The most recent news out of the Brexit camp is that U.K.’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox wants to preserve the current trade arrangement the country has with the EU. Now is it just me or does that seem a bit conflicting with previous statements made by certain UK officials (*cough* Brexit means Brexit *cough* Theresa May *cough*) sorry I had a bit of a frog in my throat. Although this is yet another chapter in the Brexit saga – dark and dramatic with twist and turns.
There are snags outside the negotiations also, biggest amongst them, the fact that some of the United Kingdom, aren’t so United in their conviction to leave the Union.
Not unlike their London counterparts – Cardiff, Dublin and Edinburgh (that’s the capital of Wales, Ireland and Scotland respectively, for those playing at home) – are seeking special relationships with the EU post-Brexit. Scotland especially points to the fact that 62% of inhabitants that voted to stay in the EU (the majority of people that live in London also voted to remain). To Theresa May’s chagrin though, this isn’t even the biggest issue – Ireland is. The Republic of Ireland and N. Ireland share what is known as a “soft border” – which is poised to “harden” if Brexit takes N. Ireland with it. The reason it was a soft-border was because of the common regulation under the one-union trade agreements. Now with Brexit negotiations going on, and the potential of two different types of regulations existing within the same landmass, the border has become a point of contention.
To add insult to injury, the Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament said that the border between the two regions is an “illogical divide” not a tangible land divide like a river or mountain range. Controlling, policing and regulating a line close to 500 km long, beyond being close to impossible would also come at great cost. He also expressed his reassurance that the UK decision to leave the Union will not affect a EU member state like the Republic of Ireland.
The idea is since the land boarder is difficult to enforce, the best way around it is by doing what was happening before – having the same regulatory policy essentially keeping N. Ireland in the Union. This is where the snag becomes a full-blown knot though. If N. Ireland essentially stays within the EU as a defacto band-aid (plaster for our UK readers) for the boarder, this will greatly disadvantage other regions such as Scotland and Wales, which will have to adhere to the UK regulation – fundamentally putting them outside EU. This will make them less attractive for trade and investment from the EU compared to N. Ireland.
Edinburgh’s government has been extremely and increasingly vocal about this pushing for the same agreement as N. Ireland – an agreement which basically keeps them in the EU. Wales’ administration on the other hand is more in the camp of “Take it and move on”.
This is probably why the UK is pushing for a Brexit trade deal which retains much of the trade agreements it currently has with EU, firstly it would be a logistic nightmare, beyond that though it would give the regions under EU regulation competitive edge against other regions excluded from the EU. They would offer everything the UK offers but without the problems and cost of working under multiple regulators, tax policies and laws.
There is still time until March 2019 but with both the EU and UK playing hardball, we will have to see which party is going to be forced to compromise their requirements. At the moment the only definitive thing is, is May’s Administration going on record saying they will not separate Ireland, no matter what the outcome of the negotions.