The 2016 Brexit referendum aggregated all UK votes into a single total. England’s majority swamped the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish vote, which immediately cast a doubt on the idea of a shared political identity. Brexit’s authority however depended on there being no material differences within the UK. Scotland produced an enormous pro-EU outcome 62:38; Northern Ireland’s was a decisive 52:48; Wales had an anti-EU vote 53:47. The Scottish devolved government interpreted their pro-EU vote as evidence of their exceptionalism and grounds for independence.
Northern Ireland’s shared NI/EU frontier, integrated economic system and unique geo-political position is intractable. This material difference destroyed Brexit’s authority. David Cameron ignored the NI/EU frontier as a factor in framing his In/Out question. Less forgivably, he didn’t understand the Troubles.
Forty three years of seamless economic integration has dissolvedthe NI/EU frontier.Business decisions are taken within the context of a single customs area with commonality in standards.Northern Ireland’s agricultural sector, especially livestock, is integrated with the EU.Common health checks and agricultural standards facilitate the export/import trade. The all important energy sector has a single company generating power for the entire island of Ireland with cross-border connectors and grid:the ultimate example of economic integration.
Northern Ireland’s economy relies on the EU’s Four Freedoms*, which are:
Free movement of goods
Free movement of capital
Freedom to establish and provide services
Free movement of persons
The agricultural sector would collapse if commonality of health standards was abandoned and the energy supply would require enormous investment to replicate the present arrangements.
Six months after Brexit the Stormont power sharing agreement** collapsed. Julian Smith*** threatened to call elections after three years of impasse. The DUP and Sein Finn were convinced an outraged electorate would punish them, so they buried their differences returning to office in January, 2020. The Stormont government is demonstrably a colonial outpost.
The Good Friday Agreement was a futile attempt to make the botched 1921 Peace Treaty work. The post-colonial status of Ireland was resolved with a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, “….February 1923: each side would enforce the other’s immigration decisions and the Irish authorities would be provided with a copy of Britain’s suspect-codex (or ‘Black Book’) of any personae non gratae in the United Kingdom.”**** The unique relationship between the UK, Northern Ireland and Ireland is reflected in this mini-Schengen agreement. As the Troubles vividly illustrated, the contiguous NI/EU frontier is porous. Introducing a ‘hard border’ wasn’t feasible after the war of independence in 1923. It isn’t possible post-Brexit. EU negotiators won’t allow ‘cherry-picking’ amongst the Four Freedoms. It’s all or nothing.
The Good Friday Agreement… “has the status of both an international treaty between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (the British-Irish Agreement), as well as an agreement of the parties within Northern Ireland (Multi-Party Agreement).” A hard frontier is as untenable as ending the mini-Schengen freedom of movement. An obvious solution is introducing an Irish Sea frontier with customs posts on the UK mainland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. The assumption would be that goods imported into Northern Ireland are deemed to have entered the EU. As there’s no viable post-landing tracing method, “Importers [will] have to pay VAT on UK goods when they enter the EU, which could have prompted the need for border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
To solve this, Northern Ireland will remain part of the EU’s IT systems and will be subject to EU law on VAT – though the UK will be responsible for implementing those rules.” (my emphasis)
Brexit is a vehicle for Irish unification. Northern Ireland’s economy won’t take a hit in January, 2021 with the likely ‘No Deal’: it will be wrecked. ‘No Deal’ demands a de facto frontier in the Irish Sea. The inexorable centrifugal forces of Brussels and Dublin combined with Westminster’s disengagement implies that 2021 will begin unification. Lloyd George’s botched peace treaty has died and should be given an elegant burial in the Irish Sea.
* Compare this with Roosevelt’s ‘Four Freedoms’: “freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear,…” Roosevelt had a more elevated set of political aspirations than the EU. Their Four Freedoms looks like a menu for a businessman’s club, which you’d have thought would be attractive to the Conservatives.
Dallek, Robert. Franklin D. Roosevelt (pp. 409-410). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
** The power sharing agreement divided power between the two principal political entities representing Protestants and Catholics.
*** The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
**** For the convoluted arrangements about movement between the UK and Ireland see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Travel_Area#1923_agreement
For Ireland’s single energy generator see http://www.eirgridgroup.com/site-files/library/EirGrid/Generation_Capacity_Statement_20162025_FINAL.pdf
For a quick analysis power sharing see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-politics-50822912
For an analysis of the Brexit treaty see https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/brexit-deal-northern-ireland-protocol?gclid=CjwKCAjwh472BRAGEiwAvHVfGgYB3YcbxhSMJRN1SzRbonEetDZW9j0uBdyiR7ejb_-XfQmnUmBxAhoChRIQAvD_BwE
For an analysis of the complexities of the Irish sea frontier see https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/johnsons-promised-brexit-border-in-irish-sea-will-not-be-ready-in-time/ar-BB14uVYE?ocid=spartanntp
For agricultural sector see https://www.ufuni.org/farming For EU subsidies to Northern Ireland’s farmers see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-48517497
For the Four Freedoms see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Single_Market
For a quick overview of the Troubles see https://ireland-calling.com/troubles-in-northern-ireland/
For the Good Friday Agreement and the NI/EU frontier see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brexit_and_the_Irish_border