points is addressed by those, who refuse to take their seats where they could do some good, and who are instead constantly demanding a border poll. As Brexit shows, making a big decision on the basis on the basis of a 58/48% vote can have dire consequences.
Mrs May, by prioritizing Conservative Party unity over a cross party approach, is leading these two islands into constitutional and emotional territory that has not been mapped, and that is highly dangerous.
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