The border coming back to bite

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The two year period the United Kingdom gave itself (once May triggered Article 50) to hash out a deal with the European Union is almost up. There are only so many days left and, with Parliament rejecting the only negotiated deal, the prospect of crashing out becomes even more likely. With political commentators, and indeed the Prime Minister, unable to say with certainty what will happen next, we shall explore some of the facts that do remain unwavering in this Brexit storm.

There are only so many days left and, with Parliament rejecting the only negotiated deal, the prospect of crashing out becomes even more likely.

The fundamental fact, whether you are a Remain or Leave supporter, is that if nothing is passed through parliament with a majority the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on March 29th without a deal, no matter how much campaigning there is against this. This is, and always has been, the default option.

Furthermore, a People’s Vote would become obsolete altogether after March 29th because we would not be able to vote whether or not we want to stay in again since we would already be out. Nothing changes this fact and no matter what people say to try and convince you that Brexit may or may not happen, the fact remains that we will, by law, leave the European Union on March 29.

Many of the problems the UK has faced in trying to form a deal with the EU began the moment drew her red lines. Although the reasons why people wanted to vote for Brexit were never directly asked by the government, the assumption was based on immigration concerns. Therefore, it was fair for to go to the European Union with the assertion that there will be an end to freedom of movement.

Although the reasons why people wanted to vote for Brexit were never directly asked by the government, the assumption was based on immigration concerns.

However, freedom of movement is part of the four foundations of the internal market: free movement of goods, services, capital and, of course, people. As the EU has made explicitly clear, both before the referendum and since, these four freedoms are indivisible and cannot be cherry picked. From Theresa May’s red line of abolishing the free movement of people, there came the issue of trying to get a deal on goods, services, and capital.

This red line also creates the issue with the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Good Friday agreement does not allow for a hard border between the two countries. This makes it extremely difficult for ’s government to find a system which stops the freedom of movement, and by extension the movement of goods, services, and capital, whilst keeping an open border. This leads us to main reason why the deal the government negotiated with the EU was rejected as it meant keeping the UK in the Customs Union temporarily until a solution is found; the rejection of the Irish border backstop. Northern Ireland was never seriously discussed in pre-referendum debates, yet it is proving to be an insoluble problem for politicians.  

Northern Ireland was never seriously discussed in pre-referendum debates, yet it is proving to be an insoluble problem for politicians.  

Currently, the Prime Minister is seeking to renegotiate with Europe about the backstop as they are concerned about how long the backstop will last. However, the EU has already stated that they are no longer negotiating the backstop because it is the only way to preserve the Good Friday agreement and prevent a hard border. Despite the EU explicitly stating they will not negotiate the deal further, May’s current strategy is to attempt further negotiation.

We now hear many voices looking to extend Article 50 (which would still require the authorisation of all 27 other member states). However, an amendment by Yvette Cooper looking to extend article 50 until the end of 2019 was defeated recently in Parliament by 321 votes to 298.

A no-deal Brexit will necessitate a return to the hard border.

The main concern going into the future is the Irish border situation. Leading Brexiters, such as Jacob Reese-Mogg, claim that it is an easy problem to fix, yet they have proposed nothing credible to back up their claim. The one thing Leave and Remain voters share in common is that neither side can come up with a workable agreement as to how to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. This will remain an issue up until March 29th when it becomes a reality – a no-deal Brexit will necessitate a return to the hard border.

Whilst the majority of parliament wanting to avoid a no-deal exit, the prospects of finding and passing a deal in time (before March 29th) appears increasingly unlikely.

Photo by Almost Witty via Flickr

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