Wednesday 26 September 2018

Would a Canada-Style Deal with the EU lead to the Breakup of the UK?

Well, that’s what the prime minister, Theresa May, said as she arrived in New York for a United Nations summit, which take in trade talks with the US amongst others. The idea of pursuing a Canada style free trade deal has been gaining ground in the Tory party since the European Union (EU) pretty much rubbished May’s Chequers plan, for our exit from the bloc.

May, of course, is desperate for Chequers to be at least the basis for a withdrawal agreement, having put so much political capital into it, so she is trying to dig in ahead of the Tories conference next week. She argues that Chequers is better than no deal, in that it attempts to give us some kind of favourable arrangements with the EU, more than no deal anyway. She claims it offers a solution to keeping open the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic whereas a Canada style deal is worse than no deal, in that it would break up the UK.

May said the Brexiters’ plan would necessitate a hard Irish border and thus invoke the EU’s so-called backstop, which would keep Northern Ireland within elements of the customs union and single market, effectively drawing a border in the Irish Sea.
As she said: ‘I think a bad deal will be a deal, for example, that broke up the United Kingdom. We want to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom.’

It is true that the EU have said that any offer of a Canada style deal with the UK is contingent on the backstop agreement of last December, of Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union and single market. We know that the Democratic Unionist Party, who May relies for a governing majority are strongly opposed to this, so it probably wouldn’t get through Parliament anyway, and could collapse the government.

Presumably, May thinks that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is preferable to what is on offer in the form of a Canada style deal. There has been talk coming out of the government of leaving this decision to the Northern Ireland Assembly, although that is suspended at the moment. If reconvened, it would, as always, have a built in Unionist majority.

In a further twist, if the UK left the EU without a deal, an opinion poll in the Irish Times, conducted by Deltapoll puts support in Northern Ireland for unity with the Republic at 52%, hauntingly the same as percentage that voted for Brexit in the UK. Only 39 per cent said they would vote for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK.

The poll also found that more people would vote for a united Ireland in the event of a hard border being erected. In such circumstances, 56 per cent said they would vote for unity if a hard border is in place, while 40 per cent responded they would vote to remain in the UK. All of which would suggest the prime minister’s rationale has some foundation, but is not the whole picture. No deal is more likely to see the UK break with Northern Ireland.

In the event of no deal, might Scotland think again about independence? Because Scotland is landlocked to England and Wales, the border issue would be of a different order, but even so, might the Scottish be encouraged by a united Ireland? Perhaps Scots readers can give an opinion here?

A similar poll was held in Scotland, where 47 per cent said they would vote for Scottish independence in a future referendum if the UK left the EU as planned while 43 per cent said they would vote to stay in the UK. But if Brexit was stopped, 47 per cent said they would vote for Scotland to stay in the UK and 43 per cent said they would vote for independence.

May’s championing of her Chequers proposals also rather falls down on the fact the EU have already said it is not acceptable anyway, even if it could get support in Parliament, which looks extremely doubtful, to say the least. So as things stand, we are looking at no deal in any case.

It looks as though the only way to keep the country from breaking up, is to remain in the EU or a close approximate of it.


  1. What will be the effect on historic freedom of movement rights from the whole of Ireland to the UK if there's a border in the Irish Sea? People from the Irish Republic have the right to live, work and vote in the UK. They have full rights. This pre-dates the EU and is extremely important. What will happen to the many Irish people living in the UK with an Irish passport? Presumably there will be a hard border in the Irish Sea and no freedom of movement as there's freedom of movement from the rest of the EU to Ireland.

  2. As you say Adele, the agreement for the Irish to come to the UK predates the EU, and I guess it will continue. It is not as though the EU can stop Irish people coming to the UK, and the UK let's them stay, again the EU can't stop it. But it is another riddle which could unravel in an unexpected way.

  3. My Lithuanian neighbours have been encouraging their friends and family to move to Ireland rather than staying in London and I think one way this would unravel is more people from the EU living in Ireland and eventually having freedom of movement to the UK from there. This puts increased pressure on Ireland to have the infrastructure for sudden growth in immigration. Either the freedom of movement from Ireland to the UK will stop or that freedom of movement could be restricted.

  4. My thinking was that people would need an Irish passport to get indefinite leave to remain in the UK, I don't think it would be extended to other EU nationals, just because they are living in Ireland.

  5. I suppose it would mean living in Ireland long enough to get citizenship (5 years) to have freedom of movement throughout the UK in that case. With the North still in a customs union that would include the option to move there and apply for both British and Irish citizenship. I know there have been rule changes about getting passports as my sons were born in Italy and could only get a British passport through me being British for one generation. Luckily they got their passports in time as a few years later there was a rule change stating both parents must be British and my husband was Italian. This rule is across the EU and was before Brexit. But I think the Irish passport system is still more lenient.

  6. The price of an Irish passport has rocketed.

  7. I'm getting mine when I can afford it. I was born in Belfast. What a change ig would be if NI became attractive - a place offering Irish and British citizenship and likely to stay in the customs union. With such a small population it would be transformed by EU immigration. I wonder how that would affect elections.

  8. It could be good for Ireland, or it could be bad!