Rethinking Europe

How to Solve the Irish Customs Union Question

The UK should stay in the Customs Union on a 5-year renewable basis once it leaves the EU. This would honor the Brexit vote to leave the EU Treaty while safeguarding peace in Ireland.

Credit: www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • The entire Irish political class is quaking in its boots at the idea of any physical manifestation of a border returning to Ireland as a result of Brexit.
  • The fear in Dublin of a hard border is matched by Brexit arrogance in London's anti-European circles. They dismiss Dublin’s fears.
  • Most MPs and British journalists did not know what a Customs Union was before the vote to leave the EU. It is possible to leave the EU but stay in the Customs Union.
  • The UK should stay in the Customs Union on a 5-year renewable basis once it leaves the EU. This would honour the Brexit vote to leave the EU Treaty while safeguarding peace in Ireland.

A new front and new fear has opened in the unending Brexit saga between Britain and Europe. This is that if as part of its separation from Europe, London decides to fully exit its existing Customs Union with the remaining 27 EU member states, including Ireland, a frontier with physical customs control checks would have to be set up in Northern Ireland.

The entire Irish political class is quaking in its boots at the idea of any physical manifestation of a border returning to Ireland as a result of Brexit. Yet, if the UK leaves the EU Customs Union which currently allows trade across all EU borders, including between the UK and Ireland, then World Trade Organization rules mandate border checks.

For ultra Irish nationalists now with a new party, Saoradh, which believes Sinn Fein has betrayed Ireland, the pleasure of taking a pot-shot at a British customs check points or throwing a fertiliser and sugar pipe bomb at it, has never gone away.

If customs officials are attacked they have to be protected by the police and when the police are shot at, the army moves in.

The Good Friday Agreement

Last month, thousands marched in Belfast behind a para-military “honour guard” in combat fatigues. Any return to violence in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit ending the frontierless single economy of north and south Ireland will destroy the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which ended the 30-year-long “Troubles” when 3,600 were killed and 20,000 wounded.

The fear in Dublin is matched by Brexit arrogance in London anti-European circles. They dismiss Dublin fears over the resurrection of a 500 km border with control posts on major road to check customs duties which can diverge once London no longer follows EU rules have been paid.

There is talk of the US-Canada border or the Swiss frontier with its neighboring countries like Germany and France. But even if big ticket goods are pre-cleared using IT customs control systems for goods sealed in factories, there are still border posts on major roads between the United States and Canada or between Switzerland and its neighbors.

No such border post has existed in Ireland for 20 years and driving between the UK and Ireland is like crossing from Maryland to Virginia or from England into Scotland.

If Turkey can do it

Most MPs and British journalists did not know what a Customs Union was before the vote to leave the EU in June 2016. It is possible to leave the EU but stay in the Customs Union. Turkey is in a joint customs union with the EU for all manufactured goods despite being far, far away from EU membership.

Unfortunately, no-one had checked the price Ireland would pay if Britain left the EU Customs Union and once again a physical border re-appeared between British Ireland outside the EU and the Republic of Ireland still an EU member.

The head of Northern Irish police, and the former head of MI6 as well as the former Tory Prime Minister, Sir John Major, have all said re-introducing a border in Ireland would threaten the Good Friday Agreement with a likely return to violence.

This is serious. A possible compromise is to stay in the existing Customs Union on a 5-year renewable basis once the UK leaves the EU. That way the Brexit vote to leave the EU Treaty is honoured. The Commons is in charge of its trade policy but decides the best trade policy is to keep the trade doors to Europe where half of UK exports go open. And Ireland is at peace.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

Responses to “How to Solve the Irish Customs Union Question”

If you would like to comment, please visit our Facebook page.