BREXIT is not going to be finalised, or go away, for some considerable time.
The referendum, in June 2016, was presented as a moment to make an important decision: in or out? Now, in June 2019, through an unravelling series of decisions and delayed decisions, there is a growing appreciation that the referendum Brexit decision has become a complex journey with no quick end in sight and has an unfolding agenda.
The critical Brexit negotiations have barely begun. The decision by the UK Government on whether to leave the EU looked straightforward: events have shown that leaving the EU creates a wide range of options and decisions. Leave and cancel all existing links, as developed over 40+ years, or leave whilst retaining some of the links where there are mutually agreed benefits. The referendum debate was (and is) ambiguous.
The referendum was followed by UK-EU negotiations on the Withdrawal, now in a draft 500 page agreement, on protection of citizens’ rights, the financial contribution due from the UK, and an aspiration about the operation of the land border on this island.
Controversially, the UK and EU agreed to defer the complex and necessary negotiations on the future UK-EU relations, post-Brexit, until after the UK had left. That decision, attempting to decouple leaving and the form of the continuing relationship, means that the full consequences of leaving the EU still cannot be adequately assessed or predicted.
The UK has decided to leave the EU but, because there is no clarity on what the future UK-EU relationship will be, this leaves huge uncertainty about a critical range of questions; economic, social, environmental and political. No surprise, then, that different groups are arguing about the uncertainties in ways which have become epitomised in multiple versions of soft and hard Brexit.
Then, in an extra Irish dimension, the attempt to agree a special guarantee, to protect against damage to the economic integration of trade and business across the Irish land border, has become mired in confusion about how to prevent a ‘hard border’ on this island. Logically, frictionless trading from Northern Ireland into Ireland is desirable but cannot be a frictionless back-door to the larger EU market place.
Instead of arguing in terms of frictionless trade conditions, the negotiators have developed ‘back-stop’ concessions. The term has been poorly presented and misrepresented. The ‘back-stop’ arrangements have been presented in a seriously distorted form and the ambition by London and Brussels/Dublin to devise a favourable mechanism to prevent a hard Irish border has been widely misunderstood. An opportunity to have the best of a special arrangement has mutated into an apparent obstacle to the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement.
The evolution of Brexit has been made more difficult by attempts to popularise the argument with the easy jingo of ‘taking back control’, bringing Government back to UK institutions, and keeping more of our own money (with millions extra for the NHS). This was supplemented by distorted reporting of the impact of Brexit on the economy. The argument that leaving the EU has not damaged the economy can be countered with the acknowledgement that the full cost of leaving cannot be seen until the process has developed much further. So far, the UK has not been faced with the real disadvantages of Brexit.
The Brexit sequence gave the electorate an apparently simple choice without any credible attempt to detail what a vote to leave might mean. The merits of being part of the larger EU Common Market were more persuasive in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland majority vote to remain was arguably a decision based on a mixture of economics and politics. The suggestion that Brexit necessarily meant a commercial border ‘down the Irish Sea’ developed even though this conclusion was not implicit in UK-EU analysis. Arguably, the risks of a border down the Irish Sea have been seriously overstated.
Looking back over the sequence of events and decisions, personal reflections would be:
The UK decision to hold a referendum was premature
The referendum was conducted on too superficial arguments
The small majority was too small to sustain a disputed constitutional outcome
The UK Government has not adequately prepared for the post-withdrawal phase
The UK-EU negotiations led to a poor draft Withdrawal Agreement
Northern Ireland faces serious, even if unintended, effects
There are some interest groups that expect to see a more dynamic UK economy outside the EU which will develop faster than when it was part of the EU. The evidence for that prospect is not strong. From a Northern Ireland perspective, the UK outside the EU places Northern Ireland in a less favourable location to attract EU or American investment. The Irish economy is currently one of the fastest growing in the EU: Northern Ireland is on a much slower trajectory.
Critically, Brexit is unfinished business. The content on the still to be negotiated agreement on the future relations between the UK and the EU has not been published. If the UK Parliament does, eventually, agree to the Withdrawal Agreement, then there may be a transition period (of at least two years) while agreement is sought on future relations.
More immediately, the argument for a confirmatory referendum is vocal and has merit. The argument for a continuing customs agreement is still under debate. The form of a special cross-border agreement to ensure a frictionless Irish border still leaves scope for local initiatives.
As a supporter of remain, there is little comfort in the continuing uncertainties. We will be watching evolving negotiations for many months to come. Our ability to participate in the negotiations will be very constrained.
With many thanks thanks to: The Detail and John Simpson for the original story
John Simpson has worked on development problems in the North of Ireland economy for over 40 years initially as a government employee and then moving to an appointment as senior lecturer in economics at Queen’s University. Earlier in his career he worked in Zimbabwe, Malta and Sierra Leone before accepting a post at the UK Treasury. Public appointments included periods as chair of the Eastern Health and Social Services Board, chair of the Probation Board and Commissioner for Judicial Appointments. He writes regularly on business topics.
The government aren’t keen to shout about it, but Emma de Souza’s case has already been seen as a constitutional test of the Good Friday Agreement. And that’s only the start
Like many of you, I have been following with interest—and some confusion—the growing controversy over the issue of what will happen regarding Irish citizenship in the North of Ireland in the wake of Brexit (whenever that may be).
The issue arose as a result of an application by Irish citizen and Derry native, Emma de Souza, which sought to bring her US-born husband Jake to the North of Ireland by way of her Irish citizenship.
Under EU law, having Irish citizenship affords much more generous provisions in the way of EU rights being extended to family members. For instance, by having EU citizenship rights are bestowed on a non-EU spouse—but under British law, these provisions do not apply.
EU citizens can bring family members to a country within the EU that they have moved to as they are exercising their treaty rights in a host country. However, the UK Government is insisting that Emma has not left her “home country” of the UK and therefore the immigration rules do not apply as they would if Emma and her husband had moved to, say, Spain or France.
Emma found herself being told by the UK Home Office that she was, by way of birth in the North of Ireland, a British citizen and not an Irish citizen as she had always believed. The UK Home Office informed Emma and her husband that under the articles of the British Nationality Act 1981 she would be considered a British citizen and Jake would need to apply for immigration status as a third-country resident.
There’s just one problem: Emma had never considered herself British, had never held a British passport and had always considered herself an Irish person living in the North of Ireland. As a result, Jake challenged the Home Office decision on the basis that Emma had the right under the Good Friday Agreement to define herself as British, Irish or both.
Jake sought an appeal of the decision by way of a first-tier tribunal—and, in a rather surprising turn of events, in February of last year, the Judge overseeing the case ruled that Emma does have the right to be treated as an Irish citizen, and not British.
The Home Office had previously told Emma that she would need to formally renounce her British citizenship—which she had never claimed—in order to be treated as an exclusively Irish citizen for immigration and family law purposes.
This may all seem rather nonsensical, as Emma could, apparently, simply renounce her British citizenship and have done with it. In doing so, however, she would be giving credence to the notion that she is British despite the guarantees of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Our case is often seen as an immigration issue and certainly that is how it began,” de Souza says, adding: “however, it has morphed into what could be seen as a constitutional test of the Good Friday Agreement.”
This gives legitimacy to the claim of the UK Government that, under a piece of legislation that was enacted before the North of Ireland Act 1998, anyone born in the North of Ireland is automatically a British citizen, exclusive to any other citizenship or nationality. As my writer colleague Rebecca Toolan commented to me recently, if you can identify as exclusively British then surely you should be able to be exclusively Irish?
That’s not the end of it, either. On March 7th of this year, the UK Government very quietly changed the definition of an EEA (European Economic Area) citizen to exclude those who are also British—a change which is particularly relevant to people like myself, who hold both Irish and British citizenship.
Under the new rules, Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland and wishing to avail of the Settled Status Scheme—the program by which EU citizens living in the UK can retain certain EU rights post-Brexit—are led to believe that they are unable to do this as they are considered British by default.
This has led to some confusion and sensationalism with certain political groupings and campaigners claiming that the UK Government is stripping Irish citizens in North of Ireland of their birthright citizenship.
That isn’t the case—but the new proposals are nevertheless confusing. They could create a rather unusual system by which Irish citizens born in the Republic of Ireland and living in the UK could apply for the settlement scheme, whereas Irish citizens born in the North of Ireland and living in the UK would be excluded from doing so—creating a two-tiered Irish diaspora within the UK.
Daniel Holder of the Campaign on the Administration of Justice has spelt out in explicit detail the problem with the government’s proposals.
Holder, the Deputy Director of the CAJ, states that the UK Home Office treats those born in Northern Ireland as solely British in terms of citizenship—unlike the Government of Ireland, the North of Ireland Human Rights Commission and HM Courts & Tribunals Service.
The UK Home Office insists that NI born Irish citizens do not need to avail of the EU Settlement program as the Common Travel Area (the ongoing agreement between the Irish and British Governments by which citizens of either have free movement between each jurisdiction) upholds certain rights for Irish citizens.
Holder points out, however, that these provisions within the CTA are ill-defined, unenforceable and not underpinned anywhere as “rights.” The UK government’s attitude, he says, conflicts with their commitment to upholding the Good Friday Agreement.
Citizenship and nationality are intrinsically linked with socio-political attitudes and people’s beliefs and approach to the constitutional position and legitimacy of the North of Ireland. Those who consider themselves Nationalist would usually define themselves as Irish and those who position themselves as Unionist would normally consider themselves British. That has been the case for such a long time that there is an unconscious assumption that Protestants are British by birth and Catholics are Irish.
“Identity is complex and personal, in the North of Ireland even more so,” de Souza tells me. “Yet we have people such as myself being asked to prove their identity, prove it’s worth and decide how important their identity is in the face of imposed citizenship by the British government.”
With many thanks to: Prospect Magazine and Stephen Donna for the original story
About this author: Stephen Donnan is an equal marriage campaigner and member of the Love Equality NI consortium
The New IRA has claimed that Brexit is helping the paramilitary organisation to recruit young supporters.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, which took place after the murder of investigative journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry on April 18, representatives of the New IRA acknowledged there was no public support for its campaign of violence but said they will continue to carry out attacks for propaganda purposes.
“Our armed actions serve one purpose,” a representative from the group’s army council told the newspaper.
“They are symbolic. They are propaganda. They let the world know there is an ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland.
“As long as you have the British in Ireland and the country remains partitioned, there will be an IRA.”
The militant added:”Condemning the IRA is nothing new. We are not interested in being popular. Republicanism has always been a small core of people.”
“Brexit has forced the IRA to refocus and has underlined how Ireland remains partitioned. It would be remiss of us not to capitalise on the opportunity.
“It’s put the border on the agenda again.”
“It was our intention to engage with the crown forces when they started searching house in the Creggan that led to the death. That poor woman got caught in the street violence.”
The Sunday Times said the interview took months to arrange through discreet contacts and secret meetings with nationalists and their supporters north and south of the border. Its reporter was driven for about an hour in the back of a vehicle from an arranged meeting point to conduct the interview.
The New IRA was formed in 2012 after three of the four main militant nationalist groups merged, the first time since the peace deal that most of the disparate nationalist groups still intent on violence came together under one leadership.
It has been responsible for other attacks since then, including the separate killings of two prison officers. The Sunday Times said the group, which simply refers to itself as the ‘IRA’, refused to discuss their strength, or whether they planned to increase gun and bomb attacks.
The murder of Lyra McKee, which followed a large car bomb in Londonderry in January that police also blamed on the New IRA, has raised fears that small marginalised militant groups are exploiting a political vacuum in the province and tensions caused by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph for the original story