The key issue in Brexit is the matter of the border between Northern and Southern Ireland.
According to the Good Friday agreement, there cannot be a hard border between Northern and Southern Ireland.
The UK, by leaving the EU, while Southern Ireland is in the EU, have obviously created a need for a hard border.
The problem is how to resolve this issue, because the UK can only secure an exit deal with the EU if all points in the deal are agreed. If even a single point is not agreed, a deal cannot be made, and the UK leaves with no-deal, which would be *profoundly* bad for the economy.
This matter is strongly affected by the political situation in the UK. There are two main parties, Labour and Conservative, left-wing and right-wing, respectively. The Conservative vote was split between the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party, and this seems to be why Cameron issued the referendum in the first place – to put the matter to rest and unify the right-wing vote. No one expected the referendum to lead to a ‘no’ vote.
The Labour party has not said much but has vaguely, in and on-again, off-again kind of way weakly-ish been in favour of Brexit. Labour will however I think change its tune and come to be firmly against Brexit for two reasons : firstly, most of their supporters are against Brexit, and secondly because it will split the Conservative vote and lead to Labour in power.
The Conservative Pary is a minority Government and depends on the ten votes of the Democratic Unionst Party, a Northern Irish party which seeks to keep Northern Ireland united with the UK.
The Unionist Party have made it clear that they require Northern Ireland to be treated in exactly the same way as the rest of the UK. No special treatment at all and in particular there cannot be a barrier or border of any kind between Northern Island and the UK.
If the Unionist Party stop voting with the Conservatives, the Conservatives will be a minority party, and so whether or not the Brexit bill passes will depend on Labour, and Labour will vote against it, to satisfy their voters and to split the Conservative vote, as this will lead to Labour in power in the next election.
The upshot of this then is that the UK needs to find a way to leave the EU, fully, but to maintain an open border with the EU.
There have so far and for some time and with heavy debate in the UK Government been two proposals presented by the UK Government. First is a technological solution, where there are no installations on the border but tracking and computer technology are used to have a kind of ‘virtual border’. The second is that the UK implements EU customs, at the UK border, for everything heading into the EU.
The huge debate in the UK Government about these options has been completely meaningless, as the EU made it clear it would never accept either solution. I presume the huge debate is a way of getting people to see neither solution is possible.
The real proposal from the UK has now come forward. It is being presented as a “backstop” option, should no other option be possible, either at all or for now. This is sugar coating.
The proposal is that the UK – and Northern Ireland – leave the EU and the single market, but remain inside the EU customs union. One way to think of it is as a fuller version of the UK implementing EU customs at the UK border. The idea is that as the UK (and Northern Ireland) remain within the customs union, no border is required between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland.
If that doesn’t quite seem to add up, it’s because it doesn’t add up.
I would like to explain this in terms closer to the UK.
Imagine Kent (which includes the port of Dover) wished to leave the UK. The UK is obviously sad about this but okay – best of luck to you! Kent however then says it absolutely cannot have, for a number of reasons, have a border with the UK. Kent says to allow this to happen, so stuff can’t just wander into the UK by going through Kent which would obviously be a problem for the UK as a separate Soverign State, Kent will enforce UK border rules and regulations on its own border. The UK says well, that’s good and fine, but what about *you?* I understand you will stop stuff coming through your borders just as the UK does, but you Kent are a separate Soverign State and you can do what you like inside your own borders – and whatever you do in there can wander over our open border into the UK. How do you solve that, says the UK to Kent?
And that’s what this proposal is. Kent (the UK) wants to enforce EU border regulations between everything *outside* the UK and the EU, but *not* for everything *inside* the UK and the EU.
The EU have already made it clear that this solution – any solution – cannot extend to the whole of the UK. For them, the UK is leaving, and so there cannot be solutions specific to Northern Ireland which actually affect the entire status of the UK leaving the EU. The EU does not want “cherry picking”. States are either in, or out – the four indivisible freedoms. That’s the deal the EU offers.
The EU have proposed already, and will continue to propose, that Northern Ireland remains fully in the EU.
(Relating to this, David Davis, the Minister for Brexit, recently proposed Northern Ireland has a dual status, in the EU and the UK, and a ten mile gap between the UK and EU border (which I have to note contains the fourth largest city in Ireland). The proposal is utterly broken – you cannot be in two States at once; how do you have *two* courts of ultimate appeal, for example? and do you have all businesses adhere to two sets of regulations, and what do you do when they conflict? and anyway there is still a border – it’s just a border with a gap inbetween, and a large no-mans land is not going to change the fact that the Good Friday agreement has been violated. I’m surprised this proposal was ever even spoken of, because it’s so obviously not workable – presumably there was some other motive for presenting it.)
If the UK accepts this, the Unionist Party will stop voting with the Conservatives, Brexit will be blocked in Parliament, the Conservative vote will split, and Labour will come to power.
If the UK does not accept this, there will be no solution to the Northern Island border problem, the UK will leave the EU, the EU will put a border up, the UK in theory cannot due to the Good Friday agreement, and so anything can pass from the EU into the UK (the EU border enforces EU exit regulations, not UK entry regulations).
This will not stand, the UK will put a border up, and the Good Friday agreement will be violated. This is a serious issue for peace in Northern Ireland. There has been no devolved Government already in Nothern Ireland for sixteen months, due to trust issues between the parties forming the Government. So in this outcome Brexit is significantly increasing the likelihood of a return to violence in Northern Ireland. It is also profoundly harmful to the Irish economy, but Brexit as a whole is profoundly harmful to the UK economy, so it’s just more of the same.
I think also in this eventuality, a no-deal exit is more likely, as Southern Ireland is profoundly against a border as their long term goal is reunification, and they’re worried about the economic impact, and they need to agree to the UK-EU deal for it to occur.
An an aside, Labour coming to power will be catastrophic for the UK economy. Labour is currently extreme left-wing bonkers – nationalize everything, *maximum* wage caps, etc. It is a measure of just how bonkers they are that *despite* all these problems facing the Conservatives, the two parties are *still* level in the polls (although this is also because the Conservative vote is unified again right now0. It may also be of course that Labour simply mis-play their hand. That they *can* guarantee a win, if they make the right moves, does not mean they will make the right moves.