Sooner or later a British Prime Minister is likely to face a stark choice along the lines of “no deal is better than a bad deal” versus allowing Northern Ireland to be annexed by a foreign power.
The nature of the question may vary and there is a chance, if common sense prevails, that it will be avoided altogether and a practical solution will be agreed. But if this does not come to pass the choice will be stark, however it is dressed up by Whitehall and Westminster, Dublin and Brussels, and of course Belfast.
The most likely timing of this choice is the point at which there is a meaningful vote in the British Parliament, before March 2019. It may come to a head sooner as part of trade negotiations or, shamefully, there may be an attempt to kick it into the transition period on the same grounds. However, if Parliament does not grip the matter, one must wonder what Parliament is for.
Enfeebled as it may be by being consigned for years to the role of a “County Council” under an overweening Brussels, there can be nothing more important than the territorial rights of a nation and Parliament should know that. Most of all the governments involved in this process must know that too, even Brussels have just acknowledged as much during the recent Catalan affair. The first duty of government is the defence, integrity and security of the realm.
However, it appears that Brussels are playing with fire by manipulating the Irish government, perhaps willingly on the part of the Taoiseach who has had his five minutes of fame, using the Irish question as a lever in the Brexit negotiations, perhaps even seeking to annex Northern Ireland for themselves.
There will of course be those in the political establishment on both sides of the border, who are taking delight in this, seeing it as an opportunity to seek the transfer of the six counties to Ireland. However, there will be great apprehension amongst the business and farming community in Ireland, lest this strategy should result in no deal. The Republic of Ireland is far more dependant on the UK for its economic well being than is Northern Ireland on the Republic. A huge percentage of exports from Ireland go to the UK and a significant amount more flows through the UK to third countries. Irish finance and investment is tied up with Britain much more than with the EU. The moral of this story is that the Irish political class should be careful what it wishes for.
My experience of Irish businesspeople is that they are smart operators and good partners. The ties between Ireland and Britain are many and deep. Relations are cordial at all levels of culture, sport and economics and Long may it continue.
My plea to the people of Ireland is: do not let your politicians be used as useful fools by the EU, who will undoubtedly abandon you as soon as their work is done. We already see EU leaders calling for a uniform 33 per cent corporation tax rate across all EU countries. The continued road to integration and uniformity may eventually spell the end of the Eurozone and possibly the EU, but it will certainly spell the end of Irish prosperity.
It should be remembered that there are perfectly good systems operating to facilitate the free flow of goods under WTO rules. According to a World Bank survey of countries around the world, on average only 2 per cent of goods flowing across borders are physically checked and that for countries who frequently have no trade arrangements, let alone a Customs Union. We can do much better than that on the island of Ireland. It is time for the Republic of Ireland to argue with its EU masters for a common sense solution to the border question, based on technology and pre-notification systems.
The inevitable outcome of Brexit is that there will be a border on the island of Ireland, but it need not seem like there is one. If however the EU and Ireland overplay their hand, there will be a border and there will also be no deal. A “no deal” outcome will be sub-optimal for the EU and the UK, but Britain will still do very well indeed as a global free market, free-trading nation. History tells us however that such an outcome will not end well for Ireland.
John Longworth is an entrepreneur, Co Chairman of Leave means Leave and is on the Advisory Board of a Economists for Free Trade and the IEA. He was formerly Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce