This will end with a horrible crash
A critic famously wrote about Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot that “nothing happened, twice”. That is pretty much what has been happening in the Brexit debate for the last couple of months, which is why we have written very little about it. Our aim was always to distil practical advice from the debate for all the businesses and communities in the front line in Ireland. That has not been possible recently.
There is absolutely nothing of significance happening between the UK and the EU. The debate which fills the Anglophone newspapers is purely a British one, indeed to all intents and purposes it is only going on between various schools of thought within the Conservative Party.
More than a year ago we wrote that the British were not negotiating with the EU at all; they were negotiating with themselves. That line has since been taken up by a number of EU spokespersons, because it was and remains essentially true. None of the issues on which they are tearing themselves apart has substance in the wider European context. We have seen nothing that outlines or delineates a potential compromise with the EU, nothing that indicates even the most general wish for a meeting of minds, for an outcome that everyone could live with.
As things stand on the second anniversary of the Referendum, there can be no withdrawal agreement or transition deal in place by 29th March next year. The EU summit this weekend will do absolutely nothing about Brexit beyond reiterating that point, as Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier did in Dublin during the week.
The British have been kicking the can down the road for two years, and now they are refusing to talk about the backstop, even among themselves. In the absence of firm British positions, the EU is now doing the same, putting everything off to the October summit with some murmurings of a delay until November. But while they are open to some last-minute British move they are not relying on it. Juncker told the Dail:
“With pragmatism comes realism. As the clock to Brexit ticks down, we must prepare for every eventuality, including no deal. We are getting ready just in case.”
EU Commission Secretary General Martin Selmayr has been put in charge of preparations for a no-deal scenario.
The EU can afford to wait a bit longer, but Airbus cannot. It has signalled very clearly that without a firm deal soon, it will pull out of the UK and take 14,000 jobs – and up to 110,000 indirect positions in its supply chains – with it.
It is hard to envisage how this can all end other than in a crash of mammoth proportions. If the British take the north out of either the single market or the customs union or both, there will be massive economic disruption. We should not let an ultimately academic debate about hard or soft borders blind us to that reality or delay preparations for coping with it.