Blair, Blair…






Two things stand out from Tony Blair’s comments around his visit to the European People’s Party meeting in Dublin last weekend. Both are puzzling.

First, Blair has suggested in response to the possibility of a “hard Irish border”, by which he should surely be honest in saying a hard EU border, that:

If the UK and the Republic were able to agree a way forward on the border, then we would have the best chance of limiting the damage. It is in the interests of us all, including our European partners, for this to happen.

The issue here is that now Article 50 has been triggered how exactly does Mr Blair think the Republic of Ireland can do this outside the EU negotiating team. Maybe he had a chat with Mr Barnier, who also attended the EPP meeting, and agreed this possibility?

Fact is that the Republic of Ireland is not an independent actor in respect of the Brexit negotiations. It is only one of twenty-seven, and cannot act alone: it is not sovereign in that regard.

In any case the Common Travel Area within the British Isles is not a creature of the EU. Freedom of movement for Irish citizens that provides more rights than subjects of Crown Dependencies, was created by Act of Parliament in 1949 – measures and Accords since have only strengthened co-operation between the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland on immigration and security. Both countries are outside the Schengen area.

On trade, again the Republic of Ireland cannot cut a separate deal. It has two choices. Either work to whatever it can do to secure a deal that is least worst for its economy, or itself leave the EU. It can’t do nothing, but its options offer little upside.

Working out how Mr Blair is thinking is a puzzle. So too is how he could be so factually incorrect.

In The Times (£) report on his comments he is noted as having stated that Brexit makes the prospect of a United Ireland more likely. He goes on to say his views on Irish Unity were not a “judgement call” but an assessment on the facts since the referendum in June.

He may have some wriggle room (no change there) in the facts he presents, broadening the timeframe somewhat on the facts of the matter. The Times reports:

“He warned that Brexit would mean Britain and Ireland were out of “step with each other” for the first time since partition.”

This is just wrong.

  • Economically, during 1978-90, the Republic was part of the European Monetary System whereas the pound was not.
  • Since 1999, the Republic has been part of the Euro but the UK retained sterling.
  • Then there is VAT, corporate taxes, lack of free healthcare, and so on.

In none of these respects is there much evidence that these divergences caused lasting harm to the Northern Ireland economy. Indeed, non-membership of the Euro has turned out to be a blessing for the UK.

And if there is a special case to be argued it is for the Republic of Ireland to make a case to its twenty-six EU partners that its history justifies a special case within the EU – though the French may have something to say about that.

Tony Blair is reported because he is Tony Blair. We should be long past the time when we take his comments at face value.