UK’s contradictory position on trade is barrier to orderly Brexit not Ireland

14 June 2019

Making a further response to the remarks made by Jeffrey Donaldson MP of the DUP, the leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin TD, pointed out that the Brexit dilemma is not the Irish backstop but the UK’s own contradictory position on trade.

Deputy Howlin said:

“Jeffrey Donaldson has claimed that the only barrier to an orderly Brexit is the Irish backstop. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“It is true that Ireland barely figured in the Brexit debate before the June 2016 referendum, and realisation of the implications of Brexit for Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement was a case of too little, too late. However, the border backstop was a convenient scapegoat for supporters of a hard Brexit as it was easier than examining the deep contradictions in their own position.

“Consider Theresa May’s mantra of the UK taking control of its borders, its laws and its money. There is no doubt that the UK – or any country – can take back sovereignty of these things by withdrawing from international agreements and simply focusing on its internal economy. But the great contradiction is that the UK is heavily involved in global trade, and the UK wants to continue to enjoy favoured trading relations with the EU post-Brexit.

“The UK could simply rely on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, but these only apply to goods, they allow tariffs and they allow non-tariff barriers to trade to develop. More crucially, the UK relies on the export of services to offset imports of goods, and needs a much closer trading relationship than just WTO rules if trade in services is to continue unimpeded.

“That brings the focus back to the customs union and single market, for the UK to either be a full member of these or else a close associate. However, this requires alignment with the European Union on migration (as many service exports are delivered by people travelling to another country), regulation (to have a level playing field on standards and regulations) and monetary policy (to stop one country undermining a deal by devaluation of their currency). Lo and behold, the UK has to compromise on its borders, its laws and its money: not due to any imposition by the EU but because the UK itself wants a deep trading relationship.

“The alternative scenario is the idea that the UK can have a deep trading relationship while also retaining total sovereignty. That would imply an imperialist British influence over European borders, law and money on its own terms to facilitate extensive trade in services. That is a dangerous fiction, and the DUP would be better off looking at how the British desire for extensive, frictionless and open trade requires precisely the kind of mechanism that was created in the Irish border backstop to ensure close alignment with the customs union and single market.”

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