Northern Ireland and the ‘Soft Border’ Option

by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from Letter to Britain

Thanks to the dedication of thousands of people, the problems that plagued Northern Ireland for decades have all but disappeared. While we mourn those lost during ‘The Troubles’ we must move forward and provide the best possible future for the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The best way to continue to move forward is for a ‘soft’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland so that the free movement of people and unimpeded trade may continue along the 310 mile border.

Many people on both sides of the border meet for tea, travel across the border to shop, or are employed on the other side of the border and it would be unfair to require these people to face a regular border crossing twice daily. And a hard border would definitely hinder trade, which trade is a vital part of the local economy along both sides of the divide.


A dedicated ‘Commonwealth and Ireland’ line at UK ports of entry

The smartest thing the Home Office UK Visas and Immigration department could do is to create a separate queue line at all UK ports of entry and mark it “Commonwealth and Ireland” so that people from Commonwealth countries or from the Republic of Ireland have a dedicated and streamlined entry into Britain.

In this way, goods and people can move much more efficiently between those jurisdictions.

If it sounds like I want to favour people from Commonwealth nations, you’re right. If it sounds like I want to favour people from Northern Ireland who may decide to fly to Britain, you’d be right. And if it sounds like I want Republic of Ireland citizens to easily travel to any part of the UK, you’d be right in that assumption.


Special Treatment at UK ports of entry: A ‘Nexus Card’ for frequent travelers between Ireland and any UK port of entry

Here in North America, citizens who cross the U.S. / Canada border can apply for a Nexus Card or an Enhanced Driver’s Licence — either of which dramatically speed border crossing times for holders of those cards — and not incidentally, also lowers wait times for the people in the non-Nexus lineups because fewer people (or vehicles) are traveling in that particular queue — it’s a bonus for frequent travelers in North America.

Such a streamlined customs experience should be extended to all Irish citizens as a courtesy — and for the Republic of Ireland in exchange for their help in patrolling and securing the soft border with Northern Ireland.


The UK Government (UK.gov) Paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland

Stormont is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Stormont is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Image courtesy of visitbelfast.com

“The UK government pledges to protect the Belfast Agreement and Common Travel Area in new position paper published August 16, 2017.

The Government has today published a comprehensive paper which outlines the UK’s position on addressing the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and the land border with Ireland.

The position paper — which has been published ahead of the August negotiating round — states that the Government will protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) and associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, and put upholding the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement at the heart of its Exit negotiations.

The paper also puts forward proposals on avoiding a hard border on the movement of goods — making clear the UK’s position that there should be no physical infrastructure at the border — and plans to preserve the wide range of institutional cooperation between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain including for the energy market.” — From the UK.gov website


Trade Between the UK and the Republic of Ireland

Billions of pounds sterling in trade crosses between the UK and the Republic of Ireland and a significant amount of it is spent in the small and medium-sized business (SME) trade. Keeping the border open, yet enhancing security will be a challenge for both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but with good will and some visionary thinking it shouldn’t be too difficult to get an agreement that benefits the largest number of people.

Brexit - Ireland and UK trade
Brexit – Ireland and UK trade in numbers. Image courtesy of cso.ie

A Soft Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is in everyone’s interest

For as long as the Republic of Ireland remains a member of the European Union it’s in everyone’s best interests to keep the soft border arrangement and to work together to enhance security on both sides of that soft border by any reasonable means.

If that means having facial recognition technology and vehicle license plate readers at all government buildings and properties, ferry terminals and international airports in Northern Ireland and Britain, it’s a small price to pay to preserve and enhance security for the EU, for the Republic of Ireland, and the UK including Northern Ireland.

The soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland must work for citizens of each country, for small (and large) business, and it must ensure a high level of security for both the EU and the UK. This is one Brexit negotiation that must succeed for the benefit of all.


Related Article:

 

The Brexit Team: Swiss Watch or Contraption?

by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from LettertoBritain.com

One of the most credible economic stewards to serve Britain in a long time is the inscrutable Philip Hammond who has done nothing but improve the UK economy since the day he was sworn in to the post. Which was merely an extension of him having been born for the job, it seems.

It’s not only that; Mr. Hammond’s word carries a lot of weight in foreign capitals, and in the EU his word is his bond. Soft-spoken, adroit and adept, Hammond is one of the darlings of financial capitals everywhere and it’s a great thing to see him in his element.

So began Prime Minister Theresa May’s summer vacation, where she and her husband (also named Philip) went off to Switzerland to take the mountain air and hold long and meaningful conversations at full stride up the Matterhorn.

Leaving the country in the capable hands of Philip Hammond must be a comforting thought for Theresa May as she and hubby blow past the tourists struggling to get to the top for a selfie. My advice: Just get out of their way or you’ll get run over. Seriously.


The Exchequer comments on post-Brexit Immigration

However wonderful it is having a powerful Exchequer, there is the temptation for them to overstep their bounds and cross over into the areas of responsibility reserved for the Prime Minister.

And just as predictably as that; Before Theresa May had gotten her first alpine air, Hammond told reporters, “there should be no immediate changes to immigration or trading rules when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.” (Sky News)

It’s forgivable, and probably wise for Conservatives to be seen voicing the concerns of voters on both sides of Brexit. However, Exchequers should stick to their primary interest (the economy!) and let others, whose direct responsibility it is, to hold forth on immigration issues.


With Theresa away, the Remainers will play

While Theresa May gets some mountain air, the Remainers in the Prime Minister’s cabinet are clearing the air by presenting their side of Brexit — and that’s fine. But let’s make certain that fair play rules are enforced; Which means that cabinet officers publicly comment only on their primary area of responsibility. Only the Prime Minister has the authority to publicly comment on all matters, otherwise it looks like a circus.

Every misstep is celebrated in foreign capitals. People in the EU who may be opposed to Brexit are incredibly strengthened by each implied criticism directed towards the Prime Minister by members of her cabinet.

The entire period of Brexit is a highly unique time, a time where all Britons must pull together and come to the realization that many in the EU are fighting for a ‘Win-Lose’ outcome, an outcome where Britain loses vis-à-vis the European Union.

Meanwhile, the best of the Brexiters are fighting for a ‘Win-Win’ outcome where both Britain and the EU win. And those are the people I’m putting my money on.


Clear Lines + Clear Thinking = Positive Results

There’s nothing wrong with MP’s on both sides of Brexit informing the public about how they would proceed on any matter — as a sort of trial balloon to gauge public mood. That can be useful moving forward by keeping those who voted Remain interested and engaged with Brexit, and there is every opportunity that Remainers may come up with excellent ideas related to soft Brexit implementation within their field of expertise.

But greater care must be taken to avoid strengthening the hand of anti-Brexit forces in the EU, now that Britain has finally! asserted her rights.

Government ministers must draw the distinction between legitimate discussions about how Remainers (read: Soft Brexiters) or vocal Brexiters (read: Hard Brexiters) would handle any Brexit issue — and how the wrong sort of discussions or even the wrong tone of discussions could work against Britain in foreign capitals. The wrong public discourse works against both versions of Brexit.

Let’s not be naive. Each misstep by anyone in the UK government is celebrated at the EU Parliament and certain EU capitals. Whatever is going on behind the scenes within the UK government, a unified face must be presented to the world in order to obtain the best Brexit result.


Controlling the Narrative: Job #1 for Every Prime Minister

UK government ministers, and possibly even the Prime Minister herself may not yet realize the extent to which the world now sees the United Kingdom as a completely different entity. The UK no longer exists as only one of 28 EU members, and what the UK will eventually become, is unfolding every day like an onion being unpeeled.

Is the UK destined to become a nation of cross-talkers, mixed messages and unreliable partners? Or is Britain starting with a clean sheet to become all that she can and should become in the 21st-century?

Only the Prime Minister knows, as she’s the one holding the pen. Let’s see what script she writes.


Related Article:

This Week in Brexit: The Conservatives weak negotiating hand

by John Brian ShannonReposted from LetterToBritain.com

This Week in Brexit

One of the reasons that I’m a Theresa May fan is that she took a highly principled position by calling an election prior to Brexit, presumably to further legitimize her premiership with voters and thereby gain a stronger negotiating hand heading into Brexit negotiations.

Prior to becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May had been an MP for 20 years and served as Home Secretary for 6 years — and only then was she named to the post of Prime Minister by the Conservative Party when former PM David Cameron stepped down. Which is to say, Theresa May is as legitimate as any UK Prime Minister ever appointed (but not elected to) the PM’s chair.

Nevertheless, at the most important political moment in since the end of WWII, Theresa May decided to further legitimize her premiership by calling a snap election and (hopefully) cause her party to rally ’round her in time for the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Thereby empowering Britain in its dealings with the European Union.

By any definition it was an admirable plan.


It Worked! (Somewhat)

Except for the Conservative MP’s that didn’t campaign hard for her and were only interested in maintaining their position as a Member of Parliament, and excepting the millions of former UKIP voters — only some of them supported the Conservatives on election day.

All in all, a surprising result.

Perhaps three terrorist incidents in the UK within 90 days of the election changed the mood of the electorate, or maybe when confronted with an actual Brexit complete with veiled threats emanating from some EU capitals it’s possible some British voters felt cowed into lowering their Brexit expectations.

If so, that would be a shameful indictment on the British people, the people who succeeded admirably even after suffering horribly in two world wars and are a people who carry-on through all manner of terror attacks, other social upheavals, recessions, and Britain’s famously inclement weather.


Now with a ‘weaker hand’ Theresa May must pull-off a reasonable Brexit

How to do more, with less? That’s the job facing Prime Minister Theresa May over the next five years.

It’s an unenviable position for a longstanding British MP (20 years) with 6 years as Home Secretary to her credit and 1 year as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who deserved better from her party and from voters.

At least 42.4% of UK voters agree with Theresa May (see BBC election chart here) which was a gain of 5.5% for the Conservatives since the last election when David Cameron became Prime Minister. The business community likes the progress on the economy, and she is highly regarded by foreign leaders.

She deserves better than she’s gotten.


Methinks there are strings being pulled in places that we know not…

But just for the record, let’s look at a July 17 poll result from an internationally recognized polling firm.

One year on from the Brexit vote and business sentiment remains high
One year on from the Brexit vote and business sentiment remains high

One year on from the Brexit vote and business sentiment remains high (Says it all, doesn’t it?) Click image to enlarge.


Another chart for the doubters

One thing that Britons have every right to be proud of is the National Healthcare Service (NHS) and in recent years it has begun to score well in the prestigious Commonwealth Fund rankings. In fact, the 2017 ranking puts the NHS in 1st place over 10 other wealthy nation healthcare systems. But you’d never think it because (according to some) the NHS is falling apart at the seams.

Just as former PM David Cameron was rightfully proud of the 2013 Commonwealth Fund ranking (1st place) so Prime Minister Theresa May should feel proud of the 2017 NHS ranking (1st place) even as some of the countries named in the study improved on their 2013 rankings.

UK and 10 other countries, Health Care System Performance Rankings
UK and 10 other countries, Health Care System Performance Rankings

UK and 10 other countries, Health Care System Performance Rankings, courtesy of the Commonwealth Fund (2017) Click image to enlarge.

For comparison purposes, I’ve included the 2013 Commonwealth Fund ranking graphic below.

UK tag, The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries, courtesy of the Commonwealth Fund (2013)
The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries, courtesy of the Commonwealth Fund (2013)

The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries, courtesy of the Commonwealth Fund (2013) Click image to enlarge.


One more chart that uses actual facts to combat negative perceptions — shows how well the UK is faring

This chart shows GDP in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which illustrates that purchasing power of both UK citizens and expats is increasing — even though (according to some) the sky is falling every day!

UK GDP per capita Purchasing Power Parity PPP
UK GDP per capita Purchasing Power Parity PPP

UK GDP per capita Purchasing Power Parity PPP. Source: tradingeconomics.com Click image to enlarge.

With all of that going for the UK in 2017 (and more positives that I haven’t included because I don’t want to drown you in charts) you’d think that Prime Minister Theresa May would get plenty of respect from her party, from certain media outlets and from voters.

But apparently in the United Kingdom, almost-perfect scores aren’t good enough to get the Prime Minister the majority she needed to allow the country to cruise through Brexit. And that’s a shame.

This Week in Brexit: Trump Promises a Trade Deal

by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from LetterToBritain.com

This Week in Brexit

On the sidelines of the G20 Hamburg summit, U.S. President Trump found time to meet with UK Prime Minister May and to offer welcome words that the United States will sign a bilateral trade deal with the UK as soon as Brexit is complete.

It’s very good news for the UK and also for PM Theresa May (who has had a rough time in domestic politics of late) and it was obvious that the U.S. president went out of his way to assure Ms. May that a reciprocal trade agreement — one that works for both America and for Britain — is one of his administration priorities.

So much of the UK’s post-Brexit success will hinge on bilateral trade accords because no matter how good the final Brexit agreement, there will be some amount of economic adjustment for Britain in the months following Brexit. A quick trade agreement with the United States will not only ease the Brexit transition, but also  improve the UK (and America’s) economy indefinitely.

It was a classy thing for Mr. Trump to do for Theresa May knowing that her domestic political fortunes have taken a hit. Let’s hope the Prime Minister is able to return the favour at some point during the Trump administration. That sort of respect makes for strong allies.

During WWI, but especially during WWII the relationship between America and Britain was raised to a very high level by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Harry S. Truman, and in the postwar era during a time of unprecedented economic growth, President Ike Eisenhower continued the wise course set by his predecessor.

However, it could’ve so easily gone the other way if the leaders hadn’t gotten along.

Both sides would’ve missed geopolitical opportunities of huge importance such as the formation of NATO, the establishment of the Nuremberg trials and the creation of other institutions and agreements such as Bretton Woods and the IMF. Without the ambition of the UK and the power of the United States those things simply wouldn’t have occurred.

Millions of Americans and Britons prospered over the past 72 years because their postwar political leaders *didn’t drop the ball* and made a conscious decision to *make the best of the postwar relationship* for their respective people.


What Kind of Free Trade Agreement Should Prime Minister May and President Trump pursue in the post- Brexit timeframe? (Hint: A ‘Win-Win‘ agreement)

Present-day Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau was still in school when Canada first approached the European Union to ask about a bilateral trade deal, and that many years later it still hasn’t come into effect. (It’s about to, they say)

It will have taken eight years to hammer out and begin to abide by, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which arrives so late in the game and market conditions do change over time (remember way back to the 2008/09 financial crisis when the CETA agreement was first floated?) that some of the hard-won negotiating points are no longer relevant and may never be finalized.

Canada, EU to provisionally apply CETA in September (CBC)

I’m sure it’s a fine agreement and congratulations are due. However, with America and Britain at the controls of a mutually beneficial trade agreement between two friendly Anglophone nations, it should take less than a year from first discussion to signed agreement.

Though we don’t know what shape an Anglo-American trade agreement might look like from our vantage point in July of 2017, probably the best idea would be for both sides to embrace reciprocity and fair dealing in all trade matters as a way to enhance both economies, and as a way to later attract other Anglophone nations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand to sign on to such an agreement.

Hitting the Right Note with Commonwealth of Nations member India

What a great thing it would be if all Commonwealth nations eventually agreed to sign on to a U.S. / UK trade agreement. Commonwealth of Nations member India has 1.5 billion consumers alone!

Both America and Britain could add 5% to their respective GDP just on the improved trade flows of doing business in the booming Indian economy.

“Although India’s rapid population growth is part of what accounts for the forecasted jump […] that is only part of the story. Drastic improvement in terms of per-person productivity due to capital investments and better technology will play an even more important role.

“PwC predicts that India’s economy will grow by about 4.9% per year from 2016 to 2050, with only 0.7% of that growth caused by population growth.

“India’s economy is currently the third-largest in the world, and is expanding at an estimated annual growth rate of 7.1% for the 2016-17 financial year. —  India’s economy is forecast to surpass that of the US by 2040  (Quartz)

Both America and Britain just need to hit the right note with India — a respectful note — in order to profit from the massive growth that is available in that burgeoning country.

Working out an Anglo-American trade agreement with a view to adding all Commonwealth member nations within 24 months, guarantees that other powerful trade blocs don’t beat the Anglo-American alliance to supply the rocketing Indian economy with much-needed goods and services.

Projected growth for selected countries – As measured by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)

UK Brexit free trade deal with United States and with Commonwealth partner India
UK Brexit free trade deal with United States and with Commonwealth partner India.


It’s so obvious but still worth repeating; ‘Hitch your wagon to the fastest horses if you want to place well in the race.’

Britain has the Commonwealth of Nations connections, Britain needs a trade agreement with NATO ally America and with Commonwealth partner India, and the United States wants to increase mutually beneficial trade with Britain and its 2-billion-strong Commonwealth partners.

In all of human history, rarely has such a synergistic match-up suddenly appeared where different but extremely valuable benefits are available to all three parties.

Just as nobody predicted the massive Japanese economic boom which began to form the day after WWII ended, an Anglo-American trade agreement, followed by a Commonwealth trade agreement (before other trade blocs grab the low-hanging fruit!) could match or exceed the massive performance statistics of the postwar Japanese economy.

Dear United States and Commonwealth of Nations, Let’s not miss this rather obvious ‘Win-Win-Win’ opportunity!

Getting to a ‘Win-Win’ Brexit

Written by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from LetterToBritain.com

What results can Britons hope for during the next two-years of Brexit negotiations?

In the aftermath of the UK General Election 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May has her work cut out for her.

With the whole country and indeed the world looking on, Brexit negotiations are set to begin next week. One note that inspires some early confidence is the mild but useful cabinet shuffle announced by PM May at the weekend.


PM Theresa May must gain control of borders and the numbers of people allowed into the UK

It’s become clear over many months that immigration levels are seen by many citizens as too high and that far too much ‘catering’ to the needs of refugees and economic immigrants has been allowed to occur.

Of course it makes sense to take care of people new to the country and few would begrudge decent treatment for people looking for a better life free from persecution in the case of refugees, and in the case of economic migrants having the ability to earn a living and a shot at a real life.

However, when the migrants seem to be doing better than the 13 million Britons who make up the bottom economic quintile group it’s a sign that adjustments are in order.

NOTE: The UK’s bottom economic quintile group report average incomes of £6146 (original income) £13,841 (final income) and £11,883 (disposable income) – uk.gov

Either because of young age combined with entry-level work or part-time work, or poor opportunities for less-educated older members of the workforce, or diminishing opportunities in their chosen career due to market forces, the bottom quintile group suffers from lower-income, poorer health, poorer housing, and lower life satisfaction index scores. They also die younger, spend more time in hospitals, and as a quintile have more dealings with police and security agencies.

Through no fault of their own (as offshoring of jobs isn’t their fault, nor is increased immigration where lower paying jobs are taken by cheaper labour immigrant workers) this group costs the UK economy billions of pounds sterling every year.

If there were jobs available for the people in the bottom quintile they would take them, and no longer find themselves in the bottom fifth with all the attendant costs to themselves, their families, and to UK society

But the simple fact is, in the UK there are many more people looking for work, than there are jobs available — and this is particularly true since the beginning of the influx of eastern European immigrants and refugees from other regions.

This means ‘hard’ borders with real border guards and guns. It means people must be turned away if they don’t meet all of the requirements to enter the country and it means that those non-UK-citizens presently in the country must register their status with the Home Office by January 1st of each year, with updated address, phone number, employment details, or if a student their university details, etc. and pay an annual fee of 100 pounds sterling to the Home Office.

It really isn’t much to ask when the positive is that they get to live in one of the best countries on the planet.


PM Theresa May must insure that all offshore areas presently under EU jurisdiction and formerly under the jurisdiction of Great Britain, must be returned to the UK

UK fishers, those in the undersea resource extraction field, and corporations that build wind turbine installations in the North Sea were under the authority of the EU while the UK was a member of the European Union, however, now that the UK is leaving the EU, maritime borders must revert to their previous status.

Not only will jurisdiction revert to the United Kingdom, but the responsibility to patrol and protect those waterways will once again fall to the Royal Navy and the RAF. The primary responsibility of every government on the planet is to protect its citizens, and that means spending significant time and resources to protect the land, sea, and air boundaries of the country. Real countries don’t ‘contract it out’ to other nations. If you want it done right, do it yourself.

I hope Theresa May won’t get shouted down by EU negotiators on this primary and important aspect of statehood.

Not only are the fishing zones rich, but so are the undersea resources, as are the wind and wave resources for corporations that spend billions to build offshore wind farms.

In their entirety, UK marine zones represent almost uncountable riches, and the European Union can’t be happy about losing their claim on these abundant waters.


PM Theresa May must negotiate a reciprocal expat agreement that works for both UK and EU expats

At present, 1.3 million British citizens live in the EU, while 3.3 million EU citizens live in the United Kingdom.

But neither the European Union nor the United Kingdom has any particular obligation to host the others’ citizens after Brexit.

For example, EU citizens living in the UK have no special status and the UK isn’t obligated to allow them to continue to live or work in a post-Brexit Britain. The same is true for Britons presently living in the EU whether they are working on the continent, attending university there, or have retired in the European Union.

One would like to think a standardized agreement for reciprocal expat rights can be signed immediately between the two blocs.

But it’s a situation where the benefits to politicians are relatively small, as only tiny numbers of voters are involved out of Europe’s total population of 504 million.

In the (hypothetical) worst-case scenario, three times as many EU citizens would be required to return to the EU while only 1.3 million Britons would be required to leave the European Union following Brexit.

Wouldn’t it be great if politicians could agree on a standardized bill of rights for all European expats?

Instead of the usual tug-of-war where the only eventuality is a ‘Win-Lose’ outcome, all European leaders should broaden their worldview and seek a pan-European ‘Win-Win’ agreement that works for all expats.

Goodwill and a ‘Win-Win’ attitude will be everything in regards to successful Brexit negotiations

Without those two ingredients, leaders on both sides will buy themselves years of misery and bad polls: But by employing those ingredients in generous measure, European leaders on both sides of the Brexit negotiations will prove their world-class credentials and abilities to 7.4 billion onlookers.