‘Blind eye to porous EU border in Ulster’

Former MEP Andrew Duff has proved to be an insightful Brexit commentator. Writing for the Centre for European Policy, he frequently challenges the conventional view and turns out to be right.  He now thinks that the citizenship issue will reach an early compromise while disagreement over the leaving bill is the most difficult issue, but the Irish border will be settled with a straightforward political fudge:

“Because the whole Irish question has been almost intractable for centuries, the solution here will be a political one, at a very high level, that will result in the turning of a blind eye to an EU porous border in Ulster.”

His choice of language is unfortunate and smacks of Commons debates of the early 1880s: we might reasonably ask who exactly was responsible for centuries of intractability, since our people have sought negotiated solutions to the English question since the mid-1170s. But leaving that aside, his assessment that the EU would or could accept a porous border here is interesting. He makes no attempt to examine what the British would have to accept in return, merely noting that “The situation on the ground will be much eased if the UK chooses to stay in the EU customs union”.

There are certainly no’fudge’ messages coming from Brussels, where chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier has spelt out once again that it will be impossible to avoid border checks with the Republic if Britain leaves the single market . He told an EU committee that there will be “negative” consequences: apart from tariffs, live animals and animal products will be subject to border checks.

Duff, however, is more worried about the money. ” On 24 May the Commission published its proposals for the criteria to determine what it calls a ‘single financial settlement’. As yet, however, there has been no official response from London. Without a bankable promise from the UK on the budget, the European Council will never judge that “sufficient progress” has been made on Phase I to allow it to trigger Phase II. Unless and until Phase II starts there will be no political discussions on defining the framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU. Without agreement on Britain’s final landing zone, clearly defined and mapped out, it will be impossible to proceed towards a negotiation of the transitional arrangements. Here lies the rub.”