Tuesday 5 December 2017

Oops brexit

One of the biggest problems about Brexit, was always going to be Ireland. Before I explain the problem, I need to explain a bit about the history.

It all started about a thousand years ago. But moving rapidly past all that (and there was a lot of history, which you can read up on if you want), In 1922, The Republic of Ireland (Eire) came into being. That was the whole of the island of Ireland, except six counties in the north, which we call "Ulster" or "Northern Ireland" which remained part of the UK.

The Irish weren't entirely happy about that, but a majority of Ulster folks wanted it that way, so that's how it went. the usual British understatement. It was absolutely beastly, a civil war.

We had a situation in the 1970s when the IRA, supported by donations in North America (Noraid), was bombing Belfast (the capital of Ulster) and also places in England, because they wanted Ulster to be part of Eire. Meanwhile, the majority of Ulster folks wanted to stay in the UK.

We call this "The troubles", with the usual British understatement. It was absolutely beastly, a civil war.

This went on for years and years, and pretty much everyone was heartily sick of it. In 1988, an agreement was made, called "The Good Friday agreement". This was a compromise between the UK, Eire, the IRA and the UDF (the protestant version of the IRA). By the way, this wasn't really about religion.

And everyone breathed a sigh of relief, coupled with crossed fingers and toes, in the hope that peace would hold. It might not have - there were people on both sides who really didn't like the compromise, but there were a *lot* of people who were fed up with living in a war zone.

And it did hold. From then until now, Ulster is at peace. You can go shopping in Belfast. You can drive from Belfast to Dublin without being stopped for passport, customs or anything else. It's great! We went to Cork (right at the south of Eire) for a holiday this summer, and had a great time. And one of the things we learned there, is that the EU has been really great for Eire.

So, now Brexit. The UK (including Ulster) leaves the EU, but Eire is still EU. Suddenly there's a land border between the UK and the EU. And when we leave the EU, there won't be free movement of people between the UK and the EU, or of goods, or of services, or of capital. So how do we handle the border?
The Eire folks are *very* keen that the border be totally open. We don't want a return to the Troubles. Customs posts would make prominent targets for bombing.

The Ulster folks want totally open borders with the rest of the UK, and you can see their point - they are part of the UK, and want to stay that way
But you can't have totally open borders between the UK and the EU. That's the whole point of leaving the EU. So we have mutually incompatible requirements.
Can we just ignore what Eire wants? No, because Eire is part of the EU, and they can veto any arrangement we make with the EU unless they're happy, and they won't be happy unless there's an ironclad agreement for open borders with Ulster.

Can we ignore what Ulster wants? That's what we usually do, but in this case, Theresa May messed up the recent election so badly that the government is dependent on the ten votes

by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who will not be satisfied with anything less than open borders between the UK and Ulster.

So how did we get ourselves into this pickle? It was always obvious (to some of us) that the Eire/Ulster border was going to be a problem, and we were looking forward to seeing what rabbit Theresa would produce from her hat.

Now it turns out there's no rabbit. And no hat.

1 comment:

  1. The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 (not 1988)