Ireland’s Unenviable Position

One of the main points of discussion surrounding Brexit is what happens to the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is the only place (with the possible exception of Gibraltar) where the UK will share a land border with the European Union, and people are worried that chaos will ensue if border controls and customs points are installed. The EU has even gone so far as to suggest the Republic of Ireland might annex Northern Ireland with the full support of Brussels, perhaps not realising that a lot of blood has been shed over this subject already.

Personally I think they’re missing the bigger picture here, or they’re pretending to. Even if there is no border between Eire and NI, there is no way to get from Ireland to the rest of the EU without going through Britain – unless by air or a lengthy boat trip: Cherbourg to Rosslare takes about 18 hours. I don’t know if things have changed since I was a kid, but the Pembroke Dock and Fishguard ferries did a brisk trade with with lorries going to and from Rosslare, and I believe Holyhead to Dublin was much the same. It would be interesting to see how much of Ireland’s trade in physical goods with the EU minus the UK passes through the British mainland; my guess it would quite a bit.

How this will work post-Brexit is anyone’s guess. These goods will either have to be shipped directly via sea or custom-cleared into Britain and then back out again at Dover. Perhaps an agreement could be made for sealed containers to pass through without clearing customs or being charged transit fees, but that would rather depend on the goodwill of the British government towards Ireland at that point, wouldn’t it? And this opens up all sorts of opportunities for smuggling and cross-border shenanigans.

The truth is, Ireland is in a really shitty position right now. For historical and nationalistic reasons they have to pretend their future lies with the EU if they have to choose one or the other, but for all practical purposes Ireland is dependent on having full access to the UK for its goods, services, and people – which they had long before the EU came along. At some point they’re going to have to admit to this and whisper in Juncker’s ear that they really, really don’t want to lose the right to live, work, and study in the UK that they had all along. Then we’ll see just how much the EU cares about them.

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20 thoughts on “Ireland’s Unenviable Position

  1. “they really, really don’t want to lose the right to live, work, and study in the UK that they had all along”: but we should withdraw that anyway. It makes no sense now that the generation alive at independence is pushing up daisies.

  2. The EU will push Ireland under the bus. Not many people, and they fixed their economy when it went tits up without help from the EU. It will set an example to other small EU nations. (Except Luxembourg.)

  3. I have a hunch that when Juncker supposedly said that May was deluding herself as to the complexities of Brexit, that he was referring to-among other things- the Irish Question. No one in their right mind could imagine there is going to be a simple solution, infact going by Anglo-Irish history ‘we’ will be doing well just to avoid a bloody one.

    We might find Sark has suddenly been turned into a freight airport and container harbour…the whole of Sark.

  4. I cant see NATO giving away its most westerly land base and airport in Derry for anything as insignificant as Brexit. Maybe they need to set up a new “Donegal Corridor” type of arrangement although this time for the benefit of the neutral Irish transiting through the UK.

  5. If we’ve any sense we’ll leave NATO. Its purpose – opposing the Soviet Union – finished a generation ago. Its new purpose seems to be about the US trying to provoke Russia into war. Similarly, if the Germans want to pick another fight with Serbia, let them pay for it. The hell with it.

  6. But the yanks need the UK as a front line defense decoy to in theory soak up all first strike nukes from Russia. That’s why Mud Island has the greatest concentration of nukes in the world.

  7. I enjoy your thinking Tim. Reversing the flow of goods in your example, in the case there is no hard border, what about the possibility that UK goods could move via NI into Ireland, with there being any customs duties applied, but would move into e.g., FR with customs. Would that be against WTO rules? If so, in the case that we have to revert to WTO rules due to no customs deal being done, does that then throw up an issue?

  8. Reversing the flow of goods in your example, in the case there is no hard border, what about the possibility that UK goods could move via NI into Ireland, with there being any customs duties applied, but would move into e.g., FR with customs.

    Exactly. What’s to stop stuff being made in the UK, driven into Ireland over the border, repacked with “Made in EU” on the crates and voila! Free market accessed!?

  9. To add to the discussion above re Sark- In August this year, all vessels will have to comply with the EU Emissions monitoring scheme.

    What this means is that every voyage that begins or ends at an EEA port will have to disclose its CO2 emissions, Cargo carried and similar data. Just about everyone in the shipping industry hates this (not a transparent bunch).

    When Brexit becomes reality (assuming that the IMO’s Emissions monitoring plan stays in it’s current shape), British Ports will gain a massive competitive advantage- unload your goods here for transhipment by train or truck (where the burden of disclosure falls on someone else- or simply doesn’t exist), and you avoid having to comply with this (and many other) EU regs.

    We should be building port capacity (and ongoing road and rail infrastructure) like no-one’s business. Hong Kong got to where it is now off the back of playing transport hub for that part of the world. Ditto Singapore. What’s to lose?

  10. Yes, it’s an interesting one alright.

    So, to get the six counties back they have gone from the ballot box and the armalite, to handing back the armalite and settling on the ballot box, first time around it didn’t work and now it might.

    I think the remainers of the Ulster plantations might just have to reinstate the Military Reaction Force to repel such a notion.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_Reaction_Force

  11. JS – oddly enough, London Gateway opened a couple of years ago.

  12. “For historical and nationalistic reasons they have to pretend their future lies with the EU if they have to choose one or the other, but for all practical purposes Ireland is dependent on having full access to the UK for its goods, services, and people – which they had long before the EU came along”

    Before the EU, Ireland’s biggest trading partner by a long way was Britain.

    It no longer is- exports to the EU are a multiple of exports to Britain. That is why, for economic reasons, it makes more sense to remain in EU than leave.

    Obviously, the least bad outcome is for Britain to strike an amicable deal with the EU re free trade.

    But there are no likely good outcomes.

  13. It no longer is- exports to the EU are a multiple of exports to Britain. That is why, for economic reasons, it makes more sense to remain in EU than leave.

    According to this site:

    The top export destinations of Ireland are the United States ($34.3B), Belgium-Luxembourg ($19.5B), the United Kingdom ($18.9B), Germany ($11.5B) and Switzerland ($7.41B). The top import origins are the United Kingdom ($21.1B), the United States ($12B), Germany ($6.37B), France ($6.2B) and China ($4.4B).

    Which suggests Ireland should join NAFTA. But the point isn’t so much about Ireland’s trade with the EU versus the UK, but how it gets its physical goods into and out of Ireland without going through the UK mainland.

  14. @Tim Newman

    I agree about the difficulties which you have outlined in your reply above.

    However your original post states that for “historical and nationalistic reasons they have to pretend their future lies with the EU”.

    There are very strong economic grounds to remain in the EU- it is not (just) irrational (or valid) historical or nationalistic sentiment.

    I say that as an Irishman who shares much of the anti-EU sentiment of my British neighbours and who is irritated by the almost universal caricaturing in the media here of why Britain voted for Brexit.

    When the UK and EU/Germany finally agree on the Brexit arrangements (or they emerge from lack of agreement) then Ireland will have to assess where these leave us. The options are likely to be bleak.

  15. There are very strong economic grounds to remain in the EU- it is not (just) irrational (or valid) historical or nationalistic sentiment.

    You’re right, of course.

    The options are likely to be bleak.

    Indeed.

  16. It is like there was nothing before the EU and no World outside.

    I wonder how we managed to transport goods through different Customs jurisdictions before the EU and how the rest of the World does it?

    Oh, I know.

    An ATA Carnet is a document which has been round since God was in short trousers, which permits temporary import of goods into a Customs jurisdiction on the understanding it will be re-exported within 12 months.

  17. An ATA Carnet is a document which has been round since God was in short trousers, which permits temporary import of goods into a Customs jurisdiction on the understanding it will be re-exported within 12 months.

    Ooh, okay. That’s the solution, then.

  18. “It no longer is- exports to the EU are a multiple of exports to Britain. That is why, for economic reasons, it makes more sense to remain in EU than leave.”

    And I’ll wager that the overwhelmingly vastly hugely most massive proportion of that is everything that Google, Microsoft and Apple sell to the rest of the EU from Eire.

    That’s important obviously, but I’m betting that it looks very different for the physical trade of goods.

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