• Author:Ben Jones
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Brexit and Ireland; what a mess

As someone who voted ‘remain’ in the 2016 EU referendum, it is fair to say that I see Brexit as a mess from start to finish. I find the decision to leave the EU totally wrong-headed, depressing and dispiriting but I accept the decision. I don’t like it – in fact, I hate it – but I am not a remainer who wants a second vote or is obsessed with finding ways to slow, delay and frustrate the process in the hope that time will run out and events will overtake and then undo Brexit. Let’s make no bones about it, that is the hope of many in parliament – including some Conservatives – that their activities will in some way stall the process or extend the implementation or transition period so that it never happens. I am not in that camp. I am in the camp of disappointed, no gutted, acceptance that Brexit is happening.

I am however proud – indeed mildly emotional – to say that when the UK leaves the EU, my family and I will not. As proud Irish men and women who hold both British and Irish citizenship and passports, we will continue to be citizens of the EU. We will still see the blue flag and stars as someone thing we belong to something to protect us; a movement which has helped keep the peace in Europe for generations. Yes, a flawed movement, which needs shaking and reforming, but a movement that does much, much more good than ill.

As well as our family passion for these islands, Dr J has the experience of hailing from a border town in Tyrone and knows all too well the politics and practicalities of the Irish-UK border – something I have seen up close over the last ten years or so. It is this border and all the associated issues which are currently taking centre stage in the farce of the UK government’s negotiations to leave the EU. To say it was mess would be an insult to messes. It is an unholy shambles.

The talk of no ‘hard border’ and the ambition to have a frictionless border is all well and good but there is yet to be any detail on how this can achieved – certainly no detail that could reassure the Irish government or the rest of the EU that this has been thought through. We are eighteen months on from the Brexit decision and we are still watching the UK government fumbling in the dark for a meaningful proposal, one that doesn’t risk the economic prosperity, peace, security and integrity of these islands. The failure to accept that Northern Ireland must hold a special status to remain in the customs union – there are 38,000 Irish business that trade with the UK every week and an impossible border to police given its length and changing nature as it snakes around the six counties of the north – is an awful start as is the lack of a vision for how the new arrangements may work. So far, it’s just platitudes and not proper policies that have dominated the UK’s positions.

The spectre of the DUP and Theresa May’s inept and unnecessary deal with them casts a sorry shadow over this whole business. Any special status for the north is feared to lend credence to a united Ireland but like Brexit if that is the will of the people in due course it should be respected. As it happens, I do not believe it is the will of people – certainly not now – so it does not arise as an issue. The issue is ensuring that people on the islands can still live, work and travel as they have always done – for the record, the free trade and travel restriction free area long pre-dates the EU. The UK government needs to get serious about sorting out the Irish border issue and table detailed proposals that recognise the reality of the pantomime that we are heading for unless the north either remains in the customs union or is granted a special, legally-binding status that exempts it from the border rules you would normally see between an EU and non-EU state. There is far too much at stake and nothing else can work. As the Irish Times editorial said last week the UK government  was trying to “reconcile two contradictory positions: exit from the customs union and the maintenance of an invisible Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.” It must end that fantasy and get real.

Brexit is a mess but one that could still be salvaged, at least for the people, businesses and peace process of the island of Ireland. There is is still time, if David Davis, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and co get their act together. Yes, as I wrote that sentence, my heart sank. If only they and others in the cabinet spent less timing fighting each other and briefing the media about each other, we might all be better off, north and south of the border. You can see why my breath is far from baited. You can see why I am a dispirited citizen who loves these two great countries.


Photo taken from BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-38185115

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