The Brexit negotiations seem to have reached something of an impasse. This one was kind of inevitable, though, as it is in regards to Northern Ireland. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that both sides are taking a logical standpoint. Both options seem like the only “right” answer to the side putting them forward, and each are unacceptable to the other side. Unlike other issues, though, this is not just simple stubbornness. It’s a case where one side has to compromise for anything to proceed but the compromise would at the heart of what each side is fighting for. And that’s not “compromise”, that’s “conceding defeat”. But with no third option, we’ve reached Stalemate.
On the one hand, we have the UK. Our referendum result was in favour of leaving the European Union. Regardless of whether you agree with the result, or how close it was, the result was Brexit. Personally, I think it was the wrong decision but it’s the one we’re stuck with and that’s what our side has to bargain for.
What the UK wants is more control over its borders and the chance to set better trade deals for itself. Not exactly bad aims individually, unless taken to extremes, but they lead towards a bit of an “All or Nothing” scenario.
The EU, on the other hand, stands for the free movement of people and goods. They are tied together, as they don’t want to open the gates for member nations to all start picking and choosing what they want, but they also perhaps make more sense on the Continent where the borders are all political rather than physical.
With the UK being surrounded by sea, I suspect that many Brits (especially those who voted Leave) have a more solid view of borders than many other Europeans do.
You can’t just drive down the road and end up “abroad”.
Ireland (both sides)
So now we come to the island of Ireland. This is comprised of Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), and the Republic of ireland, a part of the European Union.
There is a very troubled history over there which was, in part, resolved by both the UK and the Republic being a part of the EU. Physical border checks were seen as a part of the previous political issues and getting rid of them went a long way towards them being able to begin to put the past behind them.
The Good Friday Agreement, a key part of the Northern Ireland peace process, was signed twenty years ago. This puts it within the lifetime of many people alive today.
More importantly, because the minimum voting age was 18, even the youngest voters would only have been born mere months after the agreement was signed. The majority of people will have been alive and aware during “The Troubles” and those who lived in, or who had family/friends, either side of Ireland would be acutely aware of what an achievement it was.
In Northern Ireland, therefore, it is probably fair to assume that even those who voted in favour of Leave would be after a solution that didn’t bring with it a risk of backsliding.
Where it really gets complicated is that there is no obvious solution that won’t require at least one group giving ground that they really can’t.
- The UK wants to leave the EU and gain full control over it borders. This is something that, by its very definition, requires borders of some kind.
- All sides want there to be no “Hard Border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Geographically speaking, the Island of Ireland is separated by water from both the UK and the rest of Europe. From a purely logical and physical point of view, making at least one of the sea borders a physical checkpoint makes the most sense. Politically, though, it fails on both sides.
- The EU want no border checks between any of its member states. So it, as a whole, is against putting a border between the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU.
- The UK, as a whole, is politically against making the sea a hard border between Northern Ireland and the mainland.
- Northern Ireland, in particular, do not want to be split and treated as more a part of Europe than the UK.
What’s basically needed is a compromise that is acceptable by everybody. The problem is that Brexit in general, and the Irish border situation in particular, is not something any side wants to compromise on. The EU and the UK both want it all their way, with Ireland stuck in the middle. Kind of like stepkids who have grown up together and want to stay close despite their parents having a particularly messy divorce.