The December European Council meeting is rapidly approaching. The British government, however, still hasn’t come up with a Brexit plan that would satisfy Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The question of “hard” or “soft” border remains unresolved. Last week, during the European social summit in Sweden, the Irish prime minister (or the Taoiseach in Irish) Leo Varadkar presented Theresa May an ultimatum : either the UK formally confirms in writing that there will be no “hard” border with Northern Ireland, or Ireland does its utmost to block the negotiations next month.
According to the latest Brexit Sentiment Index released by Allied Irish Bank (AIB), the future of the Irish firms, especially in the South, is grim. 41 per cent of SME (small to medium-sized companies) in Northern Ireland and 26 per cent in the Republic already felt the negative impact of Brexit. The SME in the South fear their situation might worsen considerably during the last quarter of 2017 and next year. The Irish economy has already been hit hard by Brexit and proper negotiations haven’t even started yet.
And that is part of the problem – so far, there is a general consensus that the English are trying to “wing it”, without having any actual solid plan for exiting the European Union. According to the Guardian, Britain keeps on giving “bland reassurances” that Brexit will not affect the Irish economy, although it already clearly has. The British government says that “progress” has been made, without giving any details or suggesting anything concrete to rectify the situation.
Meanwhile, Irish people truly start to feel like “second-class citizens” whose opinion is not valued at all. Nobody wants the hard-won Good Friday agreement to be declared null and void because of Brexit, which Northern Ireland voted against. The Irish readers of the Guardian even shared some ideas about the way the negotiations should be led:
A united Ireland is largely seen as a solution to the border problem. Other suggestions include moving border to the Irish sea or the North to stay in the EU customs union. Indeed, the absence of checks and delays at the frontier would be beneficial to everyone – manufacturers, workers – and would also fix the border problem.
Brussels, it seems, is in favour of the latter option. Michel Barnier, Brussels’ chief Brexit negotiator, encouraged Northern Ireland to remain in the EU customs union after Britain leaves the EU and completely opposed a “new border in the UK”. “We need to preserve stability and dialogue on the island of Ireland. We need to avoid a hard border. I know that this point is politically sensitive in the UK, it is not less sensitive in Ireland,” he said. “Those who want Brexit must offer solutions”, he added today. To protect the Good Friday agreement, Michel Barnier declared he would provide “further refinement” of the six Guiding Principles on Ireland.
Most of all, the Irish people fear a visible border will be erected like a Berlin wall. Well, in that case they promised to simply “set up camp on the border and you will have to drive over us.” The Irish sounded quite determined so the heads of government better figure out something suitable, and they better do it fast..