If we dismiss the recent comments by Donald Tusk as being at best unhelpful and certainly not the most diplomatic language ever used – perhaps it is something to do with the name Donald? What are we to make of the latest moves in the game of chess which is the Brexit leaving end game?
Well the first thing to say is that whilst some in the Republic of Ireland welcome the comment from European Commision press release (see title) they really should be a little more circumspect. The statement is clear and it means that should we have a no deal Brexit then the Republic’s border with Northern Ireland will have to become a hard border – otherwise the integrity of the European Union’s customs union, single market et al are compromised. This of course drives a coach and horses through the Good Friday agreement (Perhaps that should be a 38 tonne lorry) Equally it will also mean that goods being transhipped through a third country ie the UK when reaching the EU again ie Calais will be subject to the same checks as those of other vehicles entering the EU from any other third country. It would be a total nightmare for the Republic of Ireland and no matter how many warm words that come from Brussels about solidarity the interests of the European Union is to get along with one of their largest export markets as best they can.
I have said it before and I feel it worth repeating – at the moment European Union solidarity hasn’t cost any country a single Euro. If we, and I mean both the UK and the EU, part without a withdrawal agreement that will change very quickly. Forget all the smokescreens about big businesses, such as car makers having problems – they will but they are big enough to sort them out themselves or rather their logistic provider will have. No it is the fresh produce exports to the UK are where the problems will really occur. I am sure that there are tomato producers in southern Spain who are wondering whether they will have a market in Britain after the 29th March? Of course they will but it is much more of a problem to transport produces that has a sell by date than a gearbox. If there is a significant delay at the ports then this will very quickly become a problem for the national Governments of the producers and that is when solidarity could start to crumble.
For an example of this you only have to look at the EU’s relationship with that other large, geographically at least, third country Russia. This is a country that it is widely accepted to have interfered in all sorts of European matters for its own geopolitical goals. Yet the EU’s response has been confused and weak to say the least. The main reason is that the member states have their own interests to protect from Germany’s energy supplies to traditional Italian political relations with Russia. I suspect that the Baltic states are far more reassured by the support given by NATO than the EU. (The main NATO European country is Britain.) The long and short of this example is that solidarity is easy when there is nothing at stack but national interest will always come before the EU’s interest. It is one of the main reasons that the EU is bureaucratically strong, the ability to hand out large fines to Social Media companies as an example, but diplomatically weak – it doesn’t even have a permanent seat on the UN security council which, of course, Britain does.
Given all this where are we on the Deal/No Deal spectrum? A few weeks ago I thought we were far more likely to leave with no deal however I’m no longer that sure. I suspect that we will get a deal, lets call it Backstop 2, through parliament probably by early March. There will will be an awful lot of fire and furry on both sides between now and then but when the real meaningful vote comes in March I think it is more likely that MPs will vote for Backstop 2 than against it. However, the one thing that you can say at the moment, if some says they know what is going to happen then you know they are lying, nobody knows. I just hope that the Republic of Ireland doesn’t come to regret the appearance of gloating at the UK’s difficulty – I suspect that Leo Varadkar was dismayed by Donald Tusk’s comments – they haven’t helped. If he wasn’t then things between the Republic and Britain could get very uneasy very quickly and that would be very unhelpful for everyone concerned.