Keep your eye on the ball in Brussels

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has made a sensible and genuinely useful contribution to the necessary political debate on the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland. To say that Ireland should not and would not help design a border to suit the Brexiteers may have been a statement of the obvious, but it had not been said in those explicit terms before.

His speech at Queen’s University fits into the same category: it’s not so much what he said, more the fact that he said it at all. He outlined three possible courses of action for avoiding an absolute disaster on our border:

  • If the United Kingdom does not want to stay in the Customs Union, perhaps there can be an EU-UK customs union.
  • If the UK does not want to stay in the Single Market, perhaps it could enter into a deep Free Trade Agreement with the EU and rejoin EFTA.
  •  And if this cannot be agreed now, then perhaps we can have a transition period during which the UK stays in the single market and customs union.

He did not repeat the point already made a few days earlier that if the Brexiteers have another plan for the border – any plan at all – they should really let the rest of us know about it.

Now we all need to be clear and careful. The Taoiseach was speaking as national leader, effectively just elaborating on the EU27 position. These issues are going to be settled between London and Brussels, and it was notable that London made no response whatsoever to the Taoiseach’s intervention. There is, and will be, no bilateral channel to Belfast or to London in which to discuss or settle any of the issues raised by the UK decision to have the external border of the EU running across the island of Ireland. Intemperate cross-border political exchanges will not change that reality. They will not help and they will almost certainly do harm.