Only the single market and customs union can deliver the type of border that Ireland and Northern Ireland needs, writes Irish Labour leader Brendan Howlin
Real progress was made at the December European Union council meeting, and talks on Brexit have now moved on to the second phase.
The commitment in the agreed text before Christmas that the British government will maintain full alignment with internal market rules on the island of Ireland in the absence of a satisfactory United Kingdom-EU agreement is a strong backstop. There was cross-party political support in Ireland for this approach.
Now we will need to determine the detail of how a two-year transition period will operate, and work will progress on the type of future relationship on trade and other policy areas of shared concern – from aviation to medicines.
The Irish Labour party wants the close relationship with the UK to be retained, for trade and transport between our countries to remain seamless, and for the hard won peace in Northern Ireland to be protected and sustained.
It is my view that only the UK staying in the single market and customs union can deliver the type of border and future trade arrangements that Ireland and Northern Ireland needs. Unfortunately the approach adopted by the Conservative government of Theresa May has specifically ruled out these options. I have also taken this argument to the last two British Labour party conferences and continue to raise Ireland’s concerns with key shadow spokespeople on the repercussions of the path taken thus far.
The choice has often been presented as between a European Economic Area arrangement like Norway has, or a free trade deal like that recently agreed with Canada. The UK will shortly need to make a decision on the type of access it wants to the single market, and decide its final position on freedom of movement and the European court of justice. It will be unable to cherry pick. Unfortunately there has still not been a reckoning in the UK over their continued desire to have all the benefits of EU membership without any of the obligations. I believe the red lines drawn by the Conservative government will have to be revisited.
In recent weeks the guidelines for the second phase of Brexit negotiations have been circulated to member states. According to reports, EU members have sought many changes. For example it has been reported Poland is seeking the continued right of EU citizens to work in the UK up to the end of a transition period, and the right to permanently remain after that.
It is likely the UK will also have to comply with EU trade policy up to 2021, and will not be able to strike its own deals during the transition.
The UK will lose access to EU trade agreements with 50 countries once it leaves in March 2019, unless as is likely, the EU decides to authorise third party access for the UK. There will be a cost for this. The UK would have to follow all rules and regulations, with no voice in deciding their content, alongside financial payments.
I am deeply concerned that once the British media and public realise the impact of these conditions it will spark fierce resistance but the alternative for the UK would be worse.
Brendan Howlin is leader of the Irish Labour party. He tweets at @BrendanHowlin
Source: Irish Labour
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