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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019
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Brexit: 'We do not want the British sailing off like some pirate state, joining the Trump administration'

We need to step up now and talk both sides in these talks back from the cliff edge, writes Eamon Ryan.

Eamon Ryan TD and leader of the Green Party

THE BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS are in a “phoney war” period while everyone awaits the outcome of the UK general election. The letters of intent have been sent, the negotiating teams selected and their guidelines agreed but nothing will happen until a new British government is in place.

Once that is established the planes will take off from London carrying a team from Whitehall to the Brussels negotiating table. It is impossible to know the outcome in advance but it looks like those mandarins are heading over on an impossible mission.

The odds are now shortening on the UK crashing out of the Union without any transitional deal. The more you look at what going over that cliff edge involves, the more damaging it appears to be.

Best of both worlds

Theresa May seems to think she can get the best of both worlds, a comprehensive new trade agreement and at the same time freedom from European regulation and jurisdiction. She claims that everyone can win by agreeing such a deal.

The City of London would continue to prosper and they would buy up yet more fine French wines and fast German cars. The British do not seem to realise that on this occasion, political interests are going to trump any economic gains.

The British Prime Minister says these negotiations must involve compromise on both sides but the need for the Union to yield on any position is not so clear. The fact that the European Council took less than five minutes to agree its negotiating position must have sent shivers up the spine of the British public service. It is a signal that Europe is going to make sure a “divide and conquer” diplomatic strategy will not work for the other side.

Two stage negotiating timetable

That is one of the reasons why the Europeans are insisting on a two stage negotiating timetable, where the issues of citizens’ rights, the Brexit bill and border arrangements with Ireland and Cyprus have to be progressed before other bigger transitional arrangements are even considered.

All twenty seven members have a common interest in getting the exit bill paid and citizens’ rights assured but for us the border issue is of a different order of magnitude in importance.

The Irish government has been lauded for getting our concerns included in this first strand of talks but the visit of Michel Barnier to the Oireachtas last week raises real questions about the strategy we are following. It seems clear there will be real concessions regarding the free movement of people between Ireland and Britain but there seems to be no give when it comes to cross border trade in goods and services.

The EU will insist that the UK accepts the customs union rules which are central to our common market system. That in turn will require them to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which is a red line issue which Theresa May says she is not willing to cross. That is why the cliff edge option is coming into view.

No transitional deal will hurt Ireland

So far we have been willing to play our part in the unified European position but if the talks really do seem to be heading for failure then we are going to have to reconsider our position. An outcome without any transitional deal will hurt Ireland more than anyone else. It is not just the agriculture industry that will suffer, our digital industries will also be caught out and our future energy security would be seriously threatened.

One of the differences between the two negotiating parties is that the British want to consider transitional arrangements from the start whereas the EU is saying that can only happen in the Autumn once progress has been achieved on the first three items.

I don’t believe it is in Ireland’s interest to insist on such a staggered approach. It’s not as if the European Union is going to have to back down in the end. Britain has no strong cards to play. Europe has the scale and mechanisms in place to set the digital rights, environmental and social standards which are going to have to underpin any new trade deal. It is going to take time to agree how such standards will apply and there is no real reason for us to delay putting such future arrangements on the negotiating table.

We do not need to kick the British when they are down, nor do we want them sailing off like some pirate state, joining the Trump administration in a race to the bottom for unregulated international commerce. Our Union is founded on principles of peaceful collaboration and our relationship with Britain has improved dramatically as a result of our common membership of the club.

We need to step up now and talk both sides in these talks back from the cliff edge. Working out our own commercial border arrangements should be the start of a more flexible approach to the Brexit process, which will be in everyone’s interest in the end.

Eamon Ryan is a TD and leader of the Green Party.

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About the author:

Eamon Ryan  / TD and leader of the Green Party

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