Brexit Border Deal – what’s in it and what’s not
“The United Kingdom … recalls its commitment to the avoidance of a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls … In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”
This is not yet a done deal: it has been recommended by the Task Force and forwarded to the College of Commissioners which will pass it on the European Council (27 heads of government) for final decision next week, but with the Juncker stamp of approval it should pass without much difficulty.
It is a very good deal by any standards, but the Ireland section essentially deals with the threat of political and social disruption posed by a hard border. It does not directly address any of the economic issues of concern north and south such as access to the UK market for our agri-food products.
- It is still the official position of the UK that it will leave both single market and customs union. What is new is that it will remain in ‘regulatory alignment’ with the EU. The precise meaning of this status will presumably be illuminated in Phase II of the talks.
- More importantly, it is still the official position of the EU that Phase II still only deals with the withdrawal process including the extrication of the UK from nearly 150 separate agreements on everything from atomic power to space exploration. There will be no detailed talks on a potential Free Trade Agreement until after the UK exit – the EU does not negotiate new trade deals with existing members.
However, Phase II can deal in a general way with the future relationship between the EU and the UK, and this is where things get interesting. On the face of it, ‘regulatory alignment’ would seem to exclude or at least severely limit the freedom of the UK to conclude new trade deals, such as one with the US that would be absolutely bound to include GM foods, steroid-fed beef and chlorinated chicken. So it looks like a defeat for the wilder Brexiteers and an indication that Britain will put most or all of its eggs in the basket of its economic relationship with the EU.
Can ‘regulatory alignment’ turn into membership of the European Economic Area (the Norwegian option) or something like it? Even better for Ireland, can it turn into a new customs union?