Border progress but concerns remain
Britain’s Brexit negotiator, David Davis and the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier after the recent talks. Photo:AFP
Some progress was made on so-called Irish issues at the latest round of talks between the UK and EU on Brexit. In particular, London has said it will continue to allow free movement of EU citizens from Ireland to the UK. Thus would, in turn, allow Ireland to continue to provide border-free travel for EU citizens. This is part of the negotiations on the Common Travel Area between Ireland the UK. London and Dublin are also likely to agree to the continuation of current arrangements allowing mutual rights for citizens to work and avail of benefits in the other jurisdiction.
The key to this continuation of freedom of movement will be the UK’s decision to control the flow of immigration from other EU countries not at its borders but largely in the workplace. This allows the UK to put quotas on migrants from other EU countries taking up employment there, a politically and economically fraught endeavour, but one London sees as central to Brexit.
There remains a risk of political opposition in the UK to this course from the “hard Brexit” lobby, who want to take a tough line on immigration and may call for tighter controls. But for the moment there is reason for some optimism of a deal in this area.
The second basket of “Irish” issues relates to the Belfast Agreement and the complex nexus of co-operation which that put in place. Technical work remains to be done but again, given good will on all sides, there is some optimism of progress on these issues.
Greater difficulty - and delay - lies ahead in negotiating arrangements on the movement of goods between Ireland and the UK after Brexit. It has always been clear that this cannot be sorted out until there is clarity on the future trading relationship between the EU and the UK. And that if Britain leaves the customs union, avoiding Border checks will be difficult. Now a delay in making progress on other issues – primarily Britain’s exit bill – means it now looks unlikely that talks will even start on this until early next year.
A serious risk remains that the EU and UK will not reach a deal, leading to a so-called “hard” Brexit, with the immediate erection of tariff and customs barriers. But it is also well to remember that we are still in the early stages of the talks. The British government has shown signs that it is moving its position, even if contradictory signals continue to come from London. As fears of the economic impact of a hard Brexit grow, it may be that a deal starts to come into view next year.
Ireland’s interests lie firmly in both sides staying at the table and the initial hammering out of a transition arrangement to limit any damage immediately after Britain leaves the EU. In turn this would give space and time to negotiate new trading arrangements. There is a long journey yet to travel if this is to be achieved.