Opinions & Ideas

Author: John Bruton Page 1 of 62

THE ANGLO /IRISH AGREEMENT OF 1985……….A PROFOUND IMPROVEMENT IN RELATIONS,

HAS IT BEEN UNDERMINED BY BREXIT?

This book gives a lively account, by one of the leading diplomats on the British side, of the origins and negotiation of the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement. It is well written and a valuable contribution to history.

 It also gives a searing insight into Mrs Thatcher’s governing style from the perspective of someone who had to work with her. 

Mrs Thatcher had strong prejudices, mainly of an English nationalist kind. Her eventual acceptance of the Anglo Irish Agreement was a case of her even stronger sense of political realism eventually overcoming her prejudices.

 But it was a stormy process. Mrs Thatcher was difficult to brief and hard to keep on topic. David Goodall describes her “eclectic and discontinuous style of argument”, and how she often adopted a “hectoring and tangential mode, both confusing and dominating the discussion”. 

She saw the nationalist minority situation in the Northern Ireland, as similar to that of the Sudeten Germans in pre war Czechoslovakia, hardly a hopeful starting point.  

That she was eventually won around to a more balanced appreciation of the Irish problem is a tribute to the persistence and persuasiveness of Garret FitzGerald, and also of her own Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe.

 Indeed, Howe emerges as an unsung hero of the whole process, along with his Irish counterpart, Peter Barry. These two men, and their officials, kept the show on the road, despite many discouragements, not least the horrifying attempt by the IRA, to murder Mrs Thatcher herself in Brighton on 12 October 1984. That she could agree something as radical as the Anglo Irish Agreement, so soon after this, showed real statesmanship.

Mrs Thatcher liked and trusted Garret FitzGerald. But he had to overcome deep British fears and prejudices. Goodall says Garret was so convinced of his own and his party’s loathing of the IRA, that he could never understand why, in the eyes of many British people including Mrs Thatcher, Irish nationalism as a whole was tainted with the terrorist brush.

Goodall praises John Hume’s “deep strategic thinking” and his reasonableness in public. But he found him unwilling in private to say what  the Irish government might offer unionists as reassurance that they were not being driven down the road towards a united Ireland.

 This Agreement gave, for the first time,  the Irish government a  formal  Treaty based right to put forward proposals on political, security, legal and cross border issues in respect of Northern Ireland. It was given a means of doing this through an Inter Governmental Conference, which was to meet regularly at ministerial level and which was supported by a Secretariat based in Belfast. 

 By agreeing to this, the UK accepted that Northern Ireland was no longer a purely internal British matter. The UK government also pledged itself to make determined efforts to resolve differences that might arise on these proposals from Dublin.   This was an important breakthrough in psychological as well as legal terms. 

It was resented deeply by unionists, but was a necessary step on the road towards acceptance by unionists of equality between the two traditions, without which the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 could never have been negotiated, with the inclusion of unionist political parties.

From an Irish government point of view, the goal of the Agreement was to combat northern nationalist alienation from the state and its security services and this persuade them  to disavow any support for the IRA campaign and support the SDLP rather than Sinn Fein. The Agreement did not achieve this goal at the time, and the SDLP’s political distinctiveness was later blurred by the Hume/Adams dialogue.

At the time of the Agreement , Northern Ireland was under direct rule from London. The UK wanted to devolve powers to a Northern Ireland Assembly, but the SDLP was not willing to participate because of the way in which the power sharing government, established in 1973 at Sunningdale , had been brought down by a Loyalist strike. The SDLP would not re enter the Assembly without stronger guarantees on power sharing and  north/ south arrangements, and it looked to Dublin to get such guarantees for  them, which  eventually came about through the Good Friday  Agreement.  

  The Agreement also contained an incentive to Unionists to share power with the SDLP in a devolved administration because it said that the Irish government would give up its right to “put forward proposals” under the Agreement , on any subjects that were devolved to a  power sharing Administration.  So Unionists had a simple choice- share ministerial power with the SDLP, or put up with Dublin being involved. 

One of the British goals in the negotiation was better cooperation between the security forces and this was to be an important part of the work of the Inter Governmental Conference. Garret FitzGerald’s idea of mixed courts, including judges from the South sitting on sensitive cases involving terrorist offences in Northern Ireland, did not , however , make it into the final Agreement. 

On the long term status of Northern Ireland, the Agreement reaffirmed that a majority, at that time , wished to remain in the UK,  but it  added that if, in future, a majority

 “clearly wish for and formally consent  to the establishment of a united Ireland”

 both governments would give effect to this.

 This wording is more nuanced than that of the Good Friday Agreement , which leaves less room for negotiation and preparation for such a radical step, and does not even require formal consultation with the Irish government before a border poll might be called..

Goodall tells his readers that when he first came to deal with the Northern Ireland question,  he thought then that

“the circumstances of Northern Ireland were such as to make it impossible  for it to function contentedly , either as an integral part of the UK tout court , or as part of a united Ireland”

If that was true in 1983, it is unfortunately still true today. 

The “aspirations” of the two communities, which loom large in this and subsequent Agreements negotiated between the two  governments, are fundamentally contradictory.  Both the Good Friday Agreement and the Downing Street declaration talk of respect  for unionist and nationalist “aspirations”,  even though these aspirations contradict one another, and for one to succeed, the other must fail. Perhaps the focus on aspirations of this nature was a mistake

 As long as the unionists and nationalist communities are defined, and described by themselves and others ,  in terms of  their competing and contradictory “aspirations” around the constitutional status,  it is hard to see Northern Ireland, of the island as a whole, “functioning contentedly”, as Goodall put it.  

 Brexit , and the pressure for an early border poll, have combined to sharpen the divide even further. Perhaps it is time for the two governments, and the parties in Northern Ireland,  to  move away from seeing their  task in terms of finessing  two incompatible aspirations for the future, and  decide to focus instead on goals which unionists, nationalists, and the middle ground between,  would be  content to achieve together and be proud of achieving.

It is also worth asking whether Brexit,  by  the resulting Anglo/Irish  political tensions it has brought, and the deep structural divergence it will create between the neighbouring islands, has undone the achievement of 1985.

Book review I wrote for in the “Irish Examiner” 


AUTHOR;           David Goodall
TITLE;             The Making of the Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985
PUBLISHER;     National University of Ireland 
PRICE ;           20  Euros

AFGHAN LESSONS FOR THE WORLD

(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Leslie Angulo)

The collapse of the western backed government in Afghanistan is a shock. It has shaken confidence in democratic countries, and changed the balance of power somewhat, as between the United States and China.

 It shows that efforts from the outside to topple regimes, and  to replace them with friendlier ones are more difficult than anyone thought 20 years ago, when the western allies first overthrew the Taliban regime in the wake of 9/11. The aim of capturing Osama Bin Laden was not achieved until much later, and then it was achieved  in Pakistan (an ostensible ally of the United States) , and not  in Afghanistan at all. 

The end of the US intervention in Afghanistan has lessons for those who might wish to undertake similar exercises in Somalia, Libya, Syria, Cuba, Mali or Venezuela. The objectives need to be clear and limited. Local support must be genuine. If one is seeking out terrorist suspects, invasion is not the best way of achieving extradition! Nation building is best done by locals.

 Existing regimes may be oppressive or corrupt, but if they are home grown, and have developed organically from local roots,  they survive better than anything , however enlightened, introduced from outside. 

Conventional military power-boots on the ground and targeted bombing- is of limited effectiveness against networks of fanatics or mobile guerrillas.

 Western countries will now need to reassess their military spending priorities in light of the lessons of the interventions in Iraq, Libya and now Afghanistan

 On this occasion, it is the US and NATO that have the hardest lessons to learn, but I suspect that if China were to attempt a similar exercise in nation building from the outside (say in Taiwan) they would have the same experience.

 The fact that China has had to adopt such extreme measures in Sinkiang to integrate that province into the Chinese social system is a sign of weakness rather than strength. 

Afghanistan is an ethnically diverse society which, despite its diversity and disunity, has been able to resist rule from Britain, the USSR and, most recently, from the US and NATO.  Religion was a unifying factor is an otherwise very divided country.

It seems the Taliban have been more effective in building an ethnically diverse coalition than was the former government in Kabul.  It is not yet clear whether the Taliban will be able to hold that coalition together.

It does seem that the Taliban has, in the past, been able to impose a degree of order in Afghan society, and has been able to punish corruption. It created a form of order in a brutal and misogynistic way, but it did so. Order is something the outgoing government  in Kabul could not provide, even with generous outside help.

 Order, after all, is a prerequisite for any form of stable existence. Furthermore without order there can be no rule of law, and no democracy. Without iy, civil society breaks down. This applies in the West as much as it does in Central Asia.

Order is created by a combination of three essentials- loyalty, acquiescence and fear.  All three elements are needed to some extent. Hamid Karzai could not command these three essentials, it remains to be seen whether the Taliban will do any better

It is hard to assess the effect the Afghan debacle will have on the United States, which has by far the most elaborate and expensive military forces in the world. 

Will there be a change in US strategy? 

There is a strong temptation to turn inwards and reduce commitments to the defence of other countries, including the defence of European countries. From 1783 until 1941 the US tended to remain neutral and rely on the oceans for protection against its enemies.  

The countries of the European Union will also need to work out what their practical defence priorities are, in light of the Afghan and other recent experiences.. This is a political task of great difficulty because the 27 member states have very different views and geographic imperatives.

ANTHONY EDEN……A PRIME MINISTER IN THE WRONG DECADE

I recently read  “Eden. The life and times of Anthony Eden”  by DR Thorpe.

Anthony Eden was  a brave and effective British Foreign Secretary in the 1930s.

He resigned in February 1938 because the Chamberlain government was not taking a sufficiently robust stand against Mussolini, who had invaded Abysinnia in defiance of the League of Nations. 

He continued to oppose the efforts of Chamberlain to avoid war, by doing business with Hitler and Mussolini over Czechoslovakia.

For a time, Eden was even considered as an alternative to Chamberlain  in the event that Chamberlain was forced to resign as Prime Minister.

An opinion poll take in March 1938 showed that Eden had 38% support as a potential successor to Chamberlain as Prime Minister, whereas Churchill , who did become Prime Minister in 1940, had only 7% support!

This was because Eden had been in the public eye, while Churchill had sidelined himself because of his reactionary views on self government for India.

When Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, he invited Eden to be his Foreign Secretary. He was thereafter considered to be Churchill’s heir apparent.

Eden played an important role in cementing the alliance with the US, which was important to the eventual victory over Germany.  On the other hand , it was the Soviet Union, which Hitler foolishly attacked in 1941, which did the biggest share of the fighting.

Churchill was reluctant to leave the stage and did not resign as Conservative leader until 1955, when Eden eventually took over as Prime Minister. 

His term of office in remembered for the failure of the Anglo French attack on Egypt in 1956 to prevent the Egyptian government taking over the Suez Canal. 

Oil supplies to Europe came through the Canal , and Eden saw the Egyptian leader, Nasser as similar to Hitler and Mussolini.

 In reality, even if the Canal was nationalised, it would still have been in Egypt’s interest to keep it open to fee paying shipping, including British and French shipping. The Anglo French intervention was really an exercise in the sort of imperialism which the French and the British had conducted for the previous century or more.

 Crucially, the British and French did not clear the attack with the Americans, who  used  massive economic pressure to force the French and British to withdraw. 

This episode showed that European powers , like the UK and France, could not act alone militarily any more.  Whereas in the 1930’s the US was isolationist, in the 1950’s, it wanted to call all the shots. In military terms this remains the case today. Europe depends on America for its defence.

Eden was Prime Minister when the Messina conference met in 1955 to launch what became the European Common Market. Eden sent a representative, but the UK did not commit itself to anything, whereas the other six nations did so, and eventually drafted and signed the Treaty of Rome, the founding Treaty of today’s European Union.

At the time, Eden would have seen Britain as a global player, and not on a par with a politically unstable France or with recently defeated Germany and Italy. One wonders if the present UK government sees things in a similar way to Eden. 

In a way, Eden’s problem was that his view of the world had been shaped in the 1930’s, and he did not adjust to the world of the 1950’s.

HARRY TRUMAN

I have just finished reading “Truman” by David McCullough, a biography of the man who was President of the United States from 1945 to 1953. Truman grew up in a family in western Missouri, near Kansas City, which was beset by financial difficulties which deprived him the opportunity to go to university.

He opened a clothes shop which failed. He worked as a farmer for half a decade, with modest success. He joined the army in 1917 when the US entered the World War, leaving his sister to run the farm on her own.

It was in the war that Truman’s leadership qualities became evident and, on return from the war, he was encouraged to enter local politics with the support of the Pendergast machine, which controlled Democratic Party politics in his part of Missouri. At that time the Democratic Party was dominant in Missouri politics, in marked contrast to the present situation.

Truman was staunchly Protestant in his religious outlook but was able to work well within the Pendergast machine, which was dominated by people of Catholic and Irish ancestry.

Truman, and his family, would, like much of western Missouri, have had Confederate sympathies and one of his heroes was Robert E Lee. But he was the first Democratic President to promote civil rights for African Americans, so much so that he was opposed in the 1948 Presidential Election by a Southern Democrat, Strom Thurmond.

In many ways he was an accidental President. As Vice President, he became President when Franklin Roosevelt, who had just been elected for a fourth term, died. The death was not unexpected, but Roosevelt had done nothing to prepare Truman for his responsibilities. The way in which he was selected by Roosevelt was casual to the point of being irresponsible. Truman proved to be a more straight talking and uncomplicated leader than Roosevelt had been. He was an effective decisionmaker.

One of the attractive things about this book is the way it describes Truman’s daily life. Apart from his time in Washington, he lived with, and in a house belonging to, his mother in law in Independence, Missouri.

He was devoted to his family and much of the material in this book comes from his letters to his wife, daughter and cousins.

Harry Truman was President of the US when it was at the height of its powers. He made sure that the US would play a leading role in containing the advance of Communism and in promoting the Marshall Plan to help Europe recover from war.

DES O’MALLEY RIP

Photograph Courtesy: Alan Betson/ The Irish Times

Des O Malley was one of the most consequential politicians of 20th century Ireland.

As Minister for Justice from 1970, he defended the institutions of the Irish state, affirming that there can only be only one police or military force that  can act in the name of the Irish people, and those are ones  set up by, and is fully accountable to, Dail Eireann.

 To achieve this he had to display great moral and physical courage, as did his successor as Minister for Justice, Pat Cooney.

His expulsion from Fianna Fail, at the behest of Charles Haughey, forced him into forming the Progressive Democrats. By historical comparisons, this new party was very successful. This showed his skill as a politician, and the way he was able to inspire people.

The most vivid memories I have personally  of Des O Malley,  are of how entertaining, witty and relaxed he was in private company. He had a highly developed sense of humour, and could tell a good story well.

 To all his family, I extend heartfelt sympathy.

LEGAL CRISIS IN EU MUST BE RESOLVED;

EU AID TO POLAND SHOULD BE STOPPED, 

GERMANY SHOULD ACCEPT ECJ RULINGS AS FINAL.

The Courts in Poland and Germany have recently challenged to legal foundation of the European Union. 

The essence of the EU is that it is a system of rules, agreed democratically, enforced consistently and interpreted in a uniform way.

The uniform interpretation of EU rules has been ensured by the acceptance by  member states that the final word on what an EU rule or law means, is made by the European Court of Justice, and by it alone.

This is put into effect by Article 260 of the EU Treaty which says;

“If the Court of Justice finds that a Member State has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties, the State shall be required to take the necessary measures to comply with the judgement of the Court.”

The European Court of Justice recently found that recent moves by the Polish Government were in conflict with the principle that the judiciary should be independent of politics.

 Last week the Polish Supreme Court decided that it would defy the European court’s ruling.

This is the road to chaos, and to an end to the EU’s Single Market.

 Poland’s independent Ombudsman put it this way;

“If every EU member state interprets EU law in its own way, we would not have a free flow of goods, capital and services, and much more”.

In a more limited way, the German Supreme Court has also questioned the finality of judgements of the European Court of Justice in the matter of bond buying by the European Central Bank. 

The German Court has long challenged the principle of the primacy of the European Court, but so far has avoided the matter coming to ahead. This ambiguity provides cover for Poland and for others, like Hungary, who might be tempted to defy European Court rulings. Germany should sort this out.

If these Polish and German positions are allowed to stand, they undermine the basis on which the EU is undertaking ambitious joint borrowing for economic recovery, and is setting equally ambitious joint rules to combat climate change.

 If the financial and legal obligations being created by these initiatives cannot be guaranteed to be interpreted consistently across all 27 member states, the initiatives should not go ahead.

At the very least, the proposed EU recovery package for Poland should be suspended. 

Meanwhile, Germany should amend its Basic Law to ensure that it accepts the primacy of European Court rules in matters that come within the competence of the EU. 

All EU states should take this matter up.

In the wake of Brexit, Ireland is making significant sacrifices to stay in the EU Single Market. So Ireland should make it clear it will defend the legal basis of the Single Market in every way it can. 

Countries that do not accept the primacy of the European court of Justice in matters of EU competence should leave the EU.

UK ministers need to read the NI protocol they signed

The UK’s EU negotiator and its Secretary of State for Northern Ireland published a remarkable article in the “Irish Times “ last week .

 They complained of what they called the

 “inflexible requirement to treat movement of goods( from Britain) into Northern Ireland, as if they were crossing an EU external frontier, with the full panoply of checks and controls”.

It appears that they never read the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol which is part of the Agreement under which the UK withdrew from the EU. For this is precisely what the UK agreed to, in great detail, in the Protocol.

Annex 2 of this Protocol lists the EU laws which are to apply

 “in and to the UK in respect of Northern Ireland”.

The very first item on this very long list is Customs Code of the EU. This is a rigorous code with exacting procedures, as the UK knows well.

 Also listed are EU laws on the collection of trade statistics, product safety, electrical equipment, medical products, food safety and hygiene, GMOs and animal diseases. The list is specific. It refers to each item of EU legislation by its full title. 

The UK is fully familiar with all the legislation in the Annex, because the UK, as an EU member state at the time, took part in drafting each one of these laws. It also had a reputation as a country that applied EU laws more conscientiously than most. 

These controls have to be enforced somewhere. This can be done either at a land border or at a sea border. 

The UK Ministers , writing in the “Irish Times”, say preventing a hard land border on the island of Ireland remains essential.

 So, if the controls are not to be exercised on the land border in Ireland, where do the UK Ministers propose to exercise them?

The two Ministers make no attempt to answer this question. They offer no constructive suggestions at all, apart from using slogans like “balance” and “flexibility” in the implementation of the very precise laws listed in the Protocol.   

The Ministers do not attempt to deal with the requirements for protecting Ireland’s position as a member of the EU Single Market. They do not deal with the possibility that, if the parts or ingredients, that do not meet EU standards, can come into Northern Ireland, cross the border, and thus become incorporated in an EU supply chain originating here, our position as part of the EU Single Market is undermined. It would not be long before there would be calls from continental competitors for checks on goods originating in Ireland at continental ports and airports. All that would be needed to set that off would be a single event, perhaps to do with a scandal over food standards.

Let us not forget that the current UK government has said that they propose to diverge from EU standards in future. Indeed Boris Johnson said divergence is the “whole point” of Brexit. UK standards may be similar to ours now. That will not be the case five years from now.

At the end of the article, the two Ministers say that, if solutions are not found (although they do not offer any), 

“we will of course have to consider all our options”.

 In diplomatic terms, for British Ministers to use such words, in an Irish newspaper, is menacing . 

A large non EU state is threatening a small EU state, with whom it has a land boundary, with unspecified actions, because of the out working of an international Treaty, to which the larger state freely agreed, less than two years ago. 

Nowhere in the article by the two Ministers is there even a hint that they take responsibility for the Protocol they themselves negotiated. If a business man agreed a permanent contrast a year or so ago, then did not like part of it, and wanted to renegotiate that part, one would expect him to be somewhat apologetic and to offer alternative ways of achieving the goals of the other party. But there was no hint of either contrition, or constuctiveness, in the article of Lord Frost and Brandon Lewis….just menace.

It is clear from the article of the two Ministers that they have no intention of using the grace period as intended by the EU, to allow traders to make adjustments to their supply chains.  They intend to use the time inciting feeling against the EU and endeavouring to pressurize EU states individually, in the hope that the EU will dilute or corrode the legal foundations of EU Single Market, in the interest of domestic UK politics.

There are suggestions that the UK even wants the EU to recognise  the new goods standards the UK will make, as somehow “equivalent” to EU standards, and give them the same rights to circulate in the EU as goods from the 27 EU states, that comply to the letter with EU standards. A dangerous precedent would be set. If the EU conceded this to a country that had left the EU, existing EU members would soon look for their own local exceptions to EU standards, and the Single market would wither away.

Brexit was a British idea. Brexit means border controls. They should deal with the logical consequences of their own freely chosen policies.

POST BREXIT TRADE POLICY CONTRADICTS UK CLIMATE POLICY

Global Britain may mean more global warming. Long distance trade means more  CO2 emissions than buying and selling locally.

 The attempt to defy defy geography in UK trade policy is hard to reconcile with the Johnson government’s other global goal… which is to give a lead to the world on combating climate change, by cutting CO2 emissions,  which the UK hopes will be agreed  at the big conference it is hosting in Glasgow later this year.

One of goals of Boris Johnson’s government is to see the UK play an independent role in the world, reminiscent of its position a century ago, when the UK was seen as a global player, rather than as merely a European power.

 Brexit provides the UK with the necessary independence, both psychological and legal. Its ability of to make its own trade agreement adds an economic dimension to this quest for global relevance. The fact that the first trade agreements the UK has negotiated are with faraway Australia and New Zealand underlines the global dimension.

 But there is a snag.

 Having rejected membership of the EU Customs Union, the UK is now applying to join something called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for a Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). CPTPP’s members include Japan, Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Mexico as well as Australia and New Zealand…..all countries that border on the Pacific. Replacing trade with the EU with trade with these countries will mean more pollution.

 Apart from Pitcairn Island and its few hundred inhabitants, no UK territory borders the Pacific.

 It is impossible to reconcile the UK government plans to shift its trade to the  Pacific  with its plans to  combat climate change.

 Replacing trade with nearby EU countries, like Ireland and France, with trade with distant Pacific countries, like Australia, Japan, Vietnam and New Zealand , will  increase the overall UK contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, through  the  inevitable extra  CO2 emissions from  long distance shipping and refrigeration.

 The longer the shipping route, the more will be the CO2 emissions. Ships use the dirtiest of fuels. Global shipping already generates as much CO2 as 205 million cars.

 Refrigeration on long sea journeys adds to emissions.

 If it is, for example, UK trade policy to import dairy or livestock products from New Zealand , rather than  from Ireland or France , this  will add dramatically  to the  damage done by trade policy  to the world’s climate.

 The EU needs to point out this contradiction in UK policies to the participants in the Glasgow Climate change conference

WHAT DOES THE UK HOPE TO GAIN BY BREXIT?

The recent  interview of Lord David Frost with Anand Menon of the Think Tank “UK in a Changing Europe” gives some insight into what the current UK Government hope to achieve through Brexit. It is worth watching  on the think tank’s website.

In the interview, Lord Frost explains that, until Boris Johnson came to office, the EU side had felt that the UK had no alternative to a negotiated agreement and that the UK was thus in a weak negotiating position.

His role was to explain, in a speech he gave in Brussels in February 2020 with Boris Johnsons full approval, that the UK was willing to accept a “No Deal” outcome, and on that basis it did have  an alternative to a negotiated agreement with the EU.

 The UK, he said, was willing to bear the costs involved in leaving the EU Customs Union and Single market. But he admitted he did not yet know exactly what these losses and gains would be.

 For him, Brexit seems to be an act of faith.

He was pressed to give more information on the potential benefits of Brexit.

He hoped that, as a result of it, the UK might become a “magnet for investment”, and achieve higher productivity.

Pressed on how this might happen, he said the UK, while in the EU, had got used to having rules set for it by others, and did not think for itself, even in areas where the EU actually imposed no legal restraint on the UK doing things its own way . This argument may have some validity.

 In this sense, Brexit is an internal UK psychological project, designed to free up the way the UK thinks about itself , and about what it can do. If this is so, it suggests that UK political leadership is unable to change UK , without the aid of a self generated external shock, like Brexit. 

Brexit, although decided, continues radically to divide UK public opinion. A deeply divided society is not the best environment for the sort of psychological transformation the Brexiteers like Lord Frost have in mind.

Lord Frost said that, post Brexit, UK citizens would be 

“living in a country where every policy can be changed after an election”.

 This freedom is obviously important to him. But it is hardly consistent with wanting the UK to become a “magnet for investment”. In my experience in Ireland, the best way to attract investment is to have some key policies that attract investors, that do not change after every election (eg the corporate tax rate, or freedom of capital movements).  

As to concrete things that Brexit would enable the UK to do, Lord Frost offered the examples of

  • reform of its agricultural policy
  • changes on state aids to industry
  • changes in immigration policy
  • Freeports.

The direction of UK policy on agriculture is similar to that the EU is taking anyway.

 Freeports seem to divert trade from one place to another, rather than increase it.

It would appear that UK immigration policy is encouraging people from further away to come to the UK to replace immigrants from neighbouring EU countries, who are less welcome now. 

In fact it is hard to reconcile the UK government plans to combat climate change, with its post Brexit policies.

Replacing trade with nearby countries, like Ireland and France, with trade with distant countries, like Australia and New Zealand , is bound to increase the UK’s direct and indirect contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, through extra CO2 emissions from shipping and refrigeration.

Lord Frost is an able man, who presented his case in a friendly way, but I fear neither he, nor his Prime Minister, have even begun to join up their thinking on trade and climate change.

On the Ireland Protocol, Lord Frost seemed to blame the EU for an Agreement his Government had negotiated and his Parliament had approved. He even spoke about what he called EU “intervention in Northern Ireland”, as if this was not something his government had signed up to.  This sort of blame shifting is not to the credit of the UK, as a sovereign country. 

HUGE DIFFERENCES IN PRICES INSIDE THE EU SINGLE MARKET

The statistical service of the EU (Eurostat) has just published a comparison of consumer prices in all 27 countries of the EU. The survey was done last year.

 The most expensive country in the EU is Denmark, where prices are 41% above the average for the EU as a whole. 

The least expensive is Romania where prices are 45% below the EU average. 

This is a very wide gap between countries in an EU where is there is free movement of goods, people and capital, and a Single Market designed to promote competition, and cross border shopping(including via the internet)

The country with a price level that is nearest to the EU overall average is Italy. Spain’s prices are just 4% below the EU average, Portugal 11% and Greece 14% below.

 Apart from the weather, this explains why these countries are attractive locations for holidaymakers and retired people.

Prices are also much below the EU average in Bulgaria and Poland.

After Denmark, the next most expensive EU countries are Ireland and Luxembourg, where prices are 36%  above the average. Next is Sweden (+30%), and Finland (+26%). 

German price levels are only 8% above the EU average, which means that the cost of living there is much below the Scandinavian countries and Ireland. 

Of course, price levels do not tell the whole story. If wages are higher, the higher prices are more affordable. Indeed higher prices may reflect the cost of higher wages. 

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