Very slowly, the UK public is beginning to learn the implications of the decision they took to leave the EU.
Some of the realities were revealed in the contrasting evidence given last week by the Brexit Secretary of State, David Davis, to one Committee of the House of Commons, and by Sir Ivan Rogers, recent former UK Ambassador to the EU, to another Committee.
The contrast in the two testimonies was remarkable.
David Davis said that he believed the UK could wrap up a Customs and Trade deal with the EU before March 2019.
DUP WOULD TOLERATE A NO DEAL SCENARIO
Pressed by the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, he said that “No Deal” was still an option. “No Deal” would involve the immediate imposition of severe border controls in Ireland from 1 April 2019. Sammy Wilson gave the strong impression that he did not particularly care about this and that he wanted “No Deal” to remain a live option, presumably in the hope that it could be used b the UK as a threat.
There was no Nationalist MP present to point out the devastating effects “no deal” would have on border communities, both unionist and nationalist. This is because elected Sinn Fein MPs refuse to take their seats.
Their absence leaves “No Deal” tolerant MPs, like Sammy Wilson, a clear field to present a false impression of the true interests of the people of Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein ought also ask themselves if the issues on which they are delaying the re-establishment of the Northern Executive are more important to their people than Brexit.
Since the Good Friday Agreement, abstentionism is an out of date policy and undemocratic policy. It deprives the nationalist inclined people in Northern Ireland of a voice or vote when key decisions on Brexit, affecting their livelihoods, are being taken in Westminster.
BREXIT WOULD DEEPEN PARTITION AND SINN FEIN ARE NOT THERE TO VOTE AGAINST IT
Sinn Fein MPs are staying away, even though their votes could swing the decision on key votes in Westminster on the Bill that will take their constituents out of the EU, and deepen the partition of Ireland.
Sir Ivan Rogers, in his testimony, told the MPs that a “no Deal” scenario would be very bad for the Irish economy. This was because 80% of Irish exports go to market either through, or to, the UK. A hard Brexit, that involved heavy controls at ports and border posts, would be devastating for Irish trade.
In contrast to Secretary of State Davis, Sir Ivan Rogers said in his testimony that, far from a UK/EU trade deal being wrapped up by March 2019, negotiations on the detailed contents of such a deal could not even START until the UK had actually left the EU, in other words not until April 2019!
He went on to point out that the “Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement” that the UK would have to negotiate, in substitution or EU membership, would probably have to run to thousands of pages, every line of which would have to be haggled over with the Commission and with the 27 remaining EU states.
This negotiation of a detailed Trade Agreement would have to be foreshadowed in Framework for future relations document, to be agreed between the UK and the EU, alongside the divorce agreement.
UK GOVERNMENT CANNOT EVEN DECIDE WHAT SORT OF FINAL DEAL TO ASK FOR
But the UK government is not in a position to agree within itself on what it would want that Framework to contain. It cannot even discuss the question at Cabinet meetings because it would split the Tory Party irrevocably.
Sir Ivan speculated that, because of this, it would, therefore, be the EU side that would draw up the first draft of the Framework, on which the eventual Trade Deal would be based. But even that can only happen if the UK had agreed to pay its share of all bills incurred by the EU while the UK was still a voting member. That would add £13 billion to UK liabilities.
There is likely to be a big bust up over this money issue in December.
Assuming that is overcome, Sir Ivan said that there was a huge difference between the sort of trade agreement that might eventually be offered to the UK, and the access the UK would have had if it stayed in the Single Market.
The Single Market covers standards as well as tariffs. It has, embedded and agreed, mechanisms for making, enforcing, and adjudicating on the meaning of, those standards. Once the UK leaves the Single Market, the compliance of UK originating goods and services with EU standards could no longer be assumed by EU countries, like Ireland.
This would create immediate new barriers to commerce of all kinds. It could even apply to acceptance of the safety of aircraft owned by UK based airlines.
UK court judgments would no longer be automatically enforced in the EU, and extradition would become more difficult.
This makes the casual attitude of the DUP and Sammy Wilson to the possibility of “no Deal” all the harder to understand, given the DUP’s long standing concerns about paramilitarism.
IMPLICATIONS OF BREXIT BEING HIDDEN
In his testimony, David Davis said that his Department had done studies of the impact of Brexit on 57 different sectors of the UK economy. He said he would not publish these because to do so might “weaken the UK’s negotiating position” with the EU. This means that the UK Parliament and the public are being kept in the dark about the known consequences of decisions they are taking, or are being taken on their behalf.
And there is no MP, and no Executive, from Northern Ireland there to challenge this!
The EU 27 are now beginning work on the sort of Framework agreement it might offer the UK, if the UK first comes forward with adequate proposals on money, EU citizens rights, and the Irish border.
Drawing up the Framework to offer the UK is going to be exceptionally difficult work for the EU, including Ireland. Preserving the integrity of the EU Single Market, and all the investment our continuing membership of it has brought to Ireland, will have to be balanced against access to the UK market and making practical arrangements to take account that the UK and Ireland are beside one another and have a long and porous border.
The trade offs will be really difficult, but it would appear Ireland is better prepared for the discussion than are our neighbours in the UK.