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A DUP-Tory alliance could make unionism unacceptable
Things look different now the prime minister has survived the weekend and cobbled together a deal with the DUP.

While the arrangement is obviously fragile, the Tories have little choice but to try and make it durable. They will not trigger an election that Jeremy Corbyn's Labour might win - suddenly a realistic prospect.

They will even struggle to rid themselves of May. Rightly or wrongly, the British public expects prime ministers to have a personal mandate. A minority government with an "unelected" head looks untenable.

Dependence on a handful of Northern Ireland MPs can in contrast be surprisingly tenable. One SDLP MP propped up a Labour government through the last half of the 1970s, before bringing it down in a no-confidence motion.

The DUP's 10 MPs are a solid support by comparison, giving the Conservatives a working majority of seven.

So no election for several years is plausible and the autumn timetable for restoring Stormont once again looks doable. The DUP unquestionably remains desperate to get back into office in Belfast. Power in London is glorious but fleeting, as it knows.

Despite Newton Emerson's argument that Sinn Fein needs to get back into a devolved Government in Belfast, I remain unconvinced they will be in any hurry to do so, unless they can use it to swing very significant concessions from the DUP/Conservative Government on welfare cuts, support for Irish language initiatives, and above all on Brexit:   No hard border with the South.

How May squares that circle will be interesting. Either she has to reverse course on the Single market and the Customs Union, or she has to negotiate some kind of special status for N. Ireland - something the DUP have said they are against.

However, if the EU were agreeable to N. Ireland becoming some kind of free trade zone between the UK and the EU, a very advantageous Brexit deal for N. Ireland might be possible. The problem would be to prevent N. Ireland becoming a smuggler's channel bypassing any Tariffs that might arise between the EU/UK. A system of customs pre-clearance and customs Certificates of Origin might just be feasible given good will on all sides and might be acceptable to all if Tariffs were seen as a temporary necessity pending the agreement of a more comprehensive free trade deal.

Temporary arrangements have a way of becoming permanent however, and the EU might well be wary of such an arrangement. The Irish Government would be an enthusiastic backer, however, and could threaten to veto any post Brexit deal requiring unanimity unless a way is found around the hard border issue.  

A hard border would destabilise the Irish Government as well as the Northern peace process, so a perhaps surprising congruence of interests between the British and Irish governments, Sinn Fein and the DUP could emerge. There are other similar anomalies within the EU in small territories such as Andorra, Gibraltar, Jersey, and Lichtenstein.  The question is, is N. Ireland small enough not to matter too much in the grand scheme of things?

We are a long way from any such agreement just yet, but I could see it becoming viable as the end game approached and it made all the difference between a post Brexit deal being agreed or not. Watch this space.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 12th, 2017 at 10:38:29 AM EST
However, if the EU were agreeable to N. Ireland becoming some kind of free trade zone between the UK and the EU, a very advantageous Brexit deal for N. Ireland might be possible. The problem would be to prevent N. Ireland becoming a smuggler's channel bypassing any Tariffs that might arise between the EU/UK. A system of customs pre-clearance and customs Certificates of Origin might just be feasible given good will on all sides and might be acceptable to all if Tariffs were seen as a temporary necessity pending the agreement of a more comprehensive free trade deal.

Given that this would require active participation by those evil EU bureaucrats, I don't see how it can happen.

by rifek on Thu Jun 15th, 2017 at 12:00:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is either a customs border between Ulster and Britain or between Ulster and the Republic. I doubt there is a halfway house.

The sensible, practical answer is with Britain. But sense and practicality are uncommon visitors in that part of the world

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jun 15th, 2017 at 09:14:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This will be news to the denizens of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan...;-)

Ports and Airports are by far the easiest to police although you could have spot checks for commercial vehicles at the land border as well, I suppose, but that would be extremely sensitive politically.

Customs law already requires goods in transit to have certificates of origin specifying where they are primarily manufactured and determining which duties (if any) are applicable.  Goods leaving Republic of Ireland air/sea ports for EU destinations would then have to have certs specifying their origin in the Republic (and that they are therefore not goods-in-transit from the UK via N. Ireland). UK authorities might require similar controls at Irish Ports if goods are destined for UK and might therefore attract import tariffs.

A system of online barcoded import/export pre-clearance documents specifying goods, tariffs paid, transporting vehicle no. plate etc. could enable a customs checkpoint not dissimilar to a road toll booth where all the driver has to do is scan the export/import document and go on their way.

Nobody likes road toll booths, but at least they can be very efficient and wouldn't mark out the border as being especially different.  Private cars would be exempt - unless they are actually paying a road toll - and so small scale local smuggling would be possible but curtailed with occasional spot checks, as at present at most international borders.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jun 16th, 2017 at 08:53:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Except that you then have a fun incentive to restart the war and make spot checks infeasible, like in the good old days.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 16th, 2017 at 09:36:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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