Julian Brazier: How Johnson should try to get the backstop dropped

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017. He is Chairman of a security company.

Boris Johnson is right to ‘do or die’ for Brexit on October 31st. As the first crack starts to appear in the EU edifice, with Angela Merkel’s reference to 30 days, it is right that No Deal planning continues relentlessly, both to keep up the pressure and in case there is no agreement.

Many of the fears from the anti-No Deal camp will prove to be exaggerated or groundless; some must be – and are being – tackled as a priority. This article seeks to address the one really serious danger which could sour the whole process and make our departure a very different business from the government’s intent. We need to examine what happens to the Irish border under No Deal if the EU rejects our proposals for alternative arrangements.

I suspect I was not the only supporter of the Leave Campaign who campaigned hard to take back control, but harboured doubts on this one area. No sane politician of any ilk wants to see an upsurge in the paramilitary groups – a ghastly euphemism for terrorists and organised criminals.

Yet the mishandling of the withdrawal negotiations by the last Prime Minister has left us with a real danger that exactly this may happen. By agreeing to a Withdrawal Agreement entirely separate from a trade agreement supposed to follow it, she left the Irish border issue up in the air – allowing the EU free rein to wheel out the infamous backstop, an arrangement that no sovereign country should contemplate.

The problem for our government, as it bravely faces an intransigent EU, working hand in hand with some UK politicians, journalists, big business lobbies, academics and others, is that the Irish border issue cannot be brushed aside; terrorist movements, from Peru’s Shining Path to the Taliban, have thrived on racketeering and smuggling. If we were simply to move to WTO rules without enforcing the duties which we would be required by those rules to introduce, we would be making a present to the terrorist gangs. They continue to commit occasional murders in the province, and attempted another attack on the police last week. The new arrangement (or lack of arrangements) must not end up as the kind of boon which prohibition was to Chicago’s nascent gangs.

Resurgent terrorism should concern us greatly, but the problems would not stop there. Nancy Pelosi’s threats to block a trade deal with the US would crystallise fast were American TV screens filled once more with stories of terror in Ireland. Moderate opinion in Britain would shift, and the more extreme Remainers would have just what they need to launch a campaign to re-join.

So what should we do? It seems to me that this issue has to be approached at several levels, starting with dialogue with Ireland. The fact is that big players like Germany and France will not face the economic hammer blow which Ireland would suffer in the event of no deal, with so much of its trade either with the UK or via traffic across the UK.

Realisation of this is starting to dawn in the Republic, with growing concern among some journalists. Polls are showing increasingly divided views on Leo Varadkar’s policy, emphasised again in his recent much-publicised phone call with the Prime Minister. This shift should not give us the false hope, however, that Irish policy can be transformed by economic realities alone.

The Irish national narrative is rooted – with good reason – on past predations by the British, just as ours is still is framed by our lonely stand at the beginning of the Second World War. As Churchill put it “Cromwell in Ireland, disposing of overwhelming strength and using it with merciless wickedness, debased the standards of human conduct and sensibly darkened the journey of mankind”.

The horrors of the nineteenth century potato famines, the behaviour of absentee English landlords for centuries and the armed struggle for independence in the twentieth century are all still part of the Irish psyche. Without a game-changing approach from us, Varadkar can probably maintain his hard line by propagating the lie that our rejecting the so-called Irish Backstop is one more example of an over-mighty Britain bullying and marginalising Ireland.

Our new Prime Minister is a gifted communicator. He should speak to the Irish people over the heads of their Taoiseach and do so in terms which they can sympathise with. Either by means of a visit to Ireland or by getting Irish journalists into Downing Street, he should explain to the Irish exactly what the Northern Ireland backstop means for Britain. He should spell out the proposed indefinite subjection to diktat by Brussels with no say. To put it in language they would appreciate, he should ask the Irish people to consider whether those people who struggled for Irish independence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would have agreed to such terms.

This gambit could work – it certainly has a better chance than assuming that Varadkar will act in Ireland’s best economic interests. If it does, and public opinion forces Varadkar to change course, then it is a much shorter step to persuading EU leaders, especially Angela Merkel, to drop the Northern Ireland backstop and deal with the border in the planned trade agreement.

If it doesn’t work, the solution will have to be more complicated. To start with, we should remember that WTO rules are just that. As we would become dependent on WTO rules for most of our trade, we would rightly want to be seen to support the institution. Nevertheless, while Britain has a long history of standing by its treaty obligations as a firm supporter of a rules-based world order, WTO rules do not apply directly in UK law. Furthermore, there is a long backlog of cases awaiting decision by the WTO Appellate Body.

So in the event of No Deal – and hence no agreed alternative arrangements – we should announce that we were putting on hold the implementation of certain WTO tariffs for Irish trade on those items most likely to offer opportunities to organised crime in Northern Ireland. Agricultural livestock and products would figure large in this plan and – unlike in mainland Britain – generous subsidy to protect farmers will not do the trick if large price differences across the border offer enhanced opportunities for smuggling.

Next, we need to introduce best practice from existing well-managed borders, like Switzerland. The key must be to use existing technology, based on satellites, cameras and perhaps drones, but networking it in an innovative fashion, bringing live feed together with tax databases and a range of other sources of information. I introduced one company with impressive experience in this field (not commercially linked to my own operation) to the informal but rigorous and well-grounded commission headed by Nicky Morgan and Greg Hands. I understand they found its input useful. It is likely that Ireland would co-operate with this approach once Brexit had occurred, but a great deal could be done on a unilateral basis.

Once workable systems were in place, we could tidy up the gaps in our WTO compliance and introduce whatever tariffs are required. If someone took us to the WTO tribunal in the meantime, our lawyers should be able to find small print around national security – or some other way of adding to the delays in that lengthy process – to give us time to get the new systems implemented and working.

Of course, No Deal would be followed by negotiations between Britain and the EU, and Irish arrangements would help to shape those negotiations, including exerting pressure on the EU to go light on tariffs affecting British-Irish trade. (That was, of course, the original reason why the EU insisted on dealing with the border before the trade agreement).

A great deal depends on Boris delivering Brexit on October 31st, including our national credibility, public support for our institutions and the very survival of the Conservative Party. But we have to get the Irish border issue right, whether we have negotiated a deal without the backstop or left with No Deal.

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Amazon fire: Ireland threatens to block EU trade deal with Latin American states if Brazil doesn’t ‘honour environmental commitments’

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will try to block a trade deal between the EU and the South American trading bloc Mercosur if Brazil “does not honour its environmental commitments”, amid widespread concerns over fires in the Amazon rainforest.

A record number of wildfires are taking place in Amazon, the rainforest that covers a vast swathe of the South American continent and much of Brazil, and produces around a fifth of the world’s oxygen according to figures from the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has gone on the offensive over the fires, with the populist leader suggesting NGOs are behind the blazes, which have increased by 85 per cent compared with last year, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. He has also claimed his government lacks the resources to fight the wildfires.

Amid growing international condemnation, the Irish PM said he would try to block the trade deal between European member states and the Latin American bloc, which consists of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay, if Brazil’s environmental actions are not up to par.

Blaming NGOs is ‘Orwellian’ move

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would try to block an EU-Mercosur trade deal. (Photo by Sam Boal – Pool/Getty Images)

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments,”  Mr Varadkar said in a statement.

“President Bolsonaro’s efforts to blame the fires on environmental NGOs is Orwellian,” he said.

“The Mercosur Deal is two years away from a vote on approval in Europe. During the course of these two years, we will monitor closely Brazil’s environmental actions.

“There is no way we can tell Irish and European farmers to use fewer pesticides, less fertilizer, embrace biodiversity and plant more of their land and expect them to do it, if we do not make trade deals contingent on decent environmental, labour and product standards,” he added.

Qualified majority

EU leaders during a European Council meeting on Brexit. (Photo : KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
EU leaders during a European Council meeting on Brexit. (Photo : KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

Under existing qualified majority rules, Ireland would have to find three more EU member states in the European Council, that make up at least 35 per cent of the EU population, to successfully block the EU-Mercosur trade deal.

But Mr Varadkar is not the only EU leader to express concern about the situation, with French President Emmanuel Macron having already called for the G7 Summit – the group of the world’s biggest economies that is meeting in Biarritz this weekend – to tackle the issue.

He tweeted: “Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20 per cent of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel also described the fires as an ‘acute emergency’ that should be discussed at the summit.
Fires, burning in the Amazon Rainforest, are pictured from space, captured by the geostationary weather satellite GOES-16 on August 21, 2019 Reuters

The deal, which was agreed in principle on 28 June, will eliminate €4bn in duties between the two blocs covering a population of 780 million people.

It will need to be ratified by the European Parliament and the 27 remaining member states, once the UK leaves, before it can come into force.

More on the Amazon

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Brexit, Johnson, Merkel, Macron – and 30 days in the wilderness

“We were also over-reliant on Angela Merkel, even after she showed us that she wasn’t as dependable a supporter as we might have wished,” wrote Daniel Korski, in his account of how David Cameron lost the EU referendum.  “She certainly seemed to take much more of a back seat during the final, crucial weeks of negotiations, giving advice, offering support and laying out red lines, but not getting too involved.”

An entire library could be assembled of stories claiming that Merkel would, at one time or another, come to the aid of a British Government during its to-and-fros with the European Union.  The claim is that Germany – as another pro-free trade, pro-American, pro-market economy country – is a natural UK ally.  But when push comes to shove, Merkel has stuck with France and the EU Commission.

Korski reminds his readers that she deserted Cameron over the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as the Commission’s President, to which she was originally opposed.   As with Cameron, so with Theresa May: as recently as February, the German Chancellor called for “creative” thinking on…yes, the Northern Ireland backstop.  “We can still use the time to perhaps reach an agreement if everyone shows good will,” she said.

And as with May so, now, with Boris Johnson.  Once again, Merkel has said that there is time to agree a deal – 30 days, to be precise.  “The backstop has always been a fall-back option until this issue is solved,” she said on Wednesday, during a join press conference with the Prime Minister.  “It was said we will probably find a solution in two years. But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?”

Some have put that remark alongside Emmanuel Macron’s declaration that “the framework that has been negotiated by Michel Barnier that can be adapted,” and concluded that the EU is preparing to blink at the last moment, climb down on the backstop, and present Johnson with an amended Withdrawal Agreement – which will then at last pass through Parliament, thus bringing this chapter of the Brexit story to a close.

According to one version of events, the Prime Minister himself believes that such an outcome is still possible, while others in his top team don’t.  If so, the balance of the argument strongly suggests that they are right, for four main reasons.  First, the EU collectively takes its ideology seriously, and this demands sticking with the Withdrawal Agreement, or an agreement so like it as to make no difference.

Second, it must show Donald Trump, and the rest of the world, that if it takes a position on a major strategic issue, such as Brexit, it will hold to it.  Third, Germany and France must ultimately be sensitive to the concerns of smaller EU countries, of which one is in the Brexit front line: Ireland.  Fourth, they have reason to wait, along with the rest of the EU, to see if the Commons, when it returns in September, blocks Brexit yet again.

Finally, it is worth remembering that Merkel’s position is not as dominant as it was during the Cameron years; and even then, to quote Korski once again, she was prone to “not getting too involved”.  Seen in this light, Merkel and Macron’s words – which in any event must be considered in the context of everything else they said – look more like more gambits in a blame game than a genuine change of heart.

Johnson wants to signal that he’s up for a deal: that was the point of his visits before this weekend’s G7 summit in Biarritz.  Macron and Merkel do, too: hence their hints of flexibility.  But the sum of the evidence is that “nothing has changed”.  In any event, it is far from certain that even a revised Withdrawal Agreement would get through Parliament.  That would require a Bill, which would of course be amendable, and time is very short.

If the EU had prized mutual gain over protecting its project, it wouldn’t have insisted that the Withdrawal Agreement precede trade talks.  Perhaps there will be a last minute shift after all, if Johnson can demonstrate that Parliament cannot stop the No Deal Brexit that his Government is actively preparing for: the European Council will meet on October 17.  But it appears that all concerned are now bracing for No Deal.

Some in Number Ten are hopeful that, if it happens, the EU will go for mass mini-deals – and so oil the wheels of economic co-operation.  That would be a rational response to the threat of recession in Germany and elsewhere, and the hard border in Ireland that a No Deal Brexit would bring.  But the EU’s clinging to the backstop, despite its commitment to seek alternative arrangements by December next year, suggests that rationality is in short supply.

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Northern Ireland’s remain parties admit to ‘grave concerns’ as UK lurches towards no-deal Brexit

Pro-remain political leaders in Northern Ireland have warned a no-deal Brexit will costs jobs and create chaos at the border with Ireland.

They told European Council President Donald Tusk thousands of jobs could be lost in the country amid disruption to cross-border trade.

An open letter was sent to the EU on behalf of the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long, the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and the Green Party’s Clare Bailey.

They wrote: “It is our view that the progress made in developing integrated and enduring relationships on this island, politically, economically and socially, over the last 20 years is far too important to abandon.

“Particularly at a moment when those relationships are being tested.”

‘All-island economy’

In Northern Ireland the road signs are in miles not kilometres (Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne/File/Reuters)
In Northern Ireland the road signs are in miles not kilometres (Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne/File/Reuters)

With the proposed exit date of 31 October was fast approaching, they warned: “As leaders of local political parties who represent the cross-community majority who voted to remain in the EU we have grave concerns about the current trajectory toward a no-deal Brexit and the impact this would have on our economy, our border and community cohesion.

“It is our view that a legally operable guarantee to protect the Good Friday Agreement, maintain north-south co-operation and preserve the all-island economy and to prevent a return to physical infrastructure on our border or physical checks at or near the border is necessary to preserve the progress that we have made.

“We trust that the approach adopted by the European institutions to defend all that we have achieved will continue in the weeks ahead.”

Angela Merkel gave Boris Johnson 30 days to find a formula for averting a no-deal Brexit by finding an alternative to the Irish backstop.

The issue was one of the thorniest issues in the negotiations that ended with Theresa may’s Brexit deal, which she then could not get through Parliament.

Her successor has demanded the backstop plan is abandoned.

‘Scare stories’

Northern Ireland’s largest party, the DUP, favours Brexit and had been propping up the Tories in key Westminster votes before it refused to support the Government over its proposed exit deal.

The DUP’s Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said a sensible deal was the best way to protect the 1998 peace agreement as he noted the absence of unionist support for the letter.

He said: “The Withdrawal Agreement fundamentally undermines the Belfast Agreement as it would erect a new border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

“The best way to protect the Belfast Agreement and enjoy a positive north-south relationship is to have a sensible deal as we exit the European Union.

“Those who peddle scare stories about barbed wire and soldiers on checkpoints are being irresponsible.

“Neither London nor Dublin have any plans to go back to the borders of the 70s and 80s, even in a no-deal scenario.”

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“The backstop is anti-democratic.” Johnson’s letter about it to Tusk. Full Text.

Dear Donald,

United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union

The date of the United Kingdom’s (UK) exit from the European Union (EU), 31 October, is fast approaching. I very much hope that we will be leaving with a deal. You have my personal commitment that this Government will work with energy and determination to achieve an agreement. That is our highest priority.

With that in mind, I wanted to set out our position on some key aspects of our approach, and in particular on the so-called “backstop” in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the Withdrawal Agreement. Before I do so, let me make three wider points.

First, Ireland is the UK’s closest neighbour, with whom we will continue to share uniquely deep ties, a land border, the Common Travel Area, and much else besides. We remain, as we have always been, committed to working with Ireland on the peace process, and to furthering Northern Ireland’s security and prosperity. We recognise the unique challenges the outcome of the referendum poses for Ireland, and want to find solutions to the border which work for all.

Second, and flowing from the first, I want to re-emphasis the commitment of this Government to peace in Northern Ireland. The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, as well as being an agreement between the UK and Ireland, is a historic agreement between two traditions in Northern Ireland, and we are unconditionally committed to the spirit and letter of our obligations under it in all circumstances – whether there is a deal with the EU or not.

Third, and for the avoidance of any doubt, the UK remains committed to maintaining the Common Travel Area, to upholding the rights of the people of Northern Ireland, to ongoing North-South cooperation, and to retaining the benefits of the Single Electricity Market.

The changes we seek relate primarily to the backstop. The problems with the backstop run much deeper than the simple political reality that it has three times been rejected by the House of Commons. The truth is that it is simply unviable, for these three reasons.

First, it is anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state.

The backstop locks the UK, potentially indefinitely, into an international treaty which will bind us into a customs union and which applies large areas of single market legislation in Northern Ireland. It places a substantial regulatory border, rooted in that treaty, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The treaty provides no sovereign means of exiting unilaterally and affords the people of Northern Ireland no influence over the legislation which applies to them.

That is why the backstop is anti-democratic.

Second, it is inconsistent with the UK’s desired final destination for a sustainable long-term relationship with the EU.

When the UK leaves the EU and after any transition period, we will leave the single market and the customs union. Although we will remain committed to world-class environment, product and labour standards, the laws and regulations to deliver them will potentially diverge from those of the EU. That is the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy.

The backstop is inconsistent with this ambition. By requiring continued membership of the customs union and applying many single market rules in Northern Ireland, it presents the whole of the UK with the choice of remaining in a customs union and aligned with those rules, or of seeing Northern Ireland gradually detached from the UK economy across a very broad ranges of areas. Both of those outcomes are unacceptable to the British Government.

Accordingly, as I said in Parliament on 25 July, we cannot continue to endorse the specific commitment, in paragraph 49 of the December 2017 Joint Report, to ‘full alignment’ with wide areas of the single market and the customs union. That cannot be the basis for the future relationship and it is not a basis for the sound governance of Northern Ireland.

Third, it has become increasingly clear that the backstop risks weakening the delicate balance embodied in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. The historic compromise in Northern Ireland is based upon a carefully negotiated balance between both traditions in Northern Ireland, grounded in agreement, consent, and respect for minority rights. While I appreciate the laudable intentions with which the backstop was designed, by removing control of such large areas of the commercial and economic life of Northern Ireland to an external body over which the people of Northern Ireland have no democratic control, this balance risks being undermined.

The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement neither depends upon nor requires a particular customs or regulatory regime.

The broader commitments in the Agreement, including to parity of esteem, partnership, democracy and to peaceful means of resolving differences, can be be met if we explore solutions other than the backstop.

Next Steps

For these three reasons the backstop cannot form part of an agreed Withdrawal Agreement. That is a fact we must both acknowledge. I believe the task before us is to strive to find other solutions, and I believe an agreement is possible.

We must, first, ensure there is no return to a hard border. One of the many dividends of peace in Northern Ireland and the vast reduction of the security threat is the disappearance of a visible border. This is something to be celebrated and preserved. This Government will not put in place infrastructure, checks, or controls at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We would be happy to accept a legally binding commitment to this effect and hope that the EU would do likewise.

We must also respect the aim to find “flexible and creative” solutions to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland. That means that alternative ways of managing the customs and regulatory differences contingent on Brexit must be explored. The reality is that there are already two separate legal, political, economic and monetary jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. This system is already administered without contention and with an open border.

The UK and the EU have already agreed that “alternative arrangements” can be part of the solution. Accordingly:

– I propose that the backstop should be replaced with a commitment to put in place such arrangements as far as possible before the end of the transition period, as part of the future relationship.

– I also recognise that there will need to be a degree of confidence about what would happen if these arrangements were not all fully in place at the end of that period. We are ready to look constructively and flexibly at whatcommitment might help, consistent of course with the principles set out in this letter.

Time is very short. But the UK is ready to move quickly, and given the degree of common ground already, I hope that the EU will be ready to do likewise. I am equally confident that our Parliament would be able to act rapidly if we were able to reach a satisfactory agreement which did not contain the “backstop”: indeed it has already demonstrated that there is a majority for an agreement on these lines.

I believe that a solution on the lines we are proposing will be more stable, more long lasting, and more consistent with the overarching framework of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement which has been decisive for peace in Northern Ireland. I hope that the EU can work energetically in this direction and for my part I am determined to do so.

I am copying this letter to the President of the European Commission and members of the European Council.

Yours ever,

Boris

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Lidl tells British suppliers to take on the cost of possible no-deal Brexit tariffs

Discount supermarket Lidl has said its UK suppliers must pay any EU tariffs that are brought in as a result of a no-deal Brexit.

The chain wants its UK suppliers to bear the brunt of paying any new export taxes from the UK to Ireland.

Lidl has written to suppliers saying they wanted confirmation that they would be “delivery duty paid-ready” – meaning the supplier pays any new tariffs for cross-border trade.

Boris Johnson has said he does not want to impose tariffs on imports into the UK but the Government will have no say on what the EU or other countries do.

Ireland is key market

Traffic passes a Brexit Border poster on the Dublin road Co Armagh border, between Newry in Northern Ireland and Dundalk in the Irish Republic (Photo: Getty)

A Lidl Ireland spokesperson confirmed to i it is contacting suppliers and that the delivery duty clause was in existing contracts.

The statement did not acknowledge the different tariffs of being an EU member and being outside the bloc without a deal.

According to The Sunday Times, which first reported the letter, tariffs on exports out of the UK would automatically be imposed by World Trade Organisation rules.

One supplier told the paper he expected Lidl to “take us to the precipice and threaten to delist our products” during negotiations.

Brexit trading

In 2018, the UK’s exports to the EU was £289 billion, or 46 per cent of all UK exports.

Wales and Northern Ireland were the UK regions with the highest percentage of exported goods  going to the EU.

Read more:

Operation Yellowhammer: social care providers’will start to go bust’ in a no deal Brexit

And the UK’s largest trade surplus in the EU was exports to Ireland at £16 billion.

Mr Johnson’s pledge to achieve Brexit with or without a deal by 31 October has also hit the pound, meaning higher costs for British companies.

The Sunday Times reported that if there’s a no-deal Brexit, exports to the EU would be subject to an average tariffs of 45 per cent on dairy products, 18 per cent on meat and 12 per cent on fruit and vegetables.

Sainsbury’s warning

The Lidl letter comes a week after former Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King warned a no-deal Brexit would bring shortages of fresh food.

Mr King told the BBC: “Let’s be clear, there’s about 10 days of food in the UK in total. There’s obviously a lot more than that in packaged goods and in frozen. So a very small number of days in fresh food.

Tarrifs could be applied on UK exports, but Boris Johnson wants to avoid the situation (Photo: Getty)

“The kind of disruption that the Government is talking about today, 50 per cent of vehicles being held up, will lead to gaps on the shelves within a week in the UK, significant gaps.”

Comment:

The secret Brexit document exposes the duplicity of those that led us into this no-deal debacle

A spokesperson for Lidl Ireland told i: “We have been working closely for over two years with external consultants, not only to get our business Brexit ready, but also to ensure our valued suppliers are as prepared as possible.

“We held a number of workshops with our suppliers to ensure they have all necessary information, certification and documentation to avoid any disruption to their respective supply chains.

“All existing Lidl contracts contain a DDP (Delivered Duty Paid) clause. In an effort to understand the level of preparedness of key UK suppliers we are communicating proactively with them and working together to resolve any potential barriers to supply. We are committed to delivering the best prices for Irish customers.”

Lidl Ireland said it was working with suppliers on post-Brexit contracts.

More Brexit

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A UK-US trade deal. Never mind the economics (at least for a moment). Feel the politics.

“While trade deals have taken on an important political and symbolic value in the context of Brexit,” Dominic Walsh of Open Europe wrote recently on this site, “their economic benefits are typically smaller and slower to materialise than many realise.” This is the place to start when considering a possible UK-US agreement on trade.  Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for one is as much political as economic: a successful deal would show Britain, as it moves a bit further from the EU, also moving a bit closer to America.

Such a rebalancing is a strategic consequence of Brexit, at least in the eyes of many backers of leaving the EU.  Future trade deals were a Vote Leave EU referendum priority – though it may be significant that the United States was not one of the headline countries named.  Perhaps the reason was a wariness of anti-American sentiment among a section of the voting public.  None the less, the prospect of a trade agreement with the United States was mooted during the 2016 campaign: hence Barack Obama’s line, written for him by Team Cameron, of Britain being “at the back of the queue” for such a deal.

The obstacles to one are formidable.  For while the Prime Minister is bound to view it through the lens of politics, Donald Trump is more likely to do through that of economics – though the one admittedly tends to blur into the other.  America’s approach to such matters as food safety and animal welfare, environmental protection and intellectual property rights is different from ours in any event.  Never mind the red herring of chlorinated chickens – so to speak – or autopilot claims from Corbynistas about NHS selloffs. The real action is elsewhere.  The United States has long had a protectionist streak, and is resistant to opening up its financial services markets, for example.

The conventional view is that Trump is the biggest America Firster of all; that he would drive a hard bargain, that he has the muscle to do so – and that he wouldn’t be in control of an agreement anyway.  Congress could block one if it wished, and might well do so in the event of No Deal, since the Irish-American lobby is as well-entrenched as ever.  It has been a headache for British governments over Ireland-linked matters before: remember the McBride principles.  A different take is that politics may win out in the end, because both Trump and Congress will want a UK trade deal in order to put economic and political pressure on the EU: we will publish more about that later this week.

John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, is visiting Britain.  He said yesterday that the UK will be “first in line” for a trade agreement post-Brexit – a deliberate counter to Obama’s line.  Bolton will be dangling the prospect as an inducement.  He will want Johnson to take a more resistant line to Huawei than Theresa May did, and for the UK to move closer to America’s position on Iran.  But the possibility of early sector deals – or at least the exclusion of Britain from new pro-protection moves – seems to be real enough.  As with the NHS, policing, immigration and stop and search, so with trade.  Johnson wants progress towards a quick win as a possible election looms.

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Boris Johnson’s appointment should prompt Leo Varadkar to reset the Irish Government’s Brexit stance

Last weekend Northern Ireland played host to the British Open for the first time since 1948. Irishman Shane Lowry won emphatically and as the week rolled on, the congratulations continued to roll in for the Offaly man. Naturally our media-savvy Taoiseach was quick with the praise and, as so often is the case, what was particularly interesting to see on Mr. Varadkar’s Twitter feed was not his congratulation but what lay below that – a seemingly innocuous tweet referencing a French minister’s pledge of Brexit solidarity with Ireland.

In fact, this is a symptom of something much greater and we don’t have to delve too deep into the recesses of our memories to the last time Mr. Varadkar stood by a promise from the French government.

When I cast my mind back to Leo and his trademark grin propping up the under-pressure Emmanuel Macron in March as he pledged his solidarity to the Irish, I wince. Only a couple of days later, the French leader was holding up Brexit extension talks to the detriment of the Irish. A No Deal and no plan on the Northern border meant Ireland would have temporarily been withdrawn from the customs union until such a time that we could verify all goods leaving Ireland had not come from the North.

At the time, Simon Coveney refused to entertain the notion of border checks and simultaneously refused to accept the possibility that Irish goods could be stopped in the Irish Sea before entering Europe through France or elsewhere – two contradictory ideas. The Irish Government sees Brexit as a zero-sum game and this is detrimental. 

Interestingly, as Brendan Simms pointed out last week, this approach by the Taoiseach and his Government may well be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. Simms argues that if Varadkar insists on refusing to allow checks at the North-South Border, then equally he should refuse to create checks in the Irish Sea. As the border checks would affect Nationalists in Northern Ireland, the check in the Irish Sea would affect Unionists in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, Varadkar’s insistence on supporting nationalists and ignorance towards unionists is diametrically against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which acknowledges the rights of both Nationalists and Unionists. Therefore, it is in the interest of the Taoiseach to seek an outcome that satisfies this agreement and their zero-sum approach is particularly lacking.  

To borrow more thoughts from the Irish golfing success, it is interesting to note how many people delivered their praise while referencing how this result was “fantastic for such a small country”. Common among praise from Irish people was a sense of ‘aren’t we great punching above our weight?’.

However, I would vehemently disagree with such an affectation being attached to our success as a nation in any regard. Not only does Ireland produce a significant number of top-class sport stars (England’s Cricket World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan honed his cricket ability in my own school), we compete on the world stage on a number of levels – industry, arts and of course business.

We are a small island, but one that belongs on the world stage; we don’t momentarily appear on it. However, when our Taoiseach stands up and remarks that Boris Johnson’s claims are “not in the real world” and that he will not discuss any terms with the UK,  he perpetuates a small nation attitude. 

This has been the Taoiseach’s approach for some time now, as he regularly made jibes and slights at Theresa May’s expense. A nationalistic overture runs rapid through Mr. Varadkar’s Brexit rhetoric and, as I have discussed, this is damaging to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and all the good it does for people on the island of Ireland.

With Boris Johnson installed as the new Prime Minister and his new Cabinet now having been revealed, there is a chance for a new approach to Brexit for European leaders and, in particular, for Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.

Ireland might be a geographically small country, but there is no need for us to behave like a small nation and, while the new Prime Minister may be accused of unfortunate comments in the past, we should never measure ourselves with someone else’s ruler. The changing Cabinet brings with it a chance for change and a chance to lift the deadlock on Brexit. 

The post Boris Johnson’s appointment should prompt Leo Varadkar to reset the Irish Government’s Brexit stance appeared first on BrexitCentral.

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