Three Quick Ways to Solve the Irish Backstop Issue

With less than 50-days until the official Brexit date of March 29, 2019, no Withdrawal Agreement exists to guide future relations between the UK and the EU.

Although no reference to a such a withdrawal agreement appeared on the 2016 referendum ballot it seemed appropriate that UK and EU governments should attempt to create such a legal document in order to facilitate a better future relationship.

Subsequently, the two governments agreed to create a ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ (WA) document and try to have it ratified by their respective houses of Parliament. And while the EU27 hasn’t tried to ratify the agreement, UK Prime Minister Theresa May offered it up for consideration in the House of Commons where it was voted down by a margin of 230 votes in one of the largest defeats in the history of the United Kingdom.

MP’s vote down EU withdrawal agreement in resounding defeat for Prime Minister Theresa May

The 585-page Withdrawal Agreement was diligently prepared by Theresa May and her Ministers and there’s no doubt that the EU side also worked ceaselessly to produce it, yet British MP’s were singularly unimpressed by the ‘backstop’ clause dealing with the Irish border. That particular section of the agreement is 175-pages long, plus 10-pages of addenda. Yikes!

In any event, all parties in the House of Commons voted it down handing in the worst defeat for a governing party in the House in 100-years, thereby stalling further progress on Brexit negotiations.

So, if you arrived here looking for the reason why no agreement exists to guide Brexit with less than 50-days until the official Brexit date, you’ve found it.

The Irish Backstop portion of the WA (185-pages in total) is solely responsible for the lack of a Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU. But the remaining 400-pages would pass in the UK House of Commons in minutes — and would easily pass in all of the EU27 countries too. There’s simply no dispute in the WA, except for the portion that deals with ‘the Irish backstop’.


As ‘the Irish Backstop’ has Failed, What Alternatives Exist?

Until last week, everyone involved in Brexit negotiations was locked-on to the idea of getting the Withdrawal Agreement passed through the House of Commons and then getting it passed in the EU27 parliaments.

And now that it has failed so massively, we are compelled to seek other options and such options to resolve the Irish backstop issue are only limited by our creativity.

  1. The territory of Northern Ireland was created a couple of centuries ago when the ruling Monarch of Great Britain purchased the territory and it thenceforth became part of Great Britain. Therefore, Northern Ireland could be sold or granted to the Republic of Ireland by the owner of NI which would be today’s Monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (thereby obviating the need for ‘the Irish Backstop’ and guaranteeing near-instant passage of the Withdrawal Agreement) who would only do so if a majority of Northern Ireland’s people expressed their wish to join with the Republic of Ireland. Which would make for an interesting Northern Ireland-only referendum question, wouldn’t it? Assuming The People of Northern Ireland voted to leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the ruling Monarch would be well advised to accede to their wishes and let them leave. One important caveat must be in place, namely, that any property and historical buildings, monuments, etc., would need to be disassembled and returned to Great Britain as they are the property of the UK and from a pragmatic standpoint I doubt that statues of Sir Winston Churchill etc., would remain standing for long in a Northern Ireland that would join with the Republic of Ireland. Even the Stormont building in NI could be removed ‘brick-by-brick’ and relocated to Great Britain. If Northern Irelanders voted to leave the Kingdom, no doubt some would want to relocate to Great Britain to maintain their UK citizenship and their relocation to the UK should be facilitated with greatest care, speed, and respect, should that particular set of events ever occur. However, if The People of Northern Ireland voted in a referendum to stay in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the ruling UK Monarch and the UK government are obligated to accede to the wishes of Northern Irelanders and continue to support their full rights of UK citizenship and devolved governance in NI.
  2. Another way around the present impasse would be for all trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to be routed through Liverpool for customs and inspection — by air or ship — instead of having a so-called ‘Hard Border’ between the two Irelands. Items valued under £100. (or some other mutually agreed and arbitrary number) could be exempted so that shoppers crossing the border between ROI and NI by car could purchase small items, etc., without incurring any tax liability or having to pass through a hard border crossing. Unlike every other country in the world, a hard border just isn’t acceptable due to the decades of conflict caused by poor leadership and oversight in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland that led to a horrible, divisive, and toxic power vacuum which led and fed the conflict. Let’s hope that politicians, corporations, and royalty in the 21st-century don’t drop the ball like that again. Ever. And I hope that every one of them that dropped the ball are roasting in Hell to this very day, paying for the fecklessness that caused such misery to hundreds of thousands of people on the island of Eire.

    Northern Ireland backstop
    Less than 50 days to go until the official Brexit date of March 29, 2019 and still no solution to the Irish backstop issue. Assuming goodwill on both sides, a deal will be done.
  3. Another suggestion is for new technologies exist that could be used to track and collect tariffs/maintain safety certifications, etc. on goods sold between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and between other EU countries and Northern Ireland, and between overseas countries and Northern Ireland — and I believe it’s possible. The amount of information that can be contained in one bar code (a simple bar code!) is astounding. All that needs happen is for each such item to be scanned by a bar code reader. I can only imagine what modern and more sophisticated technologies could accomplish. Perhaps cooperation between the UK and the EU on these new technologies would result in the same scale of technological revolution as the introduction of the bar code and both countries could lead the world in such technologies. Wouldn’t that be great?

In short, if UK and EU leaders want to find a way forward they will and if they don’t find a way forward it’s only because they don’t value success.

IMHO, there’s no reason that political power vacuums should be allowed to occur in the 21st-century. Such power vacuums have proved disastrous in the past. So, let’s decide now to choose that better path, whatever it may look like.

It isn’t the job of citizens, of corporations, of sports teams, nor of any other organization to solve the political problems between or within developed nations, it’s the remit of politicians to solve political problems, therefore, let’s go forward with those sentiments in mind and together, write a much better script for our respective peoples so that everyone gets to live in peace and prosperity.

Written by John Brian Shannon

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.


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