It’s the language, Stupid

The Brexit negotiations have been bedevilled from the start by tendentious jargon. This is a modest attempt to demystify that language, in the hope of establishing the current state of play.

Irish Backstop.   (Why, incidentally, adopt an image from Baseball, with which the residents of neither the UK nor the EU are familiar?)

The expressed intention is to ensure regulatory agreement between Norther Ireland and the Republic until such time as a full trade agreement is concluded between HM Government and the EU. We can reasonably infer that the EU insistence on the permanent status of such an arrangement (and refusal to time-limit it) indicates an intention to protract the negotiations for as long as possible.

Hard Border.   It is generally claimed that avoidance of a ‘hard border’ (by which, in these circumstances, is meant a manned series of customs posts) is required by the Good Friday Agreement.

This is not the case. The GFA pays little or no attention to customs arrangements. It simply requires a withdrawal of the then existing military presence. Until Leo Varadkah recently raised the possibility of a Republican army deployment along the border, no one in the UK or the EU had suggested such regressive measures. The claim by the EU and the Irish Government to be primarily concerned to safeguard the GFA can thus be seen to be mere virtue signalling.

Withdrawal Agreement    The vote in 2016 did not speak of ‘withdrawing’ from the EU (implicitly a process) but of ‘leaving’ the EU (necessarily an event).

That the Withdrawal Agreement was allowed to precede negotiation of a trade deal was a piece of bureaucratic ineptitude, on the UK side, difficult to credit. (Though perfectly intelligible, of course, as part of an EU game plan the thwart the Brexit process.) Note that, had the trade deal preceded or accompanied the Withdrawal Agreement, the Backstop (qv) would not have been needed.

Crashing out.   The very phrase assumes what is still to be demonstrated: that a clean Brexit will necessarily and inevitably result in customs delays, recriminations, stoppages and shortages. 

Why the Rumanian makers of widgets and the Spanish growers of lettuces should seek to inhibit trade with their principal market has yet to be explained. Why British bureaucrats should wish to impose delays on their own manufacturers and retailers, also needs clarification. On the face of it ‘crashing out’ is little more than emotive language used by those in favour of remaining.

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