Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: The Brexit Edition

http://www.citylab.com; November 29, 2017


Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  This week The Forum hops the pond to take a look at the biggest issue looming over Great Britain.  No, not the upcoming royal wedding; Blogger will checking her mailbox for an invitation.  No e-vites for the British Royals.  Second and more immediate, the Alabama special election is coming up quickly.  Voters will be asked to choose between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore.  The winner will fill the seat vacated by (for now) Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Alabama fans think hard before you cast your vote, ask yourselves what is more important: party loyalty and what is right.  Whatever you do, just get out and vote.  Now onto to today's subject.

Scanning the media, it has come to Blogger's attention that Brexit-i.e. Great Britain's looming exist from the European Union-has become the biggest source of the island nation's anxiety.  You would be right if you thought Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's upcoming wedding is providing a very welcome distraction.  Upon further perusal of the British media, it seems that Great Britain (England, Scotland, and  Wales)  and the Republic Ireland are at war with each other.  A spokesperson for the British far-right party UKIP declared that Ireland had threatened the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), deriding it as the weakest kid in the playground (independent.co.uk; Nov. 27, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017).  The Sun quite pointedly told the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to shut his gob...and grow up (thejournal.ie; Nov. 18, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017).  Got to love the British media and their lack of filter.  The associate editor of the Telegraph grumbled that Ireland has poisoned U.K. politics and brought down governments for centuries (citylab.com; June 13, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017), which given both countries' bloody shared history, it is a little like blaming Ireland's broken nose and jaw for England's broken hands.  So what is is behind all the acrimony?

This is the question that Feargus O'Sullivan asks in his CityLab article "How Brexit Got Snagged on the Irish Border."  What else, Brexit.  The same thing that been at the root of Britain's odd political behavior over the last year-and-half.  What did you think Blogger would say, The President of The United States?  Mr. O'Sullivan writes, "While the U.K. is committed to leaving the Euopean Union, the Republican of Ireland has ever conceived of leaving.  and that's turning the Irish border into a virtual battleground."

Trying to figure out what is going between Great Britain and Ireland is a whole complicated separate matter in-of-itself but necessary to understand the intricacies of the Brexit process.  Fortunately for us, Feargus O'Sullivan provides with a basic outline of the problem.

"Meet the E.U.'s least-watertight border"

When (depending on the vagaries of British politics, if) Brexit does happen, it will result in the U.K.'s first land border with the E.U., on the frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland.  For Irish and U.K. passport holders, this should not be a problem because both have a longstanding Common Travel Area (en.wikipedia.org; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017).  This non-legally binding agreement allows passport-free travel between, for example, Scotland and Ireland.  However, since Britain is on a leave the E.U. tariff-free single market trajectory, imports and exports must be monitored along the 310-mile long border.  Mr. O'Sullivan reports, "Controlling this flow by a so-called 'hard' border-that is, one with checkpoints and customs controls-would be quite the job."  Northern Ireland sends an estimated  £3.6 billion ($4.8 billion; telegraph.co.uk; Nov. 26, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017), while there are 275 crossings between the two halves of the island, "more than twice the number [bbc.com; Aug. 16, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017] there are along the E.U.'s entire eastern frontier."  Given this fact, you can well imagine that a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would be an absolute nightmare.

"Keep calm and carry on?"

"Keep calm and carry on" sounds nice on a tea cozy but how would play out against the reality of Brexit.  Prime Minister Theresa May's government maintains that a hard border will not be necessary because of a "new super-lightweight customs system suggested by the the British, large companies moving goods across the border would pay duties simply by declaring what they have shipped, while smaller companies would face no controls whatsoever."  Sounds easy, right?

Maybe a wee too easy.  Mr. O'Sullivan rightly points out, "With no controls for smaller businesses, the Irish border would become a quasi-legal smuggling paradise for importers wanting to avoid paying duty on their goods."  Of course there would be nothing to stop a non-European company (e.g. American) from flying their goods into the Northern Irish capital of Belfast, then using a network of smaller companies to convoy them across the border, duty-free.  There is absolutely no way the E.U. would accept this bizarre "backdoor version of a single market-which Britain says it wants to leave"

European Union resistance is not the only obstacle to this odd-ball scheme coming to fruition.  "Allowing E.U. importers to get their good into Britain tax-free over the Irish border would be giving their countries preferential treatment, which would break World Trade Organization rules [ft.com; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017] and expose the UK. to a tsunami of litigation."

This plan is way out in left field, that some pundits have suggested that it was never meant to be serious (the guardian.com; Aug. 16, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017).  Instead of a more viable solution, this super-lightweight customs system suggests one, so that eventual imposition of a hard border can be blamed on the E.U., and Ireland.  This has not escaped the eagle-eyed Irish government, who are demanding more clarity and a solid mutually agreed upon plan before Great Britain begins negotiating trade deals with the E.U.

Historically, Ireland has always been the lesser in power and wealth than Britain, however, Ireland now finds itself in the unusually stronger position to make demands: "After all, it has 26 other European countries provisionally on this side."  As complex as it is, it is the shift in the balance of power that has the Brexiteers' knickers in a major twist.

"Threats to a hard-won peace"

The border issue is not just about trade.  In fact, just focusing on trade is to miss the bigger-no scratch that-enormous all consuming picture.  The Northern Irish peace process begun in the 1990s and culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement; delicately maintained has been helped by easier flow and lessen tension along the border.  The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland border has been the site of guerrilla warfare, by the Irish Republican Army, since the fifties (em.wikipedia.org; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017), while visitors from Ireland were often the targets of attacks and killings (Ibid) from loyalist paramilitaries (Ibid).  Mr. O'Sullivan reports, "Customs checks continued on the border until 1993, but in recent years the frontier has been largely fluid and peaceful..."  This has helped diffuse tensions across the border and within Northern Ireland.

Since the referendum, Ms. May's government has already placed the Good Friday Agreement (Ibid) in jeopardy by forming a coalition with loyalist Democratic Unionist Party (citylab.com; June 13, 2017).  Mr. O'Sullivan writes, "By attaching its electoral future to a sectarian party, the British national government has called into question its ability to maintain the 'rigorous impartiality stipulated by the agreement."  To make matters worse, the U.K. is racing toward re-solidifying the border-and possibly toppling the precarious status quo-while insisting it is not doing anything of the sort.

"Grasping for a solution"

So can some system be implemented?  The obvious solution is just chuck the whole Brexit out the window and remain in the European Union, but that, unfortunately, is not an option.  Another options is keeping Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in a single market with a customs border along the Irish Sea.  This would be problematic for Ireland, "because it would face customs controls on truck rolling off ferries and across Britain, which is still the main road for freight between Ireland and mainland Europe."  Be that as it may, it would certainly mitigate potentially disastrous tension along the Northern Irish land border.

The biggest obstacle to this remedy is the DUP, "who are suspicious that Northern Irish customs union with the Republic of Ireland but not with the U.K. might be a creeping move toward the pan-Irish unification they are constitutionally opposed to."  Given that the DUP is currently propping up Ms. May's delicate Tory government (Ibid), it wields considerable power.  However, withdrawing from the coalition might precipitate an election that would result in a Labour-led government; with which it has a frosty relationship.  Let us see who blinks first.

"High stakes and shouting"

If a solution is not worked, the Brexit negotiations may come to a standstill, elevating the risk of the British crashing out of the E.U. without any sort of deal.  A compromise could eventually be worked out but the current British strategies do not inspire much confidence.  Instead they inspire a lot of wishful thinking and shouting.

In addition, the general level cluelessness about Ireland in Great Britain is on shocking display, whether it is groundless Ireland wants to leave the European Union (twitter.com/@daily_politics; 5:53 AM; Nov. 27, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017), the Irish government plans to seize territory in the north (twitter.com/@andrew_lilico; 1:24 AM; Nov. 27, 2017; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017), or the Irish Republican Army might use Brexit as a pretext to start a bombing campaign (twitter.com/@michaelgove; 3:35 AM; Dec. 29, 2016; date accessed Nov. 29, 2017).  The truth of the matter, the Leave campaigners promised a Brexit that would bring about a genuinely global Britain.  Instead of making Britain great again, it is making Great Britain smaller day by day.