Since Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron led his country into an EU referendum full-sure that it would be defeated, Brexit has become an unholy mess and “not the result that I sought.”
Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, has now taken on the poisoned chalice of steering Britain’s exit from the EU, in doing so she appointed David Davis as Brexit secretary to deal with the other 27 EU states.
After completing intensive Phase One negotiations, Davis undermined Britain’s case by claiming promises made were merely “a statement of intent” without legal status. This was an example of Britannia trying to Waive the Rules, but EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was having none of it.
Britain wants outs of the customs union, out of the single market, to be outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over immigration.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Tánaiste Simon Coveney have been exemplary. Their skilful handling of the negotiations is backed by the other EU states. Indeed Barnier made it crystal clear that the EU fully supports Irish concerns.
Varadkar has told the British Government that Ireland is not going to design a border for the Brexiteers. “It’s up to them to say what it is, how it would work… We’re not going to do that work for them because we don’t think there should be an economic border at all.”
Whether Brexit happens at all is a moot point. The Brexiteers had a major setback when Parliament asserted the right of MPs to reject any final deal negotiated with the EU. Despite the support of the DUP, Theresa May was defeated by the combined votes of opposition parties and 11 Tory rebels on the eve of the European Council meeting.
Clare TD Dr Michael Harty believes the phase one agreement is a result of the united front the Government provided in its negotiating stance.
“That,” he said, “is in contrast to the divisions within the Government of the United Kingdom, which has been illustrated by a solemnly negotiated report and agreement being almost immediately disparaged by that Government. It shows very poor political judgement on its part and that it does not have a coherent Brexit policy.”
Dr Harty claims the UK Government is in disarray on Brexit but it is very important that Ireland maintains a unified front. “The trustworthiness of the British Government has been called into question by remarks made by senior figures in recent days but we must nevertheless maintain a unified front.
“The British Government is trying to act tough in advance of Phase 2 of the exit negotiations and realises how difficult it will be for it and that Brexit is not in its best interests.
“The enormity and impracticality of the task it faces are coming to the fore. Losing all advantages of European Union membership to be replaced by the uncharted waters of trading arrangements with third parties and trying to forge new trading arrangements with the EU will be very difficult.”
Harty has stated, “it will eventually dawn on the British Government that membership of the EU, far from being contrary to its national interest, is complimentary. Staying within the common trade area and the customs union is far more likely now that it has had to face the reality of dealing with what will happen in Northern Ireland.”
The Irish people have not always been over-enamoured by the European Union, particularly so in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash and the heavy financial burden placed on all citizens.
What has sustained the concept for many, is the idea of a Social Europe challenging issues such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness and promoting solutions for global challenges such as climate change.
Overall Ireland has done well out of Europe in terms of our infrastructural development. More importantly, Europe has helped bring people together in peace and harmony across the island.
Membership of the EU and the other institutions can be challenging for a relatively small nation. Ultimately it is in Ireland’s best interests to have Britain remain within the European project.
If Britain does leave, then An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, is absolutely correct to insist that the Irish border remains open to trade and travel into the future.
That is certainly the wish of the Irish citizens north of the border. More than 200 prominent figures there signed an open letter calling on the Taoiseach to protect the rights of Irish citizens in the north. The list included leading academics, lawyers, sports personalities, well known people from the arts and a number of community activists.
The letter states: “We believe that the current crisis has come about fundamentally due to a failure to both implement and defend the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.”
It continues, “The impending reality of Brexit now threatens to reinforce partition on this island and revisit a sense of abandonment as experienced by our parents and grandparents.”
Brexit negotiations are moving to Phase 2, after the European Council accepted British concessions on citizens’ rights, a financial settlement and promises to avoid a hard border in Ireland. Phase 2 will be critical and must be successfully navigated in order to allay the concerns of the Irish people, north and south.
Nobody really knows how Britain intends to square the circle of leaving the customs union and the single market and yet somehow maintaining regulatory alignment on the Irish border.
At the weekend a new survey indicated that 51% of Britons would now support remaining in the EU, compared to 41% who still want Brexit.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was reported by Reuters as saying that a senior EU negotiator, “had made it clear that Britain could end up agreeing a bespoke trading arrangement after it leaves the EU.”
Theresa May also stated that she intends to walk away from a bad deal. In the event that this was to happen then the Irish people would be confronted with a hard border and that is something that nobody wants.