After the UK’s latest Brexit setback in the the failed talks between Theresa May and Northern Ireland DUP leader Arlene Foster, a lot of people in the UK are now asking: “what’s next?” There’s still much to negotiate before the Brexit deadline in March 2019, and the breakdown of negotiations with the DUP may mean that the overall Brexit negotiations become a lot more difficult for Theresa May and the United Kingdom.
When it comes to the Irish border talks, it seems that both sides of the negotiations have shown their hand. Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Arlene Foster have made it clear precisely how they want Brexit to deal with the Irish border. This leaves the UK in an awkward position, trying to get the best deal for Britain, while at the same time satisfying Ireland and the EU delegates in Brussels.
Theresa May’s attempts to raise confidence in securing a deal with the DUP have completely backfired, and now the only thing that has risen are the stakes for the UK. With Theresa May’s leadership being questioned in the UK, and with negotiations not exactly going to plan — and with the EU leaders now aware of all of Theresa May’s weaknesses — it is abundantly clear to EU leaders in Brussels that Great Britain would be ending up with none of the deals they had promised the British people during the Brexit campaign.
Because of the botched negotiation between Theresa May, the DUP, and Ireland for access of the Irish border, there now seems to be a toxic atmosphere between the three parties. Arlene Foster has accused Leo Varadkar of using Brexit as a tool to dismantle the Good Friday Peace Agreement, and to further split apart the union and enhance Irish unification.
Arlene Foster told the BBC’s Today programme: “The Irish government are actually using the negotiations in Europe to put forward their views on what they believe the island of Ireland should look like in the future.” Ms. Foster then went on to add: “We’ve heard from the foreign minister of the Republic of Ireland just yesterday talking about his aspiration for a united Ireland. He is entitled to have that aspiration, but he should not be using European Union negotiations to talk about those issues. What he should be talking about are trading relationships.”
In a broader sense, the failure of the Irish border talks reveals just how flawed the UK’s Brexit policy was from the beginning. Theresa May’s party has always been hesitant to accept the unavoidable balancing act between maintaining economic and regulatory cooperation with the rest of the European Union and re-imposing sovereign independence. 10 Downing Street can no longer create a reality that allows different parts of Great Britain to get a different deal from the rest. So instead, Britain will be obligated to struggle with the bigger question of whether the UK, as a whole, should remain part of the single market and customs union.
At this stage of the Brexit negotiations, the UK has struggled to implement any of the policies and reforms t it wants to get from these negotiations, and it is looking more and more likely that the UK could leave the European Union without any deal. The UK government has stated that it does not want a “no deal,” but that it is prepared for all possible eventualities. Theresa May has said on record that “no deal would be better than a bad deal.” Officials in the EU have debunked this, however, with the President of the European Council Donald Tusk saying that “a no-deal scenario would be bad for anyone, but above all for the UK.” The implications of no deal will not only have an adverse effect on the UK, but the rest of Europe would also feel its effects.
The real losers of a no-deal, however, would be the UK and European citizens. If there is no deal, the right for a EU citizen to reside in the UK, and vice versa, could well disappear. Trade will also be affected, as tariffs would be imposed on goods the EU sends to the UK (and likewise on goods sent from the UK to the EU). Businesses would also lose the passport rights that allow them to sell their goods and services across the EU.
To sum it up: if there is no deal, there will also be no winners.
Colin O’Brien (Limerick, Ireland)