The threat of a hard border on this island is growing after the EU rejected a proposed ‘special technology border’ between North and South, as proposed by the UK, branding it as unworkable. European Council President Donald Tusk said that failure to reach agreement on the border would mean the UK would fully leave the EU next April, rather than the phased basis, which would clearly be easier from an Irish perspective. Much easier.
There were some indications over the weekend that the UK might stay in the Customs Union if British Prime Minister Theresa May had her way.
However, she is having to work with a perfectly spilt cabinet when it comes to Brexit, and those who want out do not appear to be remotely concerned with the nuances that have to be addressed in terms of trade, travel and work.
If the transition period fails to materialise, this will represent a massive blow for both North/South and Irish/British trade.
However, it comes as some relief that on Friday last, a massive cargo ship, officially called the Celine but already nicknamed the ‘Brexit Buster’, was officially launched by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. The new, 235-metre-long vessel can carry over 600 lorries and is almost double the size of any ferry currently sailing from Dublin Port.
It’s hope the Celine will carry hundreds of thousands of tonnes of freight to and from Continental Europe (the Netherlands and Belgium) and provide Ireland with a ship which can bypass Britain completely in the result of a hard Brexit.
Further work will need to be done with respect to Brexit at our other ports, and it’s welcome that Waterford and Rosslare Ports came together in a joint submission for the National Planning Framework. In the submission, the ports stated they could become “valuable counterpoints” to reduce congestion in the Dublin area while also supporting a “robust and pragmatic” response to Brexit.How a hard Brexit would impact on airline travel remains to be seen; an issue which Ryanair have expressed great concern on over the past two years. Opposition TDs here have called for a Brexit Minister to be appointed while the Government is adamant that a specified minister has not been required from an Irish perspective. Ireland has received great support to date from the EU partners on the Irish border question, and much has been made of the EU’s role in the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
But the vacuum of uncertainty which remains about what lies beyond March 29th next is certainly worrying and unhelpful and is a source of concern to a range of sectors, including agriculture. In the meantime, prices for beef could suffer as the UK export market could well become more difficult to access.
We can only hope that calm heads can prevail and that a Hard Brexit will be avoided. Ireland will surely try and persuade our UK counterparts of how misguided a move it would be to leave the EU Customs Union but the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees Mogg appear unlikely to pay any heed to logic.
The House of Lords last week voted to remain in the Customs Union, rebelling against the House of Commons vote. While the Lords’ vote does not have legal effect, it suitably illustrated how divided British parliamentary politics is at present. Common sense, where it counts most in Westminster, has clearly – and regrettably – gone out the window.