Monday, January 24

Pressured by Biden, Johnson Can Finally Face Reality in Northern Ireland | Simon Jenkins

TThe G7 talk scheduled for this week on Northern Ireland between US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may be brief. Biden should tell Johnson to stop being a jerk and honor protocol.

Everybody knows that a border cannot be erected across the fields of Ireland. Johnson knew it when he campaigned for Brexit. You knew it when you decided to leave the single market. If he promised anything more to the Unionists in Northern Ireland, he was lying. It should be concerned with the preparation of EU compatible customs barriers in Belfast, as required by the protocol. Biden might add that Johnson can forget about any trade deal between the United States and the United Kingdom if he refuses – not that any deal agreed upon by Congress is likely to be in Britain’s interest.

Johnson’s entire approach to the Northern Ireland protocol has been to procrastinate. The reason is clear. It cannot sustain Brexit and deliver on its promise to keep trade open across the Irish Sea. Since partition, it has been the case that if Ireland and Great Britain no longer traded freely with each other, the north would have to remain in an Irish market.

There are several proposals for kicking cans on the table. Johnson could sign a temporary accession to the EU regulatory regime to allow time for more talks. Equally, the EU could stop being so annoying with controls, especially those that will begin this year on agricultural products. But both are just buying time, and either one would end any deal with American farmers.

Ultimately, there are only two options. One is that the protocol becomes permanent and Northern Ireland in effect becomes part of an integrated Irish-wide economy. There are a number of strong arguments for that, which Johnson is probably too cowardly to understand. The other is that Britain extends the Northern Ireland agreement to the whole of the UK. In fact, it adheres to EU regulatory standards across the entire range of products covered by last year’s “no-tariff” deal. In other words, Johnson eats humble pie and negotiates a return, not to the EU but to some version of Europe’s common economic area.

We have learned a lot in the past year. Brexit is not a disaster, but neither is it a bonanza. There is no “big business” to do with the rest of the world. There is no commercial sovereignty. The EU remains Britain’s largest trading partner and trade with it has not been freed from the bureaucracy by Brexit, but has been overwhelmed and damaged by it. The EU may be partly to blame, but it has never had an interest in facilitating Brexit. The naivety of Britain’s top Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost, knew no bounds.

Biden should tell Johnson to make Northern Ireland’s tail wag the dog. Put an end to the absurd battle of wits with the EU. London has already registered Northern Ireland in Europe’s trade rules regime. Join now. This has nothing to do with Brexit but with business common sense. Britain can resolve the Northern Ireland impasse at a stroke, and in its own interest, by negotiating a renewed close relationship with the European single market.

Serious economists know this will happen one day. Northern Ireland could stop being seen by London as a “problem” and become a solution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *