If a series entitled “Brexit and the Border” was aired on Netflix, it would surely become the longest running box set since “Breaking Bad”. The Brexit negotiations and its “prequel” referendum is a never-ending maze of plot twists, involving strong characters whose conflicts collide at every political juncture.
In 4th December’s episode, Theresa May’s “House of Cards” seemed to have toppled over when her confidence and supply partners, the DUP, lead by Arlene Foster, stated they would not accept “any form of regulatory divergence” when it came to Northern Ireland’s removal from the EU. Whilst the Taoiseach’s position and that of the Irish government remained “unequivocal”, Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP demanded that “if one part of the UK can retain regulatory alignment, there is no good practical reason others can’t”, a sentiment also echoed by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones. It seemed they also wanted sweeties from the EU sweetie jar, held by the giant paws of Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker.
– “No fair! You can’t treat us differently! We voted to stay in the EU as well!”
Whilst drama was unfolding, Faisal Islam, political editor for Sky News stated to the viewing public that the negotiations “shouldn’t be a giant drama”.
Here’s the thing. A “giant drama” was inevitable. Wasn’t it? Let’s rewind, shall we? Let me bring you into my living room in the first half of 2016, pre-Brexit referendum. My husband and I were watching “Question time” on BBC One. A man in the studio audience asked the panel a question about how the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be affected if the UK voted to leave the EU. Great question, I thought, given the fact that, not only would an EU country and non-EU country share a trade border if the UK left the EU but, also, what would the social and political ramifications be for the island of Ireland, considering the stipulations of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement?
I was more than disheartened by the responses. Certain members of the panel seemed to disregard the importance of the man’s question, as if there were bigger issues pre-referendum to debate. The “border question” didn’t seem too important. There seemed to be an absence of familiarity and in-depth knowledge of Ireland’s politics, both past and present.
Did anyone really believe the UK public would vote to leave the EU? On tv, images of Nigel Farage aboard his “Brexit Battle bus” were satirised by broadcasters. Accusations flew across Westminster that “Bumbling Boris” was zip-wiring to join Farage’s “Leave” camp, in an attempt to further his own ambition of becoming Prime Minister. Cameron and Johnson would be “Bullingdon buddies” no more.
On 23rd June 2016, the UK voting public voted via referendum to leave the EU. Farage called for an “Independence Day” holiday in honour of the historic vote, resigned as leader of UKIP and admitted that it may have been a mistake to mislead the public that the UK government would be able to spend £350 million a week on the NHS, if they left the EU. His work in Britain was done. Time to fly across the Atlantic to help his new buddy, Donald. After Cameron’s resignation, May became Prime Minister and The Right Honourable Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was designated the role of Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The discussions about “triggering Article 50” began. There still didn’t seem to be much discussion reported from Westminster about the “border question”.
The plot began to thicken and the Brexit story started to dive down rabbit-holes that even Lewis Carroll couldn’t have imagined. May called an unnecessary general election, decided she didn’t need to go on the campaign trail because there were more “important” things, namely, Brexit, to think about. As a result, the Tories lost their majority and had to form a confidence and supply partnership with the DUP. The last thing the viewing public expected were Theresa and Arlene, sitting in front of the political pot belly stove in matching armchairs, discussing how the DUP would prop up the minority Tory government.
On 4th December, May’s Brexit negotiations start to fall by the wayside. And why? Because of the “border question”. If, like me, you have a keen interest in current affairs, I’m sure your ears and eyes were glued to the news. Among the moments of serious reporting, I will admit to giggling at one particular point. In interview on Sky News, former Conservative MP, Peter Lilley accused the Taoiseach of “grandstanding”, of throwing a political spanner in the works in relation to the Brexit negotiations and the border issue between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The irony of the situation was that Mr Lilley seemed to be sitting in his holiday house in Dieppe, France, whilst stating vehemently that the Taoiseach’s and Irish government’s divergent actions will soon rectify themselves and all necessary parties will get back to discussing the removal of “all” parts of the UK from the single customs union. I wondered, what are the potential implications for UK citizens who own property in France once the UK leave the EU? What would the tax consequences be if Mr Lilley sold his EU home seeing as he is a non-EU citizen? But, I’m sure he has thought about that and is such an issue were to arise, it will “rectify” itself.
The UK’s removal from the European Union has been referred to in the media as a “divorce”. Will the Taoiseach become “Solomon’s baby” between Juncker and May whilst they carry on their negotiations? On 5th December, Foster claimed that the Irish government refused the DUP access to critical text relating to solving the Irish border question after Brexit. Will the Taoiseach and his government have the resolve to stay focused. How will the plot unfurl as negotiations continue towards the new deadline of 14th December? I guess, we will have to stay tuned.