Eire applies to be America’s 51st State

“In retrospect, it was an easy decision” said the Taoiseach yesterday: “It makes sense for Ireland to join the United States of America”.

Joining the United States, he explained, is the best hope for Ireland’s prosperity. Ireland has more trade with the United States than with any other country except Britain; Americans are keen to be seen as Irish; and the two countries have provided each other with a great deal over the ages – America received labourers, and Ireland received the potato blight fungus. “With the EU, we’d tied our donkey to the wrong post.”

Irish commentators overwhelmingly agreed, observing that the Ireland only joined the European Community in the 1970s because Britain did, and while it was great for a while, the fascination has gone, like any other 1970s makeover.

Richard O’Shea, a senior government adviser, said the move would go forward as soon as possible. The Europeans had used Erin and cast here aside; “It was all very lovey-dovey when they wanted us to stiff the Brits in the negotiation, but now they are not returning our calls, they are ignoring us and humiliating us in front of our friends and neighbours. We thought we were getting cash in had from Brussels, but we find they have gone off with our fish, which is several times more than we every received. We though EU loved us, but they were only after cheques.

“The Europeans don’t understands us and their culture is alien. Ireland cannot stand alone: we need to join with another English-speaking country that can be a major trading partner and protector, and we couldn’t think of one except America.”

Joe Biden has often expressed his Irish ancestry. While has has not commented on the Irish government’s approach, he did express deep concern about the number of Republicans in Ireland: the Irish government was quick to reassure him that there is no connection between Irish Republican’s and the GOP, and the only similarity is a tendency to carry guns.

Timing for the move is still uncertain but it looks like it’s Irexit for now & howdy partner.

How to fix the Ulster Protocol

The Ulster Protocol (the “Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland”) has come to haunt us earlier than expected. It was trouble waiting to erupt, but might have been handled far better, and could still be.

The current problems might arise through idiocy, malice or as part of a political game. I tend to the first explanation, but gaming comes into it.

The scheme of the Protocol has been discussed on this site before in the wider context. It needs revisiting for itself.

In context, some seven times more trade passes between Northern Ireland and Great Britain than between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, but that border across the island has more psychological impact as traffic passes back and forth without hindrance, without the need for ships. The Protocol expresses its aim as avoiding any trade border between Ulster and the rest, but still so as to allow the EU to control its own external trade border, which seems like a contradiction, hence the odd provisions to square the circle.

The Protocol is one-way: it looks at goods passing from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, not goods passing the other way, which are not the European Union’s concern.

Northern Ireland therefore remains, and is explicitly stated to be, part of the United Kingdom’s single market and customs area, but people and businesses in Ulster are given privileged access to the European Single Market. The block is that goods travelling from Great Britain must be processed as exports before they reach Northern Ireland if they are “at risk of” entering the Irish Republic and thus the European Union. Therein lies the rub: anything could be deemed to be “at risk of” entering Eire.

Guilty until proven innocent: Article 5 states that no customs duties are payable on goods entering Northern Ireland unless they are at risk of entering the European Union, but that ‘unless’ is turned on its head:

2. For the purposes of the first and second subparagraphs of paragraph 1, a good brought into Northern Ireland from outside the Union shall be considered to be at risk of subsequently being moved into the Union unless it is established that that good:
(a) will not be subject to commercial processing in Northern Ireland; and
(b) fulfils the criteria established by the Joint Committee…

Therefore there is a presumption of the risk.

A moment though: Article 5 refers to customs duties, and there are no customs duties between the United Kingdom and the European Union, so the whole Article is redundant. There is nothing else referring to those goods allegedly at risk of entering the European Union.

The further provisions of the Protocol apply some parts of European Union rules within Northern Ireland. This is a particular bugbear: it is intended to make things easier for goods and services to flow south to north, but imposes foreign law, the escape from which was one of the major benefits of Brexit.

The immediate interference with trade within the United Kingdom is a system of checks being imposed at Stranraer and Cairnryan. It is doubtful whether these are necessary at all under the Protocol. There are no customs duties being demanded nor should customs declarations be demanded as no duty can become payable: the only customs duties payable for goods entering Eire from Great Britain are on goods originating outside the United Kingdom, and that is a tiny proportion of all goods shipped. The applicability of the Protocol in this case is questionable in any case.

The Protocol was for a limited purpose, the vast bulk of which is inapplicable with the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement in place. However leave it to an officious clerk and he will not just make a meal of it but a nine-course feast.

The customs officials in Rotterdam, one of the most important commercial ports in the world, check a small fraction of the consignments passing under their eyes: main shippers have to be trusted. Could it be that those posted to Stranraer are making work for themselves? If there is no strict need for checks, then they can be withdrawn completely. It is only for goods travelling on into the Irish Republic, and that is not the concern of the British government. To be more concerned for the interests of the EU than the EU itself is would be a familiar trait in the Civil Service, and one we could well do without.

The immediate answer then is just to withdraw all checks and paperwork.

If lawyers descend upon the fine detail of the Protocol and its annexes and read around other implied legislation and demand that border checks be re-imposed, then the Protocol becomes intolerable, going beyond the plain words agreed to. In that case a small amendment to reverse the presumption of risk would serve, which could be a change to the Protocol itself or by a decision of the Joint Committee. It seems excessive though for Articles which are in essence redundant.

The EU should be subdued after their recent misbehaviour, but they might in time cut up rough when they can see that the British government is not going to persecute its on people. If they demand that there be bureaucracy imposed on trade and it is not being imposed in the ports of the North Channel nor of course on the border, then they have an obvious course open to them: reverse the Protocol. Instead of Ulster being given special access in return for a semi-detachment from the rest of the country, give the Republic of Ireland that access to the British internal market with check at the continental ports. It would make more sense given that vastly more trade passes from Eire to the United Kingdom than between Eire and the continent.

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Quiet, smug anniversary

You would hardly notice the great day today: the first anniversary of Brexit Day. We have been so overwhelmed by other concerns in a year that should have been a year for building. Has no one noticed the date?

It has been a very good Brexit, and in the nick of time a good deal was done, better that we expected. It was a game of chicken and played well, resulting in what we might think was a British victory, but what was actually the best result for both sides, even in the Europeans don’t realise it yet. The doomsayers were to be disappointed.

I cannot say that the doomsayers were proven wrong, as they could well have been right in some respects had the sands fallen a different way or the negotiators been less steadfast., but their proclaimed doom was averted. (They have the satisfaction at least that the deal was so close to the time that exporters could not get their paperwork straight so that it looked for a few weeks like a disaster. They’ll be happy with that.)

However, the worst predications, which Brexiteers like me dismissed, have still come to pass: the economy has indeed collapsed, unemployment has soared, the NHS has failed and social problems have multiplied. It is not because of Brexit though: it is because of the lockdown.

A year ago, on Brexit Day itself, COVID-19 was known about but was only just spreading visibly in Britain. Now it has infected even the news cycle. The collapse though in society, economy, the NHS, public credit and much else beside is not because of the disease but because of the measures taken in response to it.

Maybe this is the end of it. I would not count on it. If though the nation can be released to recover again and reap the benefit of Brexit freedom, we are well placed to be the first to come out of it. Then there will be a landscape of bankruptcy across the whole continent, the one where all our business’s customers are meant to be. Maybe there is something to be made by buying all those bankrupt businesses up, with British money and enterprise?

Maybe next year we can have our celebration

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The new challenges for 2021

Happy New Year to all; and now we roll our sleeves up to achieve what the opportunities of the year put before us.

Few were sad to see the end of 2020. It has been a bad year, which is one reason for not doing a jaunty end-of-year round-up yesterday.

There have been happy things: Britain came out of the European Union at last on 31 January 2020 and the hang-over transition period ended as the new year fireworks were bursting, and with a good, new trade treaty agreed, not a cliff-edge. However the dominant theme of the year has been the plague from Wuhan.

The worst thing has not been the disease but the lockdown imposed to try to control it, which failed, lengthening pain. I found it hard to celebrate the New Year – when they end the lockdown, then I can celebrate.

In the meantime, we look ahead. There is work to be done.

For all of us, the priority is to work, and work hard, at whatever we do that is economically active, or social. The lockdown has trashed the economy and bankrupted many, but the overall structure is sound, when allowed to work, and hard work will revive the engines of prosperity. Work is there, fundamentally, to create value, as Adam Smith explains. There can be forms of work which are valuable in one sense but create no lasting value, such as the work of civil servants, judges, stage actors and the like: the priority is value-creation as all prosperity depends on it. (If that means sending unnecessary civil servants out to work in factories and shopfloors, I am all for it.)

Society too has taken a body-blow: we have got unused to congregating together, attending church, organising social gatherings and attending and organising the clubs and societies which form the sinews of active society, and it will take an effort to convince anyone to come off the computer screen, stop watching daft YouTube videos (guilty as charged) and to step outside the house and into those social groups. It has even got to the basic level of decay that many have found they do not have to give a friendly greeting or to smile.

Within government too, action is needed, and it must not be driven by professors on a power-trip. Indeed after this period of utter negation of liberty, we need to see a major drive to boost individual freedom. Politically it will be important to be seen to champion freedom and personal responsibility, but then any politician can make the right noises: Tony Blair was hailed as a champion of civil liberty but in the event was an enemy to it. Society suffers and the economy suffers when its members are not free. We can thrive economically and in our mental state when we have personal responsibility and the freedom to pursue our personal goals. I feel more specific articles coming on.

In a few days’ time the country with the world’s biggest national debt will have a new President, and we must see how he swings America’s weight around.

Liz Truss for one will be busy, signing even more trade deals across the globe. Fascinatingly, her bouncy confidence and speed of action have driven even the glacially slow European Union to up their game in signing deals in the wider world. They are being overtaken though.

Then the loneliest man of them all is Rishi Sunak, with an empty Treasury and knowing that he if he raises taxes to fill the gap, it would bring no more cash in anyway, and would put another wrecking ball into the economy.

There is a lot to look forward to in 2021, but it is not going to be easy. We cab look for politicians to acct wisely, but really the hard work is for the rest of us. We must all work hard.

A Great Deal to Do

It is impossible to comment sensibly on a deal we have not yet seen, but it is steadfastness has prevailed where floppiness did not, and Boris has never been floppy in this matter. If even Nigel Farage says ‘the War is Over’, it must be something good.

I will predict that extreme Brexiteers will shout ‘betrayal’ and Remoaners will mock and complain, and I further predict that the markets of the wider world, those which are still growing as Europe’s contracts, will open up like blossoming flowers awaiting the buzzing bees of the overstretched metaphor.

The deal when published (or at least when the bits which can be published are published) will get a commentary on this site. For now though, let us go into Christmas with a measure of relief, and hoping too that the lockdown will blow away with the New Year too and allow growth to return to the home of commerce and enterprise: Britain.