That dreary Brexit Irish border row is back – and yes it is ‘deja vu all over again’

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As the UK threatens to weasel out – for the second time – on a deal over Northern Ireland’s special trade status after Brexit, the words of American baseball legend, Lawrence Peter Berra, spring to mind.

nown to the world as ‘Yogi’ Berra, he is credited with first saying; “It’s deja vu all over again,” and other sometimes overblown, other times almost correct, howler quotes which brought him as much fame as his stellar baseball.

But that is not the only ‘Yogism’ that fits ironically into this dangerously depressing farce.

Let’s give you the complete ‘Yogi take’ on the latest UK-EU Brexit spat which leaves the entire island of Ireland caught in the middle.

1. ‘Yes, it is a case of deja vu all over again’

In October 2019, Boris Johnson and the EU agreed the political divorce terms which took effect on January 31, 2019. It included a special clause on Northern Ireland.

To avoid a return of border checks between Dundalk and Derry, it was agreed the North would stay closely aligned with the EU single market and customs union.

The North’s trade links with England, Scotland and Wales, would be maintained via a UK “customs territory”.

But to protect the EU single market, which took 40 years to create, there would be some product standard and customs checks at ports and airports on goods coming from Scotland, England and Wales.

Johnson and his Tory colleagues wrongly denied this meant “a border in the Irish Sea”. But that was just what it did mean.

In September 2020, as EU-UK talks on the trade divorce terms were stalled, the UK announced it would renounce the special Northern Ireland terms. London conceded they were breaking international law – “but only in a small and technical way” – which led the EU to open legal action.

Brexit talks got back on terms and London signed up a second time to give the North its special status. But yesterday London announced, without talking to Brussels or Dublin, that it was delaying implementation of customs and product checks in the North.

The EU is threatening legal action again. EU-UK talks on trying to iron out the North’s practical problems are just about continuing – but in a very sour atmosphere.

2. Dublin is ‘taking it with a ‘grin’ of salt’

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, as far back as autumn 2017, played a blinder in securing the North’s special status along with then-Irish EU Commissioner, Phil Hogan. Taoiseach Micheál Martin also worked hard at trying to keep Johnson on board.

When the Taoiseach was talking directly to Johnson on Tuesday, about a joint Irish-British 2030 soccer World Cup bid, there was no mention of this announcement which came 24 hours later.

Now Ireland is caught in the middle. Unless there is real talk on compromise, the options narrow: there could be “a hard border” in Ireland. Or, the rest of the EU could begin checks on all island of Ireland goods, limiting the benefits of single market export access.

Mr Martin has agreed from the start that there are teething problems with operating the North trade checks. He has been working to broker compromises. The UK move sours everyone’s efforts.

3. ‘You can observe a lot by watching’

The Northern Unionists, especially the Democratic Unionist Party, have been under serious pressure over their long-time mishandling of things. The DUP backed Brexit without much care for Irish border implications in the June 2016 referendum.

When they held the balance of power in the London parliament, from June 2017 until December 2019, they failed to capitalise on efforts to get a much softer Brexit, effectively keeping all of the UK close to the EU single market and customs union.

Now the DUP want the North’s special EU status abolished. That’s a complete failure to sell Northern Ireland’s “best of both worlds” access to British and EU markets.

The Johnson tough-guy stance is playing well in the North – for now. Nationalists were as fed up with disruption to some supermarket supplies and problems with things like mail-order deliveries from England, Scotland and Wales. But longer-term fallout threatens the North’s exports and jobs.

4. ‘But it ain’t over ‘til it’s over’

One of the few positives is that EU-UK talks are continuing on potential remedies for the new Irish border row.

The UK had demanded via then-Brexit minister, Michael Gove, an extension of the ‘grace period’, on phasing in checks, from March 31 to October 1.

Gove’s new replacement, the supposed harder-hitting negotiator, David Frost, was told in no uncertain terms that London now just helping itself to this extension, was a breach of trust in the entire process.

The EU’s man at the coalface is Slovakian Commissioner, Maros Sevcovic, and he had promised last month to work “to find pragmatic solutions” to UK grievances.

The EU is genuinely surprised at the UK’s disruptive move which these days is all about confrontation.

Source: Irish News