30 November 2017
Since publishing its position paper on the issue in August, the UK Government has been unequivocal that it has no desire to impose a “hard border” between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; it will maintain both the Common Travel Area and the Belfast Agreement. The paper stated that the UK and Irish governments were “wholly aligned” in those objectives yet, in recent days, various Irish representatives have been anything but.
The proposal now being touted by some of an internal UK border in the Irish Sea – with Northern Ireland remaining part of the Customs Union – serves no one’s best interests. Northern Ireland does 87 per cent of its trade with the UK – 66 per cent in the Province and 21 per cent with Britain. Just five per cent of its trade is with Ireland and a mere three per cent with the rest of the EU. It would be absurd for Northern Ireland to be cut off from the UK Single Market for the sake of that eight per cent, just as it would be for Great Britain to enjoy the opportunities of global free trade outside the Customs Union without having the Northern Irish economy do the same. The integrity of the United Kingdom is, as Nigel Dodds correctly puts it, “non-negotiable.”
The suggestion should not be any more appealing from the Irish perspective. We are key trading partners, with the UK receiving 13.9 per cent of Ireland’s exports and providing over a quarter of her imports. Crucially, only 1.6 per cent of Irish imports and exports run between the Republic and Northern Ireland; the overwhelming share of trade is between the Republic and Great Britain. Once again, the Republic’s trade with Northern Ireland is a very small part of the much more significant trade with the whole of the UK.
To read Owen Paterson’s piece for BrexitCentral in full, click here.