Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Farry: A People's Vote can help dig us out of hole Brexit has now become

Stephen Farry
Stephen Farry

By Stephen Farry

This will be a critical week for the Brexit process and therefore Northern Ireland.

This is broader than what happens around the meaningful vote in Parliament tomorrow, but also the fallout and what happens next.

There is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit. There will be costs and lost opportunities under all scenarios. It is a profoundly irrational process that cannot resolve the contradictions and dilemmas it exposes. Essentially, only three broad options are open.

Alliance's preference is we reconsider Brexit itself via a People's Vote, with Article 50 either extended or revoked to facilitate this.

Democracy is not a static event but a process. However, if Brexit is to happen, then this withdrawal agreement is what it looks like.

Central to that is the Northern Ireland backstop. This hasn't been imposed. Rather it is a rational response to protect the particular circumstances of this society and economy.

It also points to a possible future relationship and offers this region some potential comparative advantages through having preferential access to the GB and EU markets.

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The DUP are badly out of step with the majority of political opinion and most of the business community and civil society, who see the backstop in pragmatic terms. Whatever else happens, it is crucial to bank the backstop.

All of those pushing alternative approaches to Brexit, either through ditching the backstop or promoting specific future relationships without recognising the need for the withdrawal agreement and the backstop first, are engaging in delusions and chasing unicorns.

The Labour frontbench is particularly disingenuous in chasing fantasy solutions.

A no-deal outcome must be avoided in all circumstances. It is encouraging in Parliament there is a clear majority against this.

However, until that crystallises into an actual alternative, no-deal remains the legal default. This would be a major crisis for Northern Ireland. Immediate challenges would include the supply of certain products. There would be inevitable requirements regarding some form of border on the island. This is a wider issue than the nature and location of any infrastructure.

Significant issues would be posed from a regulatory border and gaps in mutual recognition, for example around data-sharing. This could severely impact the service sector. Defaulting to WTO rules is no answer. Most discussion falls on tariffs without considering non-tariff barriers and the service economy. WTO rules are the floor for world trade. The EU offers a much more sophisticated system.

There is not a choice between trading with the rest of the world and trading with the EU, rather trading with the rest of the world through the EU and its strong ability to make balanced trade deals.

Stephen Farry MLA is deputy leader of the Alliance Party

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