Ireland shows its strength in Brexit negotiations

If, for the first time in 800 years, Ireland is proving to be in a much stronger political position than Britain, what does that say about what Brexit is doing to Britain’s strength?

Ciara Kenny
Ciara Kenny The Irish Times, Ireland
Source: The Irish Times
Ireland shows its strength in Brexit negotiations - NewsMavens
Arlene Foster. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

 It is difficult to think of a more boring phrase than “continued regulatory alignment”, Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole writes, but it is the key to the draft agreement between the UK and European Union on the Irish Border post-Brexit, which fell asunder this week.

In crucial talks on Monday on what the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will look like after the UK leaves the EU, the pendulum swung from no deal, to deal, back to no deal within hours.

The only land border dividing the UK and its neighbouring trade blocs, once Britain leaves the customs union and the single market after Brexit, will be with the Republic of Ireland.

Hence the Irish Government has been seeking a commitment that there would be no divergence in customs and trading rules and standards on both sides of the Border. It has become one of the most contentious issues in the Brexit negotiations.

It was reported on Monday morning that wording had been settled between officials in London and Dublin, which would have seen Britain guarantee no changes to the Border, by pledging to keep “regulatory alignment” between the North and South. Put simply, this would mean rules of the customs union and much of the single market regulations would continue to apply in Northern Ireland.

It looked likely that British Prime Minister Teresa May would announce the agreement after a meeting in Brussels on Monday afternoon with European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker, which would allow the next phase of Brexit negotiations to progress. But just hours before the meeting, the deal was scuppered by a call from Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster.

Foster, whose party holds the balance of power with the Tories in Westminster, told May that the DUP would not support any commitment by the British government to treat Northern Ireland as a special case within the UK.

In his column, O’Toole explains how Britain’s weakness in its Brexit negotiations with the EU has been made even more starkly clear by this week's events.

“So far, we’ve been talking about the implications of Brexit for Ireland. Now we have to talk about the implications of Ireland for Brexit,” he writes, describing the Irish Border as Brexit's "Trojan horse".

He goes on to argue that the Brexiteers and their supporters in the media stupidly chose to construe the border issue as “a face-off between mighty Britain and little Ireland”, and poses the question: 

“If, for the first time in 800 years, Ireland is proving to be in a much stronger political position than Britain, what does that say about what Brexit is doing to Britain’s strength?

It is being forced to accept what it claimed to be unacceptable, not because Ireland has suddenly become a global superpower but because it has the unflinching support of EU member states, the European parliament, and the EU negotiating team. There might be a lesson in there somewhere for a country facing a future without the allies it has long taken for granted.”

Details from the story:

  • The only land border dividing the UK and its neighbouring trade blocs, after Britain leaves the customs union and the single market after Brexit, will be with the Republic of Ireland.
  • Arlene Foster told Theresa May that the DUP would not support any commitment by the British government to treat Northern Ireland as a special case within the UK.
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