Bordering on Brexit

A House of Lords EU select committee has warned that Northern Ireland is at risk of becoming “collateral damage of the Brexit decision” as it proposed a special status.

The first of six Lords reports looking at the effect of Brexit focussed on the potential impact on UK-Irish relations has encouraged the UK to begin work on a special treaty. With the approval of Brussels.

The 78-page report took evidence from a number of key stakeholders over recent months and highlighted that Ireland now finds itself in the position of trying to persuade other EU member states of its special status even though the Brexit scenario was “through no fault of its own”.

Acknowledging the unique land-border situation of Ireland, rendering it the most vulnerable of EU members to the impact of Brexit, the Committee notes that the complexity of the issue on UK-Ireland relations “are often overlooked on the British side of the Irish Sea”.

It calls for official recognition of the special status for UK-Ireland relations in their “entirety” in order to properly address consequences for land border restrictions, implications of a special status on citizenship, and the impact on the stability in Northern Ireland.

“The Committee agreed that the unique nature of UK-Irish relations requires a unique solution, and calls on the UK and Irish Governments to negotiate a draft bilateral agreement, incorporating the views and interests of the Northern Ireland Executive, which would then need to be agreed by the EU as part of the final Brexit negotiations.”

A summary of the main recommendations within the report includes:

  • maintain an open land border and freedom of movement;
  • retain right or residency and citizenship for Northern Ireland citizens;
  • a customs and trade arrangement if the UK leaves the customs union subject to EU approval;
  • devolved powers for freedom of movement of EU workers to Stormont;
  • reaffirmation by both governments of their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and continued support for cross-border cooperation; and
  • continued eligibility for cross-border projects to EU funding programmes.

In proposing the recommendations, the Committee says that it does not underestimate the legal and institutional difficulties of translating such recognition into a final agreement. It also places the onus of finding a solution to the issues facing the relationship with the UK Government.

 

Relations

The first real positive signs of cross-border cooperation in facing up to the realities of Brexit emanated from November’s North-South Ministerial Council, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny describing the meeting in Armagh as the best so far. The post-meeting rhetoric was very different from that of the All Island Civic Dialogue, which was undermined by Northern Ireland’s First Minister’s refusal to attend.

However, the realities of the impact of Brexit, hard or soft, were spelt out by the delivery of the UK’s Autumn statement, which dropped economic growth projection by a full one per cent. Informed signals from the EU suggest a hard Brexit is the most likely outcome. Well-placed sources have whispered that although the UK has indicated it will trigger Article 50 by the end of March, discrete conversations between them and the EU have already begun. The EU are demanding a concrete answer on remaining within or leaving the Customs Union and secondly, the Single Market, which will require an unlikely concession on free movement.

Article 50

December’s non-binding vote in the House of Commons ended in a majority vote in favour of invoking article 50. While not legally-binding it has provided an estimate of MPs who are and are not willing to vote in favour, if the Supreme Court forces Theresa May to seek Parliament approval.
The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its ruling in January, if they declare that May must seek approval, it will need an Article 50 Act of Parliament and will have to be passed by the House of Lords.

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