ABHI Membership

Brexit Update: Bull and Bluster

The Maltese, this week, said publically that they would be very happy to see a second referendum and a reversal of Brexit. Somebody still loves us. Ok, perhaps my observation of two weeks ago that things might “lurch forward” this week, was wishful thinking. I have to acknowledge that the skies above Salzburg have not exactly been filled with plumes of white smoke during this week’s informal EU leaders gathering. On the other hand, the public bull and bluster that accompanies the negotiations is as inevitable as it is increasingly boring. The PM may have irritated some with her public hard line (bull and bluster) but the public rejection of Chequers (bull and bluster) by Tusk should not have been unexpected. The EU has consistently said it welcomed some parts of Chequers, but found others unworkable, as they cut across some of the Union’s founding principles. Actually, and I know I am reading this differently from just about any other commentator, I think there were signs that we may actually be beginning to get to the clutch. Notably on the Irish border where both sides are acknowledging each other’s sensitivities. The UK has indicated it may be willing to instigate additional checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland, and the EU seems to have indicated that there may yet be life in technological solutions, and further still carrying out those checks away from the physical border.

But the discord has been seized upon by the hard Brexit crew and the PM will have to steel herself once more for a difficult party conference in Birmingham next weekend and, as I reported before the summer, one heck of a punch up when the necessary legislation comes back to the Fun House. But she knew that already

It might be worth using our time together this week to reprise the reasons why I, and so many other commentators, have been saying that the whole of Brexit will play out on the Irish border. The backdrop, of course is the peace process in which the EU is heavily invested, as indeed is the US. The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement was, after all brokered by President Clinton. I am an inclined to think back to my junior school days in Lancashire. Each summer term, those fourth year pupils (that is what we were called in those days) who had demonstrated an ability to consistently behave themselves were rewarded with a week-long trip to London. 40 odd years ago that was a very big deal for working class kids from the provinces and in 1976 it was my turn. Except, such was the fear of bombing on the British mainland, we did not go. If you know Birmingham, you will recognise the scars the City still bears from the terrible events of 1974 and the dreadful injustices inflicted on its Irish community in the aftermath. Nothing would be more symbolic of a return to those days than the reappearance of watch towers and guards on the border. It is why that is a red line no UK government would cross, not just one propped up by the Unionists, they who proved the existence of the magic money tree.

There are also other, more practical reasons. Local market issues operate locally on either side, especially in the Agri-food sector where 10,000 pigs a week are moved from South to North for processing, and the vast majority of the milk output of the North is sent South. Citizens born on the island of Ireland have a right to Irish, British or dual nationality and a free movement area between the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man was codified before the EU existed. A solution that addresses these issues and is consistent with arrangements for the rest of the EU has, so far, proved elusive.

And finally, by way of levity, here is one I doubt even Armando Iannucci could have come up with. DEFRA has made a glitzy video to boost morale amongst our farmers. Well, first of all, good luck with that initiative, I have never met a happy one. Anyway, it is a big production, was rolled across the Department’s social media and illustrates the sunny uplands that await post-Brexit. Unfortunately, however, the PR firm that made it used archived footage shot on farms in Germany and Slovenia. Oh dear. And if that was not bad enough, quite bizarrely, the section detailing financial incentives for environmentally friendly practices was illustrated by a pair of hands planting a bonsai tree. Laugh? I nearly paid my Council Tax.