Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Well we are a small country which they have "successfully" divided and conquered before. Brexiteers thought similarly about the EU - an ineffectual bureaucracy which it would be easy to divide and conquer. So it is more than a little irritating that Ireland has (in their view) successfully hidden behind the EU negotiating team, got its core national interests embedded in the EU negotiating position, and has so far avoided being winkled out and confronted with the might and power of Great Britain.

Of course "common sense" would dictate that Ireland - as the weakest link - will quickly fold when confronted by the consequences of a no deal Brexit - consequences which are possibly as severe as those facing the UK economically, and possibly even more severe politically if N. Ireland becomes unstable again.

The weakness of the Irish government's position is that a no deal Brexit would precipitate precisely the consequence the backstop was meant to avoid - a hard border with N. Ireland. Some in Ireland are already arguing that this means the backstop must be watered down in order to void a hard border.

But would the EU allow Ireland to back down now, as this would undermine the entire EU negotiating position and make it much harder to prevent the UK from achieving the benefits of CUSM membership - without any of the concomitant costs in subsequent negotiations?

If I were an EU leader speaking to Varadker now, I would be saying "we went out on a limb and backed you to the hilt, don't chicken out now and leave us all with egg on our faces". The prime EU objective is to secure the integrity of the CUSM, and not allow the UK to use the border issue to slip in by the back door and essentially gain all the benefits of membership and still control immigration, negotiate its own FTAs, and  undermine the regulatory regime which underpins it.

So my view is that, for better or worse, Ireland and the EU are stuck with the backstop, and if achieving "an orderly withdrawal" for the UK from the EU requires waiting until the DUP veto is no more, then so be it.

The really difficult negotiations with the UK have not even begun. The UK will start of the "future relationship" negotiations from the position of expecting all the benefits of the CUSM with none of the costs - certainly not Norway style contributions to the EU budget - never mentioned in UK debates about the Norway option - and freedom to trade with the rest of the world on its own terms.

Perhaps the best way of disabusing the UK of such notions is a period of Brexit with no deal, with high tariff and non-tariff barriers and no mutual recognition over landing rights, pharmaceutical standards or financial services. Then the UK will be starting off the negotiations from the same place as any third party without an FTA, not as a departing member claiming a right to the same benefits as before.

If that is the EU strategy then Ireland will need a period of "understanding" that enforcement of CUSM rules cannot be perfect and will have to be phased in over time. It remains to be seen whether that understanding will be forthcoming from the new Commission, and whether Varadker has managed to secure any private assurances on that score. The transition period in the Withdrawal Agreement would have brought us to the next UK government in all probability not dependent on the DUP. Now we may have to achieve the same goal without a formal transition period.

I wouldn't be too worried about the Irish economy in the meantime - we are near full employment and in danger of overheating now. But 50% tariffs on beef and similar exports would kill the agricultural industry and finding alternative markets will not be easy. The Mercosur deal may have to wait...

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jul 14th, 2019 at 10:57:29 PM EST
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