Timothy Garton Ash, who is Professor of European Studies at Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, writing in the Guardian, lamenting that the ‘Remain’ forces have, finally, lost the Brexit battle, notes that “Under Johnson’s EU withdrawal deal, Northern Ireland will already be in a different economic and legal space from England, Scotland and Wales. Now Northern Ireland has, for the first time, elected more nationalist than unionist MPs. While it will probably remain constitutionally part of the UK for some time to come, since a formal break could return the province to bloodshed, in reality it will be ever more integrated with the rest of the island of Ireland.“
Is he right? I’m seeking serious comment, here, please … will Northern Ireland “remain constitutionally part of the UK for some time to come?” Would a “break” with what I’m now calling Lesser Britain really “return the province to bloodshed?” Or is the “reality” that “it will be ever more integrated with the rest of the island of Ireland” drive the people of Ulster to seek some sort of economic union with the Irish Republic?
I understand that sectarian divisions are deep and bitter in Ireland but I also understand that a generation of peace and prosperity is likely to change how people respond to challenges.
Is there, I wonder, some imaginative way to provide two states of simultaneous “union?” Can the island of Ireland be an economic union even as the provinces remain politically separate: one in the EU the other in the UK? Is that really beyond the ability of men and women like Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen and Leo Varadkar and Margrethe Vestager …
… to put their big heads together in the best interests of the people?
I suspect that the better solution is that Ireland reunites, as a separate, sovereign state, and then joins either:
- A new (quite loose, looser even than Canada) federation called, say, The British Isles; or
- A new free trade area consisting of the existing European Free Trade Association plus the newly unified Ireland (which would mean leaving the EU) plus Scotland (assuming the indyref2 succeeds) and the United Kingdom of England and Wales; or, maybe, even
- Some combination of both.
My personal sense is that the EFTA is a much better fit for the British Isles, in whatever form, than is the EU. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are all liberal democracies with strong commitments to free trade and social justice. England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are all much closer, socially and politically, to e.g. Norway and Iceland than they are to, say, Hungary or Greece. An expanded EFTA makes good sense … to me, anyway …
… it is compact, homogeneous and should work well for all of its partners. I can see nothing in the EFTA’s current rules which make adding the British Isles difficult.
I am persuaded that the EU is the problem. I think it has forgotten its original purpose ~ to bring peace and prosperity to a free, democratic Western Europe ~ and it has become a Leviathan and is turning Europe into a vast, illiberal, protectionist union, which is, I believe, not what Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman and Paul-Henri Spaak had in mind, at all.
I believe that the EU needs to be torn apart and rebuilt in a way, that I have described as a layer cake, and that others have called a multi-speed Europe so that the very many (too many) diverse members can each choose a “layer” that suits their needs. The bottom layer, a simple, free trade area, should in my view, be broad enough and simple enough to allow the EFTA and the British to join. The upper layers will include things like the Schengen Agreement and multiple customs unions and common currency areas.
In the interim, I believe that it’s is time for Ireland to reunite, after 100 years: to bring the Erin green and Ulster orange together, again. That may require more than just good sense and goodwill to accomplish.
There is another alternative for the United Kingdom: the CANZUK proposal about which I have commented, several times since Dr Andrew Lilico floated the idea. It might make sense for Ireland, united or not, and for an independent (or not) Scotland, too. Free(er) trading groupings are better than going it alone. But, if I’m right, if the EU has gotten too big and has lost its focus then a smaller grouping, EFTA+ or CANZUK+, might be preferable.