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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.

62 Days Until Brexit & Still No Agreement

by John Brian Shannon

As per present UK law, Britain is set to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019. Which is the automatic default, by the way. Even if the government were to pack up shop and go on vacation, the UK would still cease to be a member of the EU on that date.

And, as of 26 January 2019, there’s still no signed Withdrawal Agreement for leaving the EU, nor is there consensus in the UK House of Commons on amendments to Theresa May’s draft Withdrawal Agreement. Which means that the UK and the EU are headed towards a so-called ‘Hard Brexit’ where the UK leaves the EU bloc without any agreed terms, conditions, and mutual privileges.

It’s truly a sad state of affairs that 21st-century politicians can’t even agree on the terms for the UK leaving the EU bloc. You’d think they’d employ the kind of thinking that would get the job done, instead of employing the ‘Win-Lose’ thinking of the 20th-century that brought so much heartbreak to the world.

Howbeit, whether a deal is agreed tomorrow or as late as March 28, 2019 there’s no real problem — other than the fact that the business community won’t have much time to prepare for whatever terms and conditions may apply from January 1, 2020.

Not impossible. Just cutting it a bit close is all.


As You Would Expect, Remainers are Still Trying to Cancel Brexit

Their latest proposal is to support legislation delaying Brexit by 3-months or even until January 2020… ostensibly to give UK and EU politicians ‘time to think their way through’ to a solution (a Brexit agreement) that’ll work for both sides and therefore garner enough votes to pass in the House of Commons and the EU27 countries.

Of course, what it’s about is delay, delay, delay — until everyone dies of old age — or something else replaces Brexit in the European consciousness. You’ve got to know that they’re praying for a major terrorist attack (anywhere!) or another war (anywhere!) to make that bad ol’ Brexit man go away. Just make it go away, Mommy!

Yes… We know… It’s scary becoming a real country again, isn’t it? But that’s what voters want sweety and that’s what they’re going to get. So just buckle in. The adults in the room will get the job done and the sky won’t fall. You’ll be alright kitten.

Another Remainer ploy at this late stage is a proposal to have the UK government hold another EU referendum to ensure ‘The People’ voted the right way, and if not, to give them another chance. Kindness and redemption available from Remainers. So nice!

Not only that, you’ll probably get a participation badge for voting ‘the right way’ this time and the respect of un-democrats everywhere.


After Failing to Agree a Withdrawal Agreement for 2 1/2 Years and Counting; Why Do Remainers Think More Time Will Do the Trick?

As the same problems will remain — no matter how much time is added to the Brexit schedule — so how is the element of ‘more time’ expected to solve anything?

More time… won’t solve anything. In fact, it may prove harmful to the UK side on account of the upcoming EU presidential elections.

Both Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk may seem soft and fuzzy in retrospect once we compare them to the next holders of the EU and EC presidencies, and if the UK can’t get an agreement now with grandpa Juncker and uncle Tusk in office, how do we expect to get a deal with the next crew?

Especially when the fundamental issues preventing a deal won’t have changed one iota in the meantime.

The construct we call ‘time’ isn’t the problem here; It’s the issues. Get it? And either a smooth working relationship is worth preserving or it isn’t.

But if sufficient goodwill exists and if a spirit of compromise is in the air, there will be a deal, and the delays we’re experiencing are merely serving to pressure leaders into accepting a certain set of terms. If that is the case, such delays are being used as a tactic by one side to obtain the deal they want from the other side. Fair enough.

All tactics can be considered ‘fair’ as long as by the end of the process on March 29, 2019 it results in a deal that both sides can live with.


Defining the Future Relationship

More than anything else — because actions speak so much louder than words — if the UK and the EU sign a decent Withdrawal Agreement by March 29, 2019 it will guarantee world-class future relations between the two countries.

And the reward for that is quite obvious; Peace and prosperity for the people of the UK and the EU for the rest of the 21st-century.

When it comes right down to it; Is there anything more valuable in the geopolitical world?

If you think there is, then you haven’t been on the planet long enough. Therefore, stick around young sprite. You’ve plenty to learn.

Where Do We Go From Here? A Brexit Bullet List

by John Brian Shannon

1. Theresa May’s draft Withdrawal Agreement fails in the UK House of Commons by a vote of 432-202, the largest government defeat since the 1920’s.

2. But all is not lost as most of those voting against the draft Withdrawal Agreement (WA) were voting against tiny portions of it. Were those paragraphs to be changed the draft Withdrawal Agreement would pass in the House of Commons with flying colours as much of the draft agreement was already acceptable to British MP’s.

3. I don’t blame Theresa May for wanting to put the draft Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament for the simple reason that when both sides have negotiated in good faith (and they have) when one side agrees a deal (the EU27) it’s understandable for them to expect the proposal will be offered up for a vote on the other side (the UK House of Commons) It’s simply a case of showing the proper diplomatic respect they’re entitled to as a good faith negotiating partner — nothing more, nothing less.

4. Of course, British MP’s have every right to politely refuse such a deal and they did just that yesterday, January 15, 2019 by an almost unprecedented margin of 230 votes.

5. But had it passed in the House of Commons yesterday, the draft WA would’ve instantly become law in both countries and all problems relating to Brexit would’ve been solved — save for the highly contentious Irish backstop arrangement, and possibly some minor points contained within the otherwise excellent draft Withdrawal Agreement.

6. So, instead of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ the government should offer the proposed Withdrawal Agreement for examination in a paragraph-by-paragraph debate in the House of Commons. This could be done very rapidly. Each paragraph takes only a minute to read aloud and MP’s could then vote on each paragraph or block of similar text in a matter of minutes. I haven’t counted how many paragraphs or text blocks are in the draft WA, but within two days MP’s would’ve approved most of the draft WA — and the sections that weren’t approved by British MP’s would be by then clearly identified.

7. Having clearly identified the offending paragraphs of the draft WA the government would then be tasked with finding solutions to those offending paragraphs — and each successful solution would need to be voted up in Parliament and added to the draft Withdrawal Agreement as amendments.

8. Finally, the House of Commons having approved each paragraph of the reworked deal would need to vote on the entirety of the amended Withdrawal Agreement and pass it with a simple majority; Shortly thereafter, Theresa May would present the amended Withdrawal Agreement to the EU27 for their approval, comments, or counter-proposal.

9. All this needs to occur in January as time is against both the UK and the EU with only 73-days left until the automatic default kicks in; A No Deal Brexit. (And many of us are fine with that and think that any claims of economic Armageddon are grotesquely overstated and based on irrational fear instead of fact. Where are all the detailed studies showing that the UK would sink beneath the waves never to surface again? Hint: There aren’t any) Nevertheless, if British MP’s on both sides of the House want a negotiated Brexit deal, good on them. That’s just them being responsible. But remember, it takes two to tango. They can’t order the EU to accept a negotiated exit agreement.

10. Any talk about extending Article 50 is irresponsible as it stirs the public towards civil conflict and causes citizens to lose faith in all elected officials.

11. Any talk about extending Article 50 by the government side of the House is silly because if Theresa May and her ministers couldn’t get a deal with Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk (who have been sweet and patient with the British side) what makes Theresa May and her ministers think they’re going to get a deal with whomever replaces Juncker and Tusk at the end of May 2019, after the EU elections? That’s not saying that I agree with Mr. Juncker or Mr. Tusk on certain points regarding Brexit. Understandably, they’re in business for the EU27 not for the UK. But the UK government has wasted precious time ‘playing it’ seemingly for political purposes over the past 2 1/2 years and now they’re in bigger trouble than they know — because whomever replaces the soft and fuzzy crew of Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk won’t be as accommodating as those two gentlemen. In short, the grass won’t be greener on the other side of May 29th. To put it mildly.

12. Almost no one wants to leave the EU without a deal. No Deal fears are wildly and irresponsibly overblown. However, British MP’s and most Britons say a negotiated deal is a better pathway forward. Therefore, it’s imperative to get a deal even if the fears that drive us toward a negotiated deal are greatly exaggerated. (Doing the ‘right thing’ for the ‘wrong reasons’ can still work for Britain) Theresa May’s draft WA (which was already approved by the EU27) forms the basis of, and the best chance for, a negotiated agreement. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel at this late stage, it’s better through a series of paragraph by paragraph amendments to improve only the paragraphs that need improvement and after approval of the whole amended document by a majority of MP’s, Theresa May can present the Amended Withdrawal Agreement to Mr. Juncker and Mr. Tusk for their kind consideration. Let’s hope that works, because then both sides can finish with Brexit and get back to the important work of governing their respective people.

13. Perhaps the most important point of all is that British MP’s of all parties should continue to support Theresa May’s government and the Motion of No Confidence slated for 7:00pm tomorrow (January 16, 2019) should fail, as the quickest path to a negotiated Brexit is an amended Withdrawal Agreement. Theresa May should remain as Prime Minister, and the entire Conservative Party, the entire DUP, and MP’s from other parties should vote to keep her on the job.

14. As bad as the optics of it are, all that’s really happened over the past 24-hours is that British MP’s were offered the opportunity by Theresa May’s government to vote on a draft Withdrawal Agreement that the EU27 had previously approved. And as the EU27 has negotiated in good faith they deserved to know the answer to their proposal. Not allowing the EU27 to receive an answer to their proposal would’ve been extremely disrespectful. And that’s not the way to begin a new relationship with an important trading partner with whom we share so much history.

UK Brexit Withdrawal Agreement vote January 15, 2019

Image courtesy of BBC – Data from Commons Votes Services.