Brexit: Where are we now? – Part One

IIEA5th February 20184min
Over the coming weeks, the IIEA will publish a series of online articles in which expert authors will examine the current state of play in the Brexit negotiations, and assess options for the future.

Over the coming weeks, the IIEA will publish a new volume of our regular Brexit Status Reports as a series of online articles. Expert authors will examine the current state of play in the Brexit negotiations, and assess the options for the future. A new article will be published every second day.

 

Few issues have preoccupied Irish public and political discourse to the same extent as the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. After an arduous and sometimes ill-tempered first phase of negotiations, a first glimmer of clarity arrived in December 2017, when the European Council announced that ‘sufficient progress’ had been made on the three main issues for Phase 1:

1)     Clarifying the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU after Brexit

2)     Addressing the unique circumstances of Ireland and Northern Ireland

3)     Agreeing on the UK’s financial settlement.

 

Finalising the details of these agreements will continue in the second phase, and the process of translating these into legally binding language in the withdrawal agreement will begin.  However, the vitally important matter of the transitional arrangements will be the focus of the negotiations over the coming weeks. The February 2018 IIEA Brexit Status Report will be published as a series of online articles. The series aims to provide a comprehensive state of play on the political situation in the UK, Ireland and EU institutions, setting out the overall state of play in the negotiations; providing perspectives from key players in the negotiations; and assessing the options for the future.

The first part of the series, ‘Brexit: Where are we now?’, focuses on the state of play from the vantage points of London, Brussels, Dublin and Belfast. John Palmer, former Europe Editor at the Guardian, will assess the political situation in the UK; the IIEA Brussels provides an update from the EU institutions; Tom Arnold, former IIEA Director General, will provide a perspective from Ireland on the negotiations; and David Phinnemore, Dean of Education at Queens University Belfast, will provide an update from Northern Ireland.

The second part of the series, ‘Brexit: Where are we going?’ will look ahead to the next steps of the negotiations. John Bruton, Former Taoiseach and IIEA Board Member, will assess the options for the UK’s transitional arrangements, while John McGrane, Managing Director of the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce, will make the case for a future relationship that consists of a comprehensive free trade agreement as well as a new customs union agreement between the UK and the EU. The series will conclude with a perspective from Tony Brown, IIEA Senior Fellow, on the future of Europe after Brexit.

What emerges from this series is a consistent theme: the negotiations before Christmas provided some assurances for Ireland and Northern Ireland, but uncertainty continues to abound.

This is true not only with regard to the nature of the future relationship, upon which the Irish border issues may depend, but also in respect of the political situation in the UK. Prime Minister May’s weak position within her own party, and the uneasy alliance between the Conservatives and the DUP, indicate an uncertain political trajectory in the months ahead.

The situation remains unpredictable, but if Brexit goes ahead as expected in March 2019 this will present Ireland with a radically changed landscape in its multilateral and bilateral relations and many challenges to the economic and political status quo.

But the manner in which Ireland confronts these challenges is also increasingly being seen as a gauge of the progress that the country has made since accession. The two countries joined the EU on the same day, yet it is now clear that when the UK leaves, it will do so alone.

As IIEA President Brendan Halligan has written, the shift in Irish relations after accession in 1973 from bilateral dependence on the UK to multilateral engagement with Europe was transformative for the country: “[Accession was] a shift from the claustrophobic to the expansive – and liberating for a small state with a large neighbour”. Brexit presents Ireland with many challenges, but as Tony Brown will set out in his concluding article, the prevailing view at political level is that these challenges can only be met in the context of Ireland’s EU membership.

 

Previous editions of the IIEA’s Brexit Status Reports can be downloaded here and here.