1. Exquisite Tweets from @DavidHenigUK

    PreoccupationsCollected by Preoccupations

    Right, the Ireland and Brexit thread. Why the backstop is not annexation, might be undemocratic but that could be negotiated by a mature UK Government, and is required because of history, identity and normal border procedures 1/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    First things first, and most important, Northern Ireland is contested territory. The history of Irish liberation or secession from the UK, then the troubles, is complex. But simplifying, both UK and Ireland had claims, and populations supporting those claims 2/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    The Good Friday peace treaty of 1998 ended a physical conflict, with realpolitik, compromise, bravery and ambiguity. Ireland renounced a claim on Northern Ireland, in return the UK allowed that the latter could join Ireland if a majority supported this 3/

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    David Henig

    The ambiguity came in terms of those living in Northern Ireland, they were allowed to feel unionist, a core part of the UK, or nationalist, linked to Ireland. Institutions were set up to underpin both communities. Power was devolved to a cross-community Government 4/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    This history alone means that those living in Ireland in particular are hugely sensitive to the word ‘annexation’. They renounced a territorial claim in the interests of peace. They expect the UK Government and informed public to remember this 5/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    There is no reference in the treaty to the absence of border infrastructure, but it was entirely clear in 1998 that this was part of the deal. Nationalist communities (many along the border) resented reinforced infrastructure putting barriers between north and south 6/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    A Common Travel Area, Customs Union, and Single Market however meant that as between many EU countries (substitute Schengen for the UK-Ireland CTA) the border infrastructure could be removed. Then came the Brexit vote… 7/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    No two countries outside of the EU have ever removed border checks between themselves. They try to streamline checks where possible, as everybody wants smooth trade, but always retain border checks. Why? 8/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    Simply, for goods trade, a border post is the only place where you can guarantee to have the vehicle, the items definitely being transported, and all relevant paperwork in one place. You can and do make other checks, but the border is at the core 9/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    One of the reasons for the gigantic EU legal and regulatory framework is to be able to trust that goods trade between members can take place without border checks. This means common tariffs, common rules, and legal redress (and remember nobody else has removed border checks) 10/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    Norway and Switzerland have exceptionally close trading relationships with the EU, following EU rules in many areas. Yet they have border posts with the EU, where freight should pass in case checks are required. This shows the difficulty of removing such checks 11/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    So back to the Ireland border and Brexit, the fundamental problem is that the absence of border checks North-South is in the minds of one community a fundamental part of their identity, but such checks have always been part of EU external borders 12/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    Equally any checks that are introduced on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain are likely to impact on unionist concerns that they are an integral part of the UK. Unionist parties allow some differences, but with caution 13/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    Ireland itself has done very well out of being an EU member. Economically it is now far richer than Northern Ireland, and indeed GDP per head is far greater than the UK. There is no significant move in Ireland to leave the EU 14/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    So known Brexit and Ireland options are - Ireland-EU border checks (bad for Ireland), Ireland-Northern Ireland checks (bad for nationalists), Northern Ireland-rest of UK checks (bad for Unionists), continued UK-EU alignment (bad for Brexiteers) 15/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    Alternatives? Well many countries have been making border simplifications, using trusted trader schemes, or inspections away from borders. But all of these have still relied on the border as the final checking point, as well as the local business consent. 16/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    Can you move all checks away from the border? Only if you’re prepared to tolerate massively increased smuggling, or put in place greater surveillance. Neither are seen to be answers to the problem, particularly the latter, which plays back to identity issues 17/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    Irish officials recognised this problem ahead of the referendum, the better UK officials soon after. They knew there was no good solution to the Ireland and Brexit problem, no solution giving everyone what they wanted. This remains the case 18/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    The original Northern Ireland backstop clearly saw unionists lose. That was then replaced by the all UK backstop which Brexiteers wanting total freedom from EU rules disliked, as did unionists (too much divergence) and EU (too much UK access to EU market). So a compromise. 19/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    Enter the irresponsible language, that the backstop was Ireland’s fault, or EU annexation. It was easier to blame someone else rather than admit that there is a fundamental problem. And denying the fundamental problem increases suspicions among nationalist communities. 20/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    We also hear about the ‘undemocratic’ backstop – if this means Northern Ireland may have to follow rules over which it has no say that is true, but could presumably be fixed by further negotiations, without junking the whole backstop 21/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    Alternative arrangements were a sideshow. You can develop simplifications, but the infrastructure free border does not exist and may never do so without close regulatory alignment. They are another device to avoid talking about the fundamental problem or border and identity 22/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    So what happens in no-deal? Nobody wants to particularly talk about this, but there are almost certainly confidential briefings that say peace is at severe risk. But equally open borders with divergent regulations and duties are not sustainable. 23/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    In no-deal Brexit expect in short term a variety of different solutions against a very difficult / crisis political background, which will variously upset all sides at different times i.e. the UK Government will in reality treat Northern Ireland differently, trade will suffer 24/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    In the slightly longer term polls suggest no-deal increases the likelihood of Norther Ireland voting to join the Republic. WWe may go from claims of annexation to the actual end of the UK. Again, all far too sensitive at the moment for major debate 25/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    Ireland and the EU had no choice to assert their broad principles, to protect their border free trade, but did compromise to help with unionist sentiments. London Brexiteers continuously refused to compromise with reality. Purity before peace for them 26/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    There are some serious commentators who said the EU went too far over Ireland. However beyond the criticism none put forward any possible alternatives, probably because no obvious solutions exist. And reality denial is now the official policy of the UK Government 27/

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    To conclude, there is no current way to reconcile Northern Ireland remaining aligned with the UK, Ireland staying fully in the EU, pure Brexit, and no border checks. This isn't annexation, but reality. Ignoring such inconveniences is what Governments of failed states do 28/ end

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    PS There’s so much more you could include, the bizarre path of @BorderIrish, history of the Republic, flexibility of unionists when they want NI only solutions, but I’ve stuck with what I think tells the story as well as I can.

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig

    PPS Many thanks to all of those on here from whom I've learnt much about Ireland and Brexit, including @hayward_katy @DPhinnemore @BorderIrish @MatthewOToole2 @BrigidLaffan @Muinchille @timoconnorbl @kevinhorourke and more. All opinions / errors my own though!

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    DavidHenigUK

    David Henig