Belfast Telegraph

Compromises there may be, but it's better than suffering consequences of no-deal Brexit scenario


Pro-Brexit supporters in Whitehall yesterday
Pro-Brexit supporters in Whitehall yesterday
John Simpson

By John Simpson

Prime Minister Theresa May has worked hard to get the Brexit negotiations to the point where there is enough agreement to launch a proposed deal in Parliament. The EU negotiators have given some ground to keep alive the hope that, eventually, a new relationship for the UK with the EU (of 27 states) can be agreed.

At this stage, the written deal has not been published.

Only senior ministers have had a chance to see the detail.

However, the expectations are that the crisis of 'no deal' can be avoided, unless Westminster now rejects the draft deal. There should be little doubt that no deal would impose costs and hardship on a large scale.

Avoiding no deal is worth paying the costs of some of the disadvantages of the compromise now being offered.

For Northern Ireland, the compromise deal should be assessed from different perspectives.

First, the nature of the impact on the whole of the UK economy and second, the specific separate subsidiary issues affecting Northern Ireland.

The full deal allows an exit from the EU to be phased and much less disruptive than what might have happened.

While the UK will have the flexibility to develop new trading and support arrangements with other countries (not being tied to EU deals), the expectation is that for continuing normal trade in manufactured goods, sticking to a common rule book trade between the UK and the EU can continue on a near seamless basis.

The UK will aim, if it suits its interests, to maintain regulatory alignment with the evolving EU.

Of course there are hundreds of specific economic and social relationships between the EU states and these must be converted into separate agreements.

No doubt some will be tricky, others may be easily converted into changed but undamaged new relationships.

Aviation agreements to allow intra-European flights can be transitioned.

The specific Northern Ireland issues may prove difficult unless there is an improved understanding of what the London and Brussels negotiators hope to achieve.

The starting ambition is to make sure that there is no serious disruption of the benefits that have developed over the last 40-plus years from the extensive social and economic inter-changes which have become part of everyday life across this island. The ambition of proponents of 'backstops' is to avoid the costs and disruption of a return to the cross-border arrangements of the 1950s.

Enhancing the present level of cross-border integration is a legitimate objective.

For neither the UK or Irish Governments is this a constitutional policy. Avoiding cross-border obstacles is a positive gain whether in this island, Gibraltar or in Cyprus.

The retention of the high degree of social and economic integration can only be assured if there are administrative procedures to regulate and monitor some events whether on grounds of animal health, implementing VAT or excise duties, or regulatory alignment.

On a political level, that will usually be interpreted as routine administration. Classifying the steps to minimise the trading impact of a national border as a constitutional event is an unintended consequence.

Mrs May has tabled what seems to be a difficult compromise.

Faced with the absence of any other practical option, her deal does not deserve to be deemed unacceptable.

  • John Simpson is an economist and commentator

Belfast Telegraph