The Irish Times view on the Brexit deal: The terms of a pointless divorce

As Taoiseach Micheál Martin says, the deal represents the “least bad version of Brexit”, reiterating the mantra that “There is no such thing as a ‘good Brexit’ for Ireland.”

 

Eleventh-hour agreement on the “hard Brexit” deal setting a framework for future relations on trade and security between the European Union and the United Kingdom is welcome. But only because the alternative was a no-deal with the potential to cause far more damage to the UK and the 27, most particularly Ireland.

Forty seven years after we joined the EEC together, four and a half years after a UK referendum voted narrowly for Brexit, 11 months after the UK’s formal departure, through fraught negotiation of a divorce agreement and nine months of trade talks, the beginnings of a new relationship are now in place. Approval by the 27 and MEPs appears certain – against the tide of history, of multilateral integration and cooperation in the face of globalisation and interdependence, the clock is turned back and now reset.

But Ireland pays a heavy price. As Taoiseach Micheál Martin says, the deal represents the “least bad version of Brexit”, reiterating the mantra that “There is no such thing as a ‘good Brexit’ for Ireland.” Although goods, particularly farm products, will continue to flow into the British market tariff- and quota-free, the new requirements for customs controls will impose huge costs and delays. The agreement omits the huge financial services sector altogether. To what extent facilitation measures like trusted trader schemes will mitigate problems for transhipment across the landbridge is yet unclear and a major cause of concern. And the cost to our fish industry of 25 per cent cuts in quotas has yet to be quantified. In taking a step away from the EU our nearest neighbour is also taking a significant but smaller step away from Ireland. If it has become politically and economically detached from its European partners, it remains, however, only semi-detached from us.

In the Withdrawal Agreement and its Northern Ireland protocol provision for the continuation of the Common Travel Area, the UK selectively abandoned its central Brexit aspiration to take back control of immigration, while the North’s exceptional status as a continuing part of the single market leaves the island border-free and an all-Ireland economy unshackled. The continuation of cross-border co-operation and joint governance structures across swathes of policy is in marked contrast to the UK’s departure from just such shared governance inside EU institutions.

With his usual bluster, a triumphalist, delusional Boris Johnson was claiming that “We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny.” Yet, as he will discover, every international deal he does, like that on the EU level playing field, will involve circumscribing sovereignty to some degree and give others a part in shaping the UK’s destiny. Brexit, a colossal self-inflicted wound, for the UK, is testimony above all to that delusion.

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