As I’m sure most people will know, I’m a Remainer and a pretty hardcore one – I’d like to join the Euro and Schengen, and I think that referendums are of pretty dubious legitimacy (and especially so for ill-defined binary choices used to claim democratic legitimacy for things that are being made up years after the votes were cast).
However, if I’m being forced to write a Brexit plan at gunpoint and I’m not allowed to write either “don’t do it” or “just stay in the EEA you fools”, then here goes:
- Slow down. Don’t trigger Article 50. If you already have (you fools), then negotiate for a long extension. If you can’t do that either, then EEA (on Norway’s terms and only very minor fiddling around the edges, because the 2 year time limit is very narrow and there isn’t time to negotiate much) as a transition with no defined end date, but rather a defined end state.
- By “defined end state”, I mean that the transition ends when we have an FTA with the rest of the EU and FTAs or other bilaterals/multilaterals with enough non-EU countries to feel comfortable (ie at least USA and China), and we have also agreed terms for an individual membership of the WTO. I’d expect that to take at least a decade and possibly two.
- Now we get to the difficult question.
Honestly, if I was advising the Tories, I’d say “Have a border poll and then get Boris Johnson to say a bunch of offensive things a week before polling day, and then it won’t be a problem.” but supposing we’re not allowed to just get rid of the place, the basic problem is that you can’t set up border patrols (because that’s a hard border and a breach of the Good Friday Agreement).
The current solution has been the CTA (a sort of mini-Schengen for the UK and Ireland), which will pretty much work fine for allowing people to physically cross the border at will (anyone with a visa from either the UK or Ireland is already allowed in the other country, so as long as EU citizens get visa-free travel to the UK as tourists then we don’t need border patrols) but there is then the problem of goods. If goods in a certain category can be imported into the UK but not the EU (or vice versa) or would pay much more in tariffs in one or the other, then having no border controls at all would let people import through whichever is cheaper (or legal) and then load it on a lorry and drive over the border. If you can then go from NI to GB or from Ireland to the mainland EU by ferry, then Ireland could be used for a massive exercise in tariff evasion and even getting around legal restrictions if regulations vary between the UK and the EU after Brexit.
This is solvable for people, because short-term stays aren’t a big deal (and long-term stays have to be deal with in-country rather than at the border). But it’s harder for goods. Now, as long as the UK continues to have high regulatory standards (even if different from the EU) so it doesn’t become a massive loophole for dangerous goods (etc), then there might be an agreement to be made. For instance, suppose the UK agreed to require anything in the UK that isn’t allowed in the EU to be labelled as such (ie “Not for Sale in the EU”) and the tariffs are kept close enough that the extra costs of importing through the other country make tariff evasion rarely cost-effective in country (and you run the risk of getting caught – see tobacco smuggling within the EU as presently constituted) then it might be workable. That would be a tough and long negotiation. Remember, you could land a container at the new Liverpool2 port, load it on a lorry, drive to Birkenhead, cross to Belfast on a ferry, drive to Dublin and ferry to Cherbourg. So as long as that costs too much compared to just driving to Dover and paying the tariff, plus the risk of being caught for tariff evasion, then there might be a deal to be done between the UK and EU to allow there to be no customs at the Irish border.
You’d still have to do a deal on Ireland-Northern Ireland goods, but you could almost certainly make a deal where goods produced in either can be sold in the other without restriction. Both Ireland and NI would politically favour that in a big way.
But getting everyone to agree? You can see why I’m setting aside a decade!