Dennis Kennedy

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Dennis Campbell Kennedy is a writer on Irish and European affairs. Currently based in Belfast,  he has worked 
as a journalist in both parts of Ireland, and in the United States and Africa. From 1985-1991, he was Head of the 
European Commission Office in Northern Ireland, and later  lecturer in European Studies in Queen's University 
Belfast.
Born in Lisburn, Co.Antrim, he was educated at Wallace High School Lisburn, Queen's University, Belfast, and 
Trinity College Dublin. He graduated in Modern History from Queen's in 1958, and received a PhD from Dublin 
University (Trinity College) in 1985. Read more...

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Referendum need not be the last word on Brexit

Posted by Webmaster on January 12, 2017 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Is the Westminster Parliament, the model for parliaments around the world, about to roll over and meekly consent to a fundamental reversal in policy which a majority of its members believe is contrary to the national interest, possibly disastrously so? Is the national interest instantly redefined by a one-off narrow vote in a referendum held after an extremely ll-informed debate? Even before the Supreme Court has ruled on the need for Parliament’s approval to proceed with Brexit, the House of Commons has given massive backing in December to two motions which amount to an endorsement of Mrs May’s decision to trigger article 50 by the end of March. The Labour Party managed to win backing for some conditions but there is no evidence of even a small minority of the hundreds of MPs who have long been strong supporters of UK membership of the EU having either the stomach or the principles to vote against the move. We do have one English MP publicly committed to voting against invoking Article 50. But alas Sarah Olney, newly elected Lib.Dem for the Richmond Park seat, weakened her principled stand by claiming that Richmond, by backing Remain in the June referendum. had given her ‘a mandate’ to oppose Article 50. Where does that leave the majority of MPs, last elected in May 2015 when they were committed to UK membership of the EU? Does the vote in their constituency in the referendum now negate both their own judgement and the basis on which they were elected in 2015? One may have sympathy for MPs whose constituencies voted Leave and who, in the present climate, are facing the possibility of de-selection or defeat next time round. Many Labour Members will be looking at the rout of their party in the Sleaford by-election. But what does it say of a Parliamentarian who puts the saving of his own political skin ahead of what he still believes to be the national interest? The man many regard as the greatest Parliamentarian of them all, Edmund Burke, faced similar dilemmas as MP for Bristol in the 1770s, also over vital matters of trade. The merchants of Bristol were at odds with Burke over his support for plans to ease restrictions on Irish trade with England. Burke’s view was that the measures were necessary in the national interest, and therefore overrode the particular concerns of Bristol. He had set out his own views on the relationship between constituents and Members in his address to the electors of Bristol in 1774. On representations from constituents he said the Member ought to hear these and consider them seriously, but when ‘instructions or mandates’ were issued which the Member ‘was bound blindly and implicitly to obey ...though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and … arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.’ Parliament, he argued, was not ‘a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests’ but ‘a deliberative assembly of one nation’ where the general good, not local purposes or prejudices, ought to guide’. (When it was clear by 1780 that the electors of Bristol had had enough of his views, Burke stuck to his principles, quit Bristol and found another seat, admittedly a ‘pocket’ borough where he had no problem with electors.) Now the English and Welsh MPs who voted against the motion of December 7, are accused of ‘appalling arrogance’ for ‘dismissing the public’s verdict’ and of delivering ‘an insult to democracy’.(Daily Mail) This equation of referendums with democracy, plus the implication that they are a superior form of it, is at odds with the history of the use of referendums to circumvent democracy by Hitler, Mussolini and others, and with the whole tradition of parliamentary government in the UK. The first statutory recognition of national referendums came as recently as 2000 with the Political Parties and Referendums Act, though this merely laid down a framework as to how referendums should be run. Separate legislation is still required for each UK-wide vote, specifying the question to be asked and other details. The legislation authorising the Brexit vote made no reference as to how the result would be implemented, no suggestion that its decision would be mandatory, so leaving the reasonable assumption that it was advisory. The referendum did result in a vote for Leave, but only 38% of ‘the people’ (the total electorate) voted to Leave, with about 34% to Remain. Does that in itself constitute a mandate for the biggest constitutional change in 43 years? Two years ago a committee of the House of Commons produced a report on options for UK constitutional reform, including a proposal that any change would require both a majority of people voting in a referendum and two thirds of MPs. In other words ‘the people’ could have their say, but could not overrule Parliament. The idea that the July referendum settled, once and for all, the UK’s exit from the EU looks naïve as the complexities of a policy reversal of such fundamental importance emerge. Bland assurances that there will be no return to a ‘hard’ border in Ireland look increasingly hollow, there is almost total uncertainty as to what the overall trade relationship between UK and EU might be after Brexit. So to keep repeating ‘Brexit is Brexit’ and ‘the people have spoken’ when we still have no clear idea of what it will really mean is inane and irresponsible. What if Article 50 is activated next March and thereafter it becomes clear that any deal emerging from the subsequent negotiations is going to be seriously damaging to the UK’s vital national interests? The time to ponder that question is before Article 50 is triggered, not after, and the place to do so is in Parliament.

Whatever happened to the sovereignty of Parliament?

Posted by Webmaster on June 28, 2016 at 3:30 AM Comments comments (1)

 

Will the sovereignty of Parliament be one of the victims of the UK’s Brexit referendum vote? The reclamation of the sovereignty of Parliament was one of the main demands of the Leave campaign yet that side’s victory seems likely to mean not its reclamation,but its termination.

 

Last Sunday NI Secretary Theresa Villiers seemed to think otherwise when she reminded BBC viewers that only the Westminster Parliament could repeal the legislation under which the UK joined the EU.

 

“Obviously Parliament is sovereign” she declared “Ultimately it is Parliament's decision whether we repeal the 1972 European Communities Act or whether we don't."

Yet the Prime Minister had the day before said “the British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected...the will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered’.

If Parliament is sovereign, it cannot be instructed to do anything. On Wednesday Arlene Foster was also on TV telling us ‘the decision has been taken”.

 

On the same day Ms Villiers seemed to have changed her mind. She assured us - "The decision has been made - the people of the UK have voted to leave the EU. That decision is going to be respected.”

That decision is surely one for a sovereign parliament itself to make. The European Referendum Act of 2015 does not make the outcome legally binding: the poll was,, presumably, ‘advisory’, so it is up to the Government to get Parliamentary approval for any decision.

Mr Cameron cannot speak for Parliament. So he, or his successor, will have to ask the House of Commons to endorse the referendum decision. Up to now a very clear majority in the Commons have resolutely opposed Brexit, with many of them arguing that it would be contrary to the national interests of the UK, disastrously so.

Can, or should, a sovereign Parliament humble itself to the extent of approving something which a majority of its members are convinced is against the national interest, and against any mandate they may have received at their election? Can, or should they, accept an instruction to do so, even if it comes from ‘the people’?

The referendum did result in a clear if narrow vote for Leave, in a surprisingly large turn out. But in fact only 38% of ‘the people’ (the total electorate) voted to Leave, with about 34% to Remain. Does that constitute a mandate for the biggest constitutional change in 43 years? The campaign itself was divisive both in terms of the geographical result, and in the readiness of many campaigners to resort to extravagant claims and allegations. Almost every vox pop revealed that many voters insisted they could not understand the EU, or the arguments.

 

Since the vote, the likelihood of Scotland seeking, and gaining independence has increased, and fears have arisen over the impact of Brexit on the peace process in Northern Ireland. The reaction of currency and stock markets to the vote have tended to support the gloomier forecasts on the economy.

Last year a committee of the House of Commons produced a report on options for UK constitutional reform, including a proposal that any constitutional change would need to be approved by a majority of people voting in a referendum and by two thirds of members of parliament. The Brexit vote would not have met this requirement.

If MPs abandon their personal convictions that exit from Europe is a bad thing for the UK and endorse Brexit they will bring both themselves and the Westminster Parliament into disrepute.

The idea that a referendum is some higher form of democracy is false. It often asks for a simple answer to a complex question of which the majority of voters cannot have detailed knowledge. This one was particularly inapt in that in that it invited rejection of a long-standing fundamental policy, without any indication as to what would replace it.

The strength of parliamentary democracy lies in the ability of parliaments to explore, research, debate and, in the end, determine where the public good lies. That is why in the modern world we have professional full-time politicians, why public money goes to fund parties, to employ researchers, to engage the electorate.

This is not, as is glibly asserted, elitism. It does not always work, but it makes for a degree of informed debate and constant dialogue between opposing political principles. (Not much of any of this was evident in the referendum campaign.) If Parliament gets something wrong, ‘the people’ can always elect a new one.

MPs should reflect on Edmund Burke’s speech to the electors of Bristol in 1774:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement, and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

A refusal by Parliament to confirm the referendum decision would cause uproar, confusion and uncertainty. But we have that already. And even if it led to another election, the dust would have settled in a time considerably shorter than that likely to be consumed in negotiating an exit from the EU.

 



PITY ABOUT ARLENE

Posted by Webmaster on June 21, 2016 at 2:00 AM Comments comments (0)

A vote on Thursday to leave the EU would be of enormous political significance. It would mean, at a stroke, abandoning the European policy first espoused by the United Kingdom in 1961 and supported by every government since, endorsed by every Parliament over that half century – the policy of being in the European Union.

 

It is still the policy of the present government, and of the current Parliament. The clear balance of expert economic opinion is that exit would harm the economy, and that Northern Ireland would suffer disproportionately. The importance of the vote on Thursday simply cannot be over-estimated. This is a critically serious issue.

 

So it is sad indeed that the First Minister, Arlene Foster, in her articles in the Belfast Telegraph and the Newsletter, chose to base her advocacy for leaving the EU on assertions with little or no basis in fact.

 

It is easy to say, as she did that ‘what we joined, what exists today and what will exist in the future are very different things’. But to cite as evidence of this ‘the push for an EU state, the power of the unelected and unaccountable Commission, the ever increasing policy areas the EU claims competency over’ is to undermine her own argument, and to engage in the sort of scare tactic she accuses the Remain side of..

 

 

The EEC we joined in 1973 was explicitly committed to full Economic and Monetary Union and to a European Union. There was not then, and there is not now any proposal; for or commitment to a single European state. The European Commission has less power than it had in 1973, and it is accountable to the European Parliament, which can dismiss it, and to the European Court of Justice. To assert that it ‘plays the central and decisive role in EU policy and law-making’ as Ms Foster does, is to portray scant knowledge of the workings of the EU. The UK, like every other member state, can veto any increase in the EU’s area of competency.

 

On the border the First Minister clings to the Common Travel Area which exists between the UK and Ireland as a guarantee that the border will remain invisible. But as she must know the CTA is an arrangement between London and Dublin, not a binding legal agreement, and it may well have to be redrawn if what is now an Irish-British border becomes an EU-UK border. In any event it refers only to the free movement of individuals – not to commercial goods, nor to cross-border shopping. That is why customs posts and checks would seem inevitable if the UK votes to leave.

 

Chat shows, phone ins, vox pops all indicate confusion, bewilderment, cynicism and entrenched views impermeable to argument. Many bored and exasperated by the whole topic will wash their hands of it and stay at home. In a referendum where one side is advocating no change, and the other urging a radical about turn - a leap in the dark - not to vote is to favour change, not the status quo.

 

Some regard a referendum as a higher form of democracy; in a functioning parliamentary democracy it is closer to anarchy. If the vote on Thursday is to leave, it will still be up to a Parliament in which a majority believes that to be madness, to implement it. What folly is that?

BORIS'S BRASS NECK

Posted by Webmaster on June 20, 2016 at 3:45 AM Comments comments (0)


Boris Johnson’s mop of blonde hair is being rapidly replaced as his defining feature by his brass neck. He now (DT 20/06/2016) argues that a vote to leave the EU in this week’s referendum is the one way to stop ‘the steady and miserable erosion of parliamentary democracy in this country’. What does he think a referendum vote to overturn the collective wisdom, not just of this parliament, but of every UK parliament since 1961, would do to parliamentary democracy?

He and other Leave campaigners say they are fighting to defend the sovereignty of the UK parliament. Yet in the event of an ‘out’ vote on Thursday, it seems the Westminster Parliament - a majority of whom have been campaigning to stay in and denouncing the Leave proposition as potentially disastrous for the county – will be invited to swallow their beliefs and principles and do as they have been told by ‘the people’ and endorse the result. So much for the sovereignty of Parliament.

Edmund Burke used to be bedtime reading for Tories; Mr Johnson should look at Burke’s rebuke to the electors of Bristol in 1774 on the duties of an elected Member of Parliament:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion…His unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living.”

Dennis Kennedy


 

THE NOT SO UNITED KINGDOM

Posted by Webmaster on June 15, 2016 at 9:15 AM Comments comments (0)

 

 

The Daily Telegraph’s avalanche of anti-EU news, views and wild assertions has actually included a few articles and letters taking the opposite view on Brexit. Whether this is a subtle ruse to suggest the DT is not simply a vehicle for Leave propaganda, or an indication that there lingers within the paper a vestige of honest journalism I don’t know. But it is enough to encourage me to send the odd letter to the editor.

This one, unpublished, was in response to Charles Moore’s Notebook, June 13,headed The UK shows the EU how to be a proper Union, in which Mr Moore stressed the importance of the border between Northern and southern Ireland not becoming a barrier for Irish or British people.

The Editor

Daily Telegraph

June 13, 2016.

Sir,

If Charles Moore (Notebook, June 13) really believes it is important that the Irish border should not become a barrier after June 23rd, he should be campaigning on the Remain side. No one on the Leave side has yet explained how the re-imposition of border controls, on people and goods, could be avoided. Norway and Switzerland still maintain border posts and checks with their EU neighbours. How else, for instance, would cross border shopping between, say, Dundalk and Newry - currently totally unrestricted - be policed when the tight allowances on goods brought into the EU from outside would be in force?

Some in the Leave campaign argue migration into the GB might be more effectively controlled by 'strengthening the border between the island of Ireland and the British mainland', as suggested by the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. It would indeed be 'tragi-comical', in Mr. Moore's phrase, if a campaign for restoration of the UK's sovereignty and control of its borders resulted in the creation of a new internal border, with, as in the old Soviet Union, citizens requiring passports for travel inside the union.

As for his assertion that the UK is an example of a successful union, while the EU is not, has he forgotten that the UK had, in his lifetime, to fight to preserve the union against a 30-year terrorist campaign to destroy it, that the party in government in Scotland is committed to leaving the union, and that in this year's NI Assembly election more than one third of voters also opted for parties committed to leaving the union?

Yours etc…

DK

 

A pity neither the Daily Telegraph nor any other paper, as far as I know, reported Mr Moore’s fellow Leave advocate and fellow Daily Telegraph columnist Daniel Hannan MEP assuring a large audience in Belfast earlier this month that there had been no real border in Ireland since 1923 and there was no question of controls being imposed if the UK left the EU. Not surprisingly this statement was greeted with amazement and derision by the large audience at Manufacturing Northern Ireland’s conference in the Harbour Commissioner’s Office.

The MEP was presumably referring to the first Common Travel Agreement between the Free State and the UK. What he clearly did not know was that 1923 saw the first creation of a physical, visible border when the Free State imposed a tariff on goods coming in from the UK – 6 pence on every consignment - and erected customs huts along the border to enforce it. The date was April 1st, and it was no joke; the physical border remained until 1993.

 

MR GOVE'S NEW BOGEY MEN

Posted by Webmaster on June 5, 2016 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)

MR GOVE’S NEW BOGEY MEN

Mr Gove has found a new bogey man to scare the voters into quitting the EU. Up to now the menace has been ‘the unelected bureaucrats’ in Brussels who are dictating policy to the whole of Europe. (The Exiteers always call them ‘unelected bureaucrats’ even though a bureaucrat is, by definition, unelected, being a career civil servant. The adjective ‘unelected’ is there to add a sinister touch.)

Trouble is, as has been pointed out, the bureaucrats of the European Commission have no power to dictate to anyone. They have no role in the adoption of European law – the power to do that lies with the ministers of national governments sitting in the Council of Ministers, and the Members of the European Parliament. So Mr Gove may have felt he needed a better target.

The new bogeymen, revealed by Mr Gove in his Sky News interview on Saturday, are ‘Europe’s elites’ . He does not seem to have told us exactly who these ‘European elites’ are. The dictionary says an ‘elite’ is the best part of anything, or a select group of people, or an aristocratic or exclusive clique.

His tone rules out the first two generally laudatory descriptions, and leaves us with the artistocratic and/or exclusive clique. Who is in this exclusive group who, have, according to Mr Gove, been depressing wages across Europe, destroying jobs and putting his ‘fish-merchant’ father out of business. (His father inherited a family fish processing concern employing about 20 people which collapsed in the 1980s. Mr Gove says it was ‘destroyed by the EU’.)

So the EU is this menacing elite? The term aristocratic or exclusive group is one some people would be tempted to apply to the European Council – the body bringing together the heads of government of all the member states – for it is clearly exclusive and is indeed a bit of an aristocracy. But not at all, for Mr Gove talks of Europe’s ‘elites’ in the plural and denounces them all as ‘unelected’ and ‘unaccountable’. As the heads of government are all elected, and all accountable to national parliaments, they are off Mr Gove’s hook.

So too are the Council of Ministers, as they too are all elected, as indeed are all members of the European Parliament. At another point in his interview Mr Gove seemed to suggest that the major financial institutions and every economist who has failed to support Brexit are also all part of the indicted elites. “These are the people” he says “who have seen the euro collapse, who have seen a migration crisis on our borders. It’s time we said you have had your day, unelected, unaccountable elites – you’re fired.”

(The euro, by the way, has no more collapsed than the pound. When the euro was set up in 1999 it was trading at 1.5 to the £;today it is 1.3; in 1999 the pound was trading at 1.6 to the US$, today it is 1.4.)

This is populism at its worst; set up an ill-defined target and tell the people ‘these European elites’ are the cause of all your ills – just vote to leave ‘Europe’ and the problem will disappear.

 

 

 


How did we get here?

Posted by Webmaster on May 30, 2016 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (0)

HOW DID WE GET HERE ?

Where is here? Here is on the brink of abruptly changing the core policy of how the UK has been governed for the past four decades.

In a few weeks time, the UK could be telling the EU – we want out. Never mind that being in the European Union has been the primary objective of every UK government since 1961 when Harold Macmillan first applied; never mind that since joining in 1973 the UK has signed treaty after treaty pledging its support for integration, for ever closer union.

Never mind all that, urge the Exiteers, we want out.

Here in Northern Ireland, while the polls shows a clear majority mindful of the real benefits for NI of being inside, not outside the EU, and in favour of staying, the two top people in authority – the First Minister and the Secretary of State - are actively campaigning to take the UK and NI out of the EU? If they succeed, will we see the re-introduction of a visible, physical border across the island?

The short answer as to why the referendum is happening is because David Cameron saw it as a means of putting manners on the eurosceptics in the Convservative Party, and seeing off the electoral threat from UKIP. Harold Wilson did exactly the same thing in 1975 to side line Tony Benn, Peter Shore and other eurosceptic malcontents among the Labour leadership.

Hold on, the Exiteers say, there is far more to it than that; the EU of today is nothing like the EEC we joined in 1973. We joined a free trade area, a common market, not an over-regulated, integrated Europe.

Not so; by late 1972 the EEC was formally committed to full economic and monetary union, and had set 1980 as the deadline for achieving it. Among the first acts of the UK as a member state was to endorse that target. It also backed the goal of the EEC transforming itself into a European Union.

Even so, say the Exiteers, that was then and now is now, and the EU has changed out of all recognition.

Not so: The EU has changed dramatically in terms of size, from the nine member states to the 28 today, but progress on integration has been slower than planned, and comparatively little has been achieved beyond what was already envisioned in 1973. And remember, all the steps forward since have been agreed in treaties endorsed by the United Kingdom.

To which the Exiteers reply:- ‘we have had enough of being dictated to by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, and being trapped in a profoundly undemocratic organisation which is, anyway, a failure. We want to reclaim our sovereignty, to recover control of our frontiers, and start afresh. Rule Britannia.’

Wrong again: the ‘unelected bureaucrats in Brussels’ are the permanent civil service of the Commission. They have no power to dictate to anyone; they do draft EU laws, but have no part in their adoption or rejection. The 28 Commissioners who head the Commission are not bureaucrats, but political appointees, nominated by member state governments and appointed – for a five year term - by the member states acting together, and confirmed by the European Parliament.

The Commissioners have a role in proposing new legislation, and share with the Council and the Members of the European Parliament the power to legislate. In practice real power lies with the politicians – the national politicians that sit in the what used to be called the Council of Ministers (now renamed the Council of the European Union), and the directly elected members of the Parliament. It could be argued that the EU, where widespread consultation with a whole range of bodies is built into the admittedly complex legislating process, is a shade more democratic than either Westminster or the Dail, where the Government, once elected, can carry almost anything with its guaranteed majority in parliament.

Since the 1980s the powers and influence of the European Commission have diminished as the member state governments have asserted their control, particularly through the institutionalisation of the European Council, made up of heads of all the member state governments..

Is the EU falling apart?

Can a Union that has grown from six member states to 28, with others anxious to join, be dismissed as a failure? Even the euro, much maligned in the UK, is elsewhere deemed a success; it has been working for 17 years, is the currency of 19 EU countries. On the basis of its share of global foreign exchange reserves, and the number of countries pegging their currency to it, it can claim to be the second most important currency in the world.

The Exiteers who denounce the EU as a failure, at the same time expect us to believe their warnings that we are in danger of being forced into a European super-state by this same organisation which they claim is on the verge of collapse. There is no plan for a grand United States of Europe. The governments of Europe who have driven forward the integration movement have seen in it a means of protecting and preserving – both economically and politically - the nation states, not eliminating them.

But these arguments mean nothing to most Exiteers. Euroscepticism, for most, is a gut feeling, in part a hangover from the days of empire when half the world was British red. In part it comes from being an island race, in part from an exaggerated sense of national pride, arising from the experiences of the Second World War. For many it is simply distrust of something which is different, complicated and which they do not understand. The fact that Britain was a late comer, by 16 years, to the European integration party did not help.

Sections of the media were and have remained openly hostile to EU membership. Others, particularly the BBC, took, and still take, a bemused and rather patronising approach to these foreigners with their rather complicated institutions, and odd ways.

At its core Euroscepticism is nationalism, that malign contagion that has caused war and conflict in Europe, and which, post 1945, prompted the drive for integration as the only way to contain it.

The current campaign has distinct overtones of nationalism. Gove, Lawson, Boris, have sounded like jingoistic Empire loyalists, demanding the reclamation of sovereignty and giving the impression that if only the UK could escape from the chains of Europe, it would again conquer the world, economically if not militarily.

What about Northern Ireland? There has long been a general consensus that NI has done reasonably well in terms of grant aid, and that being in the EC has helped economic recovery, through, for example, inward investment and the growth of tourism. Farmers have done well, and even though very hard hit at the moment, the weight of farm opinion would seem to be that current problems are more likely to be solved inside the EU, not outside.

The recent poll in the Belfast Telegraph showed strong public support for remaining in. How come then, that the biggest party, the DUP, which has put economic recovery at the top of its agenda, and has not been shy of stressing the benefits of NI’s position within the EU to potential foreign investors… how come it is now campaigning for Brexit?

Nationalism again may be the answer. The DUP began under Ian Paisley and amid a forest of Union Jacks, as an extreme nationalist party, British nationalist. Back in 1973 Paisley denounced the EEC as a Catholic conspiracy to overthrow the Glorious Revolution of 1688, undo the British reformation, and unite Ireland under Dublin and Rome. I doubt if the current First Minister shares those views, but euroscepticism remains in the party’s genes.

I can’t even guess at how the Secretary of State reconciles her responsibility to promote NI’s interest at Cabinet level, with her strong support for Brexit.

Ms Villiers has repeatedly assured us that Brexit will not mean the re-imposition of a physical, visible border in Ireland. She has not told us how we will manage that. Norway and Switzerland have close ties to the EU and long experience of sharing borders with EU states. But both still find it necessary to maintain custom posts and border checks with EU neighnours.

Ms Villiers’ fellow Exiteer former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson has said he thinks border controls will be necessary. A cross-party committee of the House of Commons has concluded that imposing controls at the Border would cause considerable disruption, and suggested as an alternative strengthening the borders between the island of Ireland and the British mainland. But even that outlandish idea, aimed mainly at controlling the flow of emigrants into the UK, would not solve the real problems that would arise with Brexit.

How, for instance, could cross-border shopping subject to the tight limits imposed for bringing goods in from outside the EU be regulated without checks at the border? What about the movement of farm animals back and forth? Could the heavy goods traffic by road continue uninterrupted by border checks? What about the increasing flow of overseas tourists coming to Northern Ireland via the Republic? At the very least it would seem a whole plethora of new arrangements would have to be worked out, not by cosy chats between London and Dublin, but between the UK and the EU, for the border would be an EU one, rather than an Irish one.

For more than two decades the island of Ireland, in a very real sense, has been undivided. The border disappeared in 1993 when the Single European Market made custom checks and custom posts redundant. We take it for granted that we travel freely all over the island with no compulsory stops, queues or formalities. Commercial traffic flows across what was the border with similar freedom. But little more than two decades ago you could see a queue of lorries a mile long awaiting clearance at Killeen

For the border to be reinstated in any form would be an enormous shock. Its practical impact on commerce, tourism, and many forms of cross-border activity can only be guessed at, but would certainly be negative. The damage to public morale of such a backward step could be enormous.

It would be wrong to claim that the EU played a major role in bringing peace, of a sort, to Northern Ireland, but it has helped in rebuilding both community relations and the economy through financial aid and, more importantly, by providing a context in which antagonistic Irish and British nationalisms could see themselves as part of one greater and shared identity – the European one.

The shock of a re-erected physical border could be even more damaging symbolically than the as yet unmeasured impact on trade, tourism, and numerous other areas of growing North-south cooperation. It would say, very loudly, we are going backwards, not forward.

DENNIS KENNEDY

 


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