Ending All Ireland Economic Cooperation

Paragraphs 114 to 116 of the UK Government Command Paper “Safeguarding the Union” (The DUP deal with the UK Government) contain provisions for ending all British Government commitment to protecting the all-island economy in Ireland as previously agreed with the EU in 2017, and provided for in the UK European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

On the face of it this constitutes a unilateral resiling on agreements previously reached with the EU, and a slap in the face for the Irish government and its commitment to provide funding for cross-border projects and projects within Northern Ireland under the Shared Island Initiative.

Why should the Irish government devote taxpayers’ money towards promoting cross border cooperation and projects within Northern Ireland when the British government actively seeks to discourage all-island economic cooperation?

Has this proposal been agreed with the Irish government and the North-South institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, and has the EU agreed to set aside agreements previously reached with the UK government?

There are numerous ways Ireland and the EU could retaliate against this needless and hostile measure, ranging from freezing all funding for Shared Island projects, to the halting all discussions between the EU and UK on research cooperation or improving EU/UK trading relationships more generally.

Does the UK really want to start a trade war, or at least halt all discussions aimed at easing current barriers to UK/EU trade? It seems the UK Prime Minister’s reportedly testy phone call with An Taoiseach was designed to distract from this unfriendly measure.

It beggars belief that unionists or the British government should see ending north south cooperation as improving prospects for reconciliation or economic development within Northern Ireland.

 

Specifically, Paragraphs 114-116 state:

114. The Government recognises that one of the key concerns for unionists in Northern Ireland within the 2017 UK-EU Joint Report is related to the promotion of the political concept of the ‘all-island economy.’ Whilst access to the EU market has broad support amongst business and consumers, the creation of a new political construct of the ‘all-island economy’ is clearly more divisive in nature and has been rejected by the current Government. The Windsor Framework decisively moved away from this concept, and indeed envisages growing divergence across the international land border, with labelling and market surveillance used to seek to avoid products being placed illegally on the market in Ireland.

115. However, the Government accepts that there are concerns we have not yet gone far enough to decisively remove all the legal ramifications of the acceptance in 2017 by the then UK Government of the need to protect the ‘all-island economy’ in relation to goods. Specifically we agree that it is unacceptable that Ministers still have a legal duty to have regard to protecting the ‘all-island economy.’ This applies to all Statutory Instruments relating to the Windsor Framework and therefore could continue to have a long-term distorting legal effect that detracts from our actual priority to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market and customs territory.

116. The Government therefore commits to repealing section 10(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. We will legislate separately to ensure this important change comes into effect. This will mean a full and complete repeal of all statutory duties relating to the ‘all-island economy’ that apply to Ministers or competent authorities. We will ensure that statutory guidance issued under the UK Internal Market Act 2020 – as set out in this paper – fully reflects this.

 

In What was it all for? I wrote:

It remains to be seen how they [Sinn Féin] will react when the details of the Sunak/Donaldson deal have been revealed. Have they been kept in the loop? It would be a poor look for “Equality of Esteem” if, as claimed by Donaldson, the DUP are the only party the UK government have been talking to. Even An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, claims not to have seen the details.

It would be a poor look indeed if the UK government have blindsided not only Sinn Féin, but the Irish government on this as well. Post Brexit British Irish relations may be about to hit a new low. Perhaps the calculation was that there is a better chance of unionist grass roots accepting the deal if both Sinn Féin and the Irish government are annoyed, on the principle that if themmums are angry, the deal must be good for unionism.

The Irish government, Sinn Féin, and southern political parties generally have been generous in their praise for the DUP and the UK government for coming to a deal. They will be less than impressed if it turns out to have been at their expense. Trust, already at a low ebb, will sink right down to zero. The Sunak government had better not come looking for any EU concessions on anything any time soon.

Who gains from such a gratuitous attack on good neighbourly relations on the island?


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