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A Zero Tariff Trading Relationship Removes the Need for ‘the Irish Backstop’

by John Brian Shannon

Q: Why do EU negotiators feel the need to have an Irish Backstop?

A: The simple answer is that the EU has one set of tariffs (a tariff regime that’s part of the EU’s Single Market) and it’s expected that the UK would enact their own tariff structure after Brexit (as part of the UK’s modern industrial strategy) that might conflict with the EU’s tariff structure.


In Business for the EU or the UK?

European Union leaders feel the UK should remain in the Single Market to make life easier for the EU by ensuring that all tariffs are duly collected and remitted to the proper EU department and once you consider the serious budgetary pressures of Brussels-based politicians it’s understandable why they feel that way.

The question though is; Should the UK give up some amount of sovereignty (the ability to sign its own trade deals) so that another country or bloc can ease their budgetary pressures? What kind of logic is that?

Keep in mind that the day after Brexit, the EU becomes a competitor trade bloc and why should the UK help their competitors? Do other countries do that for the EU? (No) For that matter, do other countries do that for the UK? (Also; No)

The simple answer, of course, is that no countries do that. Ever.

The exception is where countries have reciprocal free trade deals with each other.

In the NAFTA countries (NAFTA remains in force until USMCA supersedes it) those countries collect and remit tariffs, levies, and fees on behalf of the others all the time, and nobody thinks a thing about it because it’s just normal business. That’s what valued trading partners do for each other.

See the problem here? The UK and the EU need a reciprocal free trade deal to solve any remaining Brexit issues — and more importantly — to prevent future problems in the relationship.

The UK and the EU have taken each other for granted for so long, that both sides think that taking each other for granted should remain the default mode even after Brexit.

Which is completely unreasonable — and such liberty-taking will eventually result in messy, unpredictable, and ultimately, disastrous results for business on both sides.

Living in each other’s back pocket since 1973 has been fun, hasn’t it? (Depends upon whom you ask, but for a time there were benefits for both sides) But that part of the relationship has ended and it’s time to create an honest relationship, one based on mutual respect, formal lines of communication, and healthy self-interest.


A Zero Tariff Free Trade Agreement with Equivalence Standards Solves All Remaining Brexit & Future Relationship Issues

So get on it!

Waiting and hoping isn’t going to get the job done, nor is each side trying to out-bluff the other going to get the job done, as we’ve seen over the past 2 1/2 years. Someone needs to grab the bull by the horns now before the official Brexit date of March 29, 2019 and do what needs to be done.

Playing the eternal political blame game as each side waits for political support in the other country to collapse isn’t what clear vision and leadership excellence is all about.

So, instead of defaulting to the failed Us vs. Them problem solving modality of the 20th-century, today’s leaders must move boldly towards a Win-Win problem solving modality, especially between Europeans sharing a hemisphere and as fellow NATO allies. And there’s no excuse good enough to do otherwise.

When you begin with a clear vision and add great leadership to carry out that vision, the results can only be good. Europe’s people on both sides of the English Channel deserve that good/better/best future!

Three Quick Ways to Solve the Irish Backstop Issue

by John Brian Shannon

With less than 50-days until the official Brexit date of March 29, 2019, no Withdrawal Agreement exists to guide future relations between the UK and the EU.

Although no reference to a such a withdrawal agreement appeared on the 2016 referendum ballot it seemed appropriate that UK and EU governments should attempt to create such a legal document in order to facilitate a better future relationship.

Subsequently, the two governments agreed to create a ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ (WA) document and try to have it ratified by their respective houses of Parliament. And while the EU27 hasn’t tried to ratify the agreement, UK Prime Minister Theresa May offered it up for consideration in the House of Commons where it was voted down by a margin of 230 votes in one of the largest defeats in the history of the United Kingdom.

MP’s vote down EU withdrawal agreement in resounding defeat for Prime Minister Theresa May

The 585-page Withdrawal Agreement was diligently prepared by Theresa May and her Ministers and there’s no doubt that the EU side also worked ceaselessly to produce it, yet British MP’s were singularly unimpressed by the ‘backstop’ clause dealing with the Irish border. That particular section of the agreement is 175-pages long, plus 10-pages of addenda. Yikes!

In any event, all parties in the House of Commons voted it down handing in the worst defeat for a governing party in the House in 100-years, thereby stalling further progress on Brexit negotiations.

So, if you arrived here looking for the reason why no agreement exists to guide Brexit with less than 50-days until the official Brexit date, you’ve found it.

The Irish Backstop portion of the WA (185-pages in total) is solely responsible for the lack of a Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU. But the remaining 400-pages would pass in the UK House of Commons in minutes — and would easily pass in all of the EU27 countries too. There’s simply no dispute in the WA, except for the portion that deals with ‘the Irish backstop’.


As ‘the Irish Backstop’ has Failed, What Alternatives Exist?

Until last week, everyone involved in Brexit negotiations was locked-on to the idea of getting the Withdrawal Agreement passed through the House of Commons and then getting it passed in the EU27 parliaments.

And now that it has failed so massively, we are compelled to seek other options and such options to resolve the Irish backstop issue are only limited by our creativity.

  1. The territory of Northern Ireland was created a couple of centuries ago when the ruling Monarch of Great Britain purchased the territory and it thenceforth became part of Great Britain. Therefore, Northern Ireland could be sold or granted to the Republic of Ireland by the owner of NI which would be today’s Monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (thereby obviating the need for ‘the Irish Backstop’ and guaranteeing near-instant passage of the Withdrawal Agreement) who would only do so if a majority of Northern Ireland’s people expressed their wish to join with the Republic of Ireland. Which would make for an interesting Northern Ireland-only referendum question, wouldn’t it? Assuming The People of Northern Ireland voted to leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the ruling Monarch would be well advised to accede to their wishes and let them leave. One important caveat must be in place, namely, that any property and historical buildings, monuments, etc., would need to be disassembled and returned to Great Britain as they are the property of the UK and from a pragmatic standpoint I doubt that statues of Sir Winston Churchill etc., would remain standing for long in a Northern Ireland that would join with the Republic of Ireland. Even the Stormont building in NI could be removed ‘brick-by-brick’ and relocated to Great Britain. If Northern Irelanders voted to leave the Kingdom, no doubt some would want to relocate to Great Britain to maintain their UK citizenship and their relocation to the UK should be facilitated with greatest care, speed, and respect, should that particular set of events ever occur. However, if The People of Northern Ireland voted in a referendum to stay in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the ruling UK Monarch and the UK government are obligated to accede to the wishes of Northern Irelanders and continue to support their full rights of UK citizenship and devolved governance in NI.
  2. Another way around the present impasse would be for all trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to be routed through Liverpool for customs and inspection — by air or ship — instead of having a so-called ‘Hard Border’ between the two Irelands. Items valued under £100. (or some other mutually agreed and arbitrary number) could be exempted so that shoppers crossing the border between ROI and NI by car could purchase small items, etc., without incurring any tax liability or having to pass through a hard border crossing. Unlike every other country in the world, a hard border just isn’t acceptable due to the decades of conflict caused by poor leadership and oversight in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland that led to a horrible, divisive, and toxic power vacuum which led and fed the conflict. Let’s hope that politicians, corporations, and royalty in the 21st-century don’t drop the ball like that again. Ever. And I hope that every one of them that dropped the ball are roasting in Hell to this very day, paying for the fecklessness that caused such misery to hundreds of thousands of people on the island of Eire.

    Northern Ireland backstop

    Less than 50 days to go until the official Brexit date of March 29, 2019 and still no solution to the Irish backstop issue. Assuming goodwill on both sides, a deal will be done.

  3. Another suggestion is for new technologies exist that could be used to track and collect tariffs/maintain safety certifications, etc. on goods sold between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and between other EU countries and Northern Ireland, and between overseas countries and Northern Ireland — and I believe it’s possible. The amount of information that can be contained in one bar code (a simple bar code!) is astounding. All that needs happen is for each such item to be scanned by a bar code reader. I can only imagine what modern and more sophisticated technologies could accomplish. Perhaps cooperation between the UK and the EU on these new technologies would result in the same scale of technological revolution as the introduction of the bar code and both countries could lead the world in such technologies. Wouldn’t that be great?

In short, if UK and EU leaders want to find a way forward they will and if they don’t find a way forward it’s only because they don’t want success.

IMHO, there’s no reason that political power vacuums should be allowed to occur in the 21st-century. Such power vacuums have proved disastrous in the past. So, let’s decide now to choose that better path, whatever it may look like.

It isn’t the job of citizens, of corporations, of sports teams, nor of any other organization to solve the political problems between or within developed nations, it’s the remit of politicians to solve political problems, therefore, let’s go forward with those sentiments in mind and together, write a much better script for our respective peoples so that everyone gets to live in peace and prosperity.

Theresa May, Don’t Let Gibraltar Prevent a Deal with the EU

by John Brian Shannon

Gibraltar

The Rock of Gibraltar is a British territory at the southern tip of Spain. According to the Treaties of Utrecht (1713-1714) Gibraltar’s future is a matter between the British Crown and the Spanish Crown, and none other.

There is a rock at the southern tip of Spain called Gibraltar which is a holdover from the British colonial era, and contrary to UK public opinion it served no useful military purpose during World War II. But it’s an interesting promontory for tourists to explore and its history goes all the way back to the ancient Phoenicians who discovered the place.

To UK civilians, ‘the Rock’ represents an important piece of British history that played a vital role in British history (it didn’t) and no matter the cost, it must be preserved and defended. At the very least the thinking goes, it must remain a visa-free travel zone for UK tourists who need to get away from Britain’s winter weather — so on that basis alone; Call up the Royal Navy, call up the Marines, call up the Army, for we must preserve our winter getaway destination! The very antithesis of the word ‘strategic’.


Why Pay to Defend an Indefensible Rock?

Yes, that’s true. Even the mighty U.S. military couldn’t defend Gibraltar from a determined attack. It’s too small to defend and any resupply attempts could easily be thwarted by enemies with far less technological prowess than the U.S. enjoys.

Erwin Rommel, one of the most brilliant (and vastly underrated) military officers in history famously said; “Don’t fight a battle if you gain nothing by winning,” and Britons must be reminded of this here for it shows the astonishing difference between the military mind and the civilian mindset.

Regardless of the fascinating story behind Gibraltar, it serves no strategic purpose for the United Kingdom (it never did) and a political fight over it may poison the waters for obtaining a reasonable Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union.

No British military officer would ever pretend that the Rock is a strategic site, either in WWI, WWII, or now. It’s insignificant from a military point of view. However, many civilians seem to think Gibraltar is of the utmost military significance and must be ‘defended’ at any cost. Facepalm!

Some UK civilians and British politicians think Gibraltar is an important part of British military history, yet the experts on this (including historians and senior military commanders) strongly disagree. And UK politicians using a false military narrative to preserve their favoured tourist spot is naive and dangerous. Unless you’re wilfully blind on the matter, you can see where this is heading.

I wouldn’t waste one single life defending Gibraltar, as a soldier’s life is of far more value to the UK and to his or her family than a rock in the Mediterranean. Let’s save our powder for the battles that actually matter, shall we?

Now, would someone please inform Theresa May that World War II is over and that Gibraltar isn’t part of Britain’s great and glorious military history. It’s a historical footnote, nothing more.


Gibraltar is a drain on the UK budget

More money is spent by the UK government maintaining Gibraltar annually than the UK receives (from all sources) in the territory.

That money could be better spent in the NHS, on so-called tiny homes for the homeless, on better teaching aids to make our kids smarter, on small town and city beautification projects (such projects create many jobs for comparatively small amounts of money) or other worthwhile projects. The billions directed to the UK military to support Gibraltar could be better spent to defend Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

If Gibraltarians don’t want to become Spanish citizens after Brexit, they’re welcome to sell their homes in Gibraltar and up-stakes to Britain, Northern Ireland, or any of the British territories in the Caribbean, for example.

I’m sure EU citizens would be happy to purchase those homes at a premium, so there won’t be any financial losses to Gibraltarians.


Gibraltar is a Crown Colony: A Holdover from the British Empire

Although Gibraltar is administered by the UK government in cooperation with the Gibraltar administration (presently and ably led by Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo) it remains owned by the British Crown in a heritage that goes back centuries.

Only the Monarch of Great Britain can sell, grant, or decide to keep that British territory. The UK government administers Gibraltar but isn’t the owner of it.

Both British and continental European politicians are entitled to their personal opinions on the matter. But in the end, it’s not their matter, but a matter between the Monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Monarch of Spain.

Therefore, the future of Gibraltar is to be decided by the British Crown and the Spanish Crown only (see the Treaties of Utrecht) for those are the only principals in this matter, and none other.