Category Archives: Articles

Where we might be, or not. Who knows?





Brexit, of course.

First of all, a summary of the potential benefits of the Prime Minister’s Draft Withdrawal Agreement:

  • Provides comprehensive “legal cover” for leaving EU, e.g. keep the Eurostar running, UK drivers’ licenses in EU, over-flights by planes etc. etc.
  • Allows for a transition period- 30 March 2018-31 Dec. 2019- in effect UK remains under all the EU rules for a bit longer and so more time for the business community etc. to prepare for the exit.
  • In transition and, indeed, in the period of the operation of the back-stop NI +GB remain in the EU’s customs arrangements and NI remains in the Single Market. Thus ensuring whatever advantages flow from continuity of trading terms and arrangements.

However, there is a range of potential drawbacks:

  • UK continues to pay dues to EU until transition period is over, i.e. at least £39bn, and more if that period gets extended beyond 2020.
  • Could the UK ever exit from the customs union type arrangements?
  • And if the UK, i.e. GB, could leave EU might oblige it to “leave behind” NI (so NI-GB tariff barriers).
  • Checks on GB-to-NI “exports” to ensure compliance with EU Single Market regulations. Could that mean higher costs for grocery imports, for example?
  • NI could become a passive rule-taker, especially in terms of having to apply all EU regulations.
  • UK in general, and NI in particular, would be unable to use Brexit as springboard for global free trade agreements.

In economics and politics, as in life in general, the harsh reality is that we must live with trade offs. We can get more of one good thing only by having less of another good thing. So it is with Brexit and the content of the 580+ pages withdrawal agreement between the PM and the EU.

If, “the deal” can get through Parliament, a big IF, for many people the good news will be the continuity after March 2019 in terms of the UK’s customs and regulatory position relative to the EU. In reality, even if not in name, we carry on being part of both the customs union and Single Market. There are some advantages in this in terms of certainty for businesses at least in the short to medium term.

Unfortunately, the effort to keep NI within both Single Market and EU Customs Union entails multiple costs in economic terms (quite apart from a range of political issues). At some point in the future GB might choose to diverge from EU regulations. Northern Ireland would remain tied to those EU standards and hence a widening gap would open up across the North Channel.

Importantly, Northern Ireland’s total product “imports” from GB are vastly greater than the level of imports from the Republic of Ireland (or RoI/rEU combined).  In 2016, NI imported £11bn of goods from GB but only £2bn from RoI and a further £2bn from rest of EU ie the imports flow from GB three times that of entire EU27. For all the talk of best of both worlds the backstop arrangement increases the cost of doing business with NI for GB based business, and a potential barrier has been set in place that may impact on supply chains and the very significant investment into NI from GB. That may have consequences for consumer choice and consumer costs also.

It seems (and this is the EU’s own interpretation of what they are offering) the whole of the UK would be bound up with the EU’s custom arrangements for as long as the EU wishes that to be so. In these circumstances there would be little opportunity for the UK, including Northern Ireland, to forge new free trade deals with the wider world economy. This is very significant since the EU (excluding the UK) represents less than 15% of the world economy and that share has been shrinking over time.

It is also hard to see how the PM’s proposed deal would allow Brexit to become the decisive moment when there was a re-set of policy making in the UK including Northern Ireland; be that in terms of a global trading policy or a new approach to farming support.

Then there is the threat that a confused and badly managed set of Brexit arrangements will create the set of circumstances which can be used as the all-purpose excuse for every mistake in public policy over the next five or more years.  As if another excuse were needed.


Dr Esmond Birnie, Economist


Legacy – a series of essays







The News Letter has sent an email to registered readers providing a summary of its recent series of essays on the Legacy proposals currently the subject of “consultation”.

The premise in publishing the series has been simple: has been a scandal the way in which the whole weight of the British state has, at great expense to UK taxpayers, turned in on its own security forces who prevented civil war here in Northern Ireland (the introductory stories to the series list the current imbalance against security forces).

It is “Time to stop the terror legacy scandal” (August 20th). The series was backed with a strong Morning View editorial.

Inevitable, for 100 years





Since the foundation of Northern Ireland nationalism has seen the existence of the Province as temporary and therefore refuse to ‘accept’ partition. Partition, in nationalists’ eyes, was(is) means through which Britain maintained a presence in Ireland for its own ‘selfish and strategic interests’; and Unionists were (and still are) their ‘patsies’.

Legally speaking partition was to be temporary: this was the position of the London Government, quite possibly to avoid an argument. For Northern Ireland to be close to a century old, must therefore clearly depress nationalists. Instead of viewing Northern Ireland as a success, it is therefore essential to label it as a ‘failed’ entity based on historic grievance laid at the door of political Unionism.

To imagine that Northern Ireland would be still in existence nearly a century later, would would have been simply ‘unbelievable’ in 1920.







In the imagination of remainers, the Tory European Research Group is a cadre of irreconcilable Brexit ultras, determined to wrench the UK from the EU in chaotic fashion. It’s ironic then, that the ERG’s latest paper is one of the calmest contributions to the Irish border debate, delivering low-key, rather technical solutions to practical problems raised by the frontier, rather than overheated rhetoric. 

Foundering on the Rocks of Reality







Republicans and nationalists call for a United Ireland, yet the thinking on what that might look like has to date seems crude, naïve, or non-existent. Irish mist-ical aspiration is preferred to the harsh realities of rational thinking. Philip Larkin asks some uncomfortable questions.

A crude reality

With increased discussion in social and political circles on the topic of the inevitability or otherwise of a united Ireland, the central object of this article is to examine what the true ramifications of creating a new state of Ireland will be, specifically from the viewpoints of northern nationalism and the population of the Republic of Ireland.

Gerry Adams twirling around the Northern Ireland public spending numbers






The former Sinn Fein leader, Mr Gerry Adams was recently arguing how Irish unity had become more an issue of “when” rather than “if”.

A critical plank of his argument was that Northern Ireland is not in fact as heavily subsidised by the UK Exchequer as many of us think: he believes the actual level of spending here is lower and as a result the gap or deficit between public monies spent and revenues raised by taxes in Northern Ireland is smaller than we are often told.

Amongst other things, if he is right, Irish unity could become more affordable. Mr Adams’s argument becomes something of a fiscal dance of the seven veils. With each sentence a few more billions come off!

Bold statements, bald facts





According to Brian Feeney: “Reality is that a century of partition has left the north much poorer than the south.” (£)

No one can deny Brian Feeney loves a sweeping statement: “Irish unity will be beneficial to all on the island” – everyone’s a winner  – he says, based supposedly on a report by Paul Gosling and Pat McArt. This may be the same as the report reviewed earlier on This Union, as the claims are as strange as ever. Or it could be from A New Union: A New Society – Ireland 2050 which does credit Pat McArt and appears on Gosling’s website in June, using the earlier report for economic points.

In fact, that The economic impact of an all-island economy published earlier this year assumed unity would be accompanied by quite a major reduction in public sector jobs and spending in Northern Ireland – despite the significant impact that could be expected on the NI economy from this cut, there was no accompanying indication on how the private sector might be able to compensate as local spending power diminishes, significantly. Besides…

‘Burn everything British, but their coal’






Of all the nationalist oppositions to Brexit, in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland or Scotland, perhaps also the trans-nationalist EU, Sinn Fein’s opposition is perhaps the most cynical.

Legacy. The Past in the Future.






A seminar held on Saturday 3 March in Belfast examined the coming legacy legislation that will govern Northern Ireland’s approach to the past. In an Editorial, the Belfast News Letter described it as “a rare event” principally because those attending and speaking gave scrutiny of legacy structures has was not overwhelmingly positive to the 2014 Stormont House proposals. The important point made as to what might follow this initiative was made:

“These vital voices have not received anything like the coverage they deserve on legacy, as aggressive pro-republican factions make the most noise. But London seems determined to implement Stormont House, so critics will have to engage fully with the consultation process.” 

A huge challenge lies ahead. As part of that process This Union hopes to be able to publish a number of the papers that were presented to the Seminar, or articles from the speakers based on what was said on the day. These are not uniform, and contain a range of views. No-one at the Seminar expected absolute unanimity. This was a place to explore and share thoughts on the issue.

Brexit summary, before the next round….






Policy Exchange’s Chief Economic Adviser Dr Graham Gudgin gave evidence to the House of Lords EU Select Committee on UK-Irish relations after Brexit. Dr Gudgin argued that electronic solutions should be prioritised for the border and argued that securing a free trade agreement with the EU must be a priority.

This is an extract of his presentation; a better version is on the Parliament live site (the embed output quality isn’t great):

The full hearing of evidence can be found at Parliamentlive.TV

The written submission to the EU Committee is below: