Brexit position papers packed full of details that tell us nothing

The paper on Ireland was full of well-meaning statements of intent, particularly around not wanting the return of any border, but gave nothing by way of detail as to how such a pipe dream is to be delivered, writes Daniel McConnell.

Another day, another Brexit paper.

Yesterday saw the release of the latest document from the British government about its plan for how the world will look after March 2019 — we’re left with more questions than answers.

The government set out its guiding principles as it builds towards ending the direct jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the UK.

In total, we are likely to see 10 or more papers from the government setting out its stall on issues. The decision to produce these papers after such demands for more information has somewhat undermined the credibility of their content, and smacks of the British having to be dragged to this point.

It has also led to the conclusion that the British quite honestly don’t have a clue what they want.

The paper on Ireland was full of well-meaning statements of intent, particularly around not wanting the return of any border, but gave nothing by way of detail as to how such a pipe dream is to be delivered.

British officials briefing on the papers have repeatedly stressed that what is in the documents is their opening offer as opposed to their red lines.

Read another way, what is in the paper in reality will bear little or no resemblance to what will ultimately pertain.

Correctly, the papers have drawn an unenthusiastic response from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney dismissed as “totally unworkable” the proposal that would involve the UK mirroring the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world where their final destination is the EU.

“I don’t see how that could work. There are all sorts of problems with that that I think we understand very well on the island of Ireland, in the context of smuggling and so on,” he said.

Speaking in Canada, Mr Varadkar made it clear that what has come out so far is not enough to see matters progress in October.

“I would welcome a bit more clarity when it comes to trade. The UK government has indicated that they intend to leave the customs union and the Single Market but they seem to want to continue to have the free trade benefits that come with that and those things just don’t tally,” he said.

By October, Britain has to have persuaded all the EU member states that “sufficient progress” has been made on the three big preliminary issues: The monetary divorce bill; the mutual rights of British citizens living in the EU and vice versa; and Ireland.

Mr Varadkar has also made it clear that, should enough progress not be made come October, then he and the other EU leaders will not allow the talks to proceed.

The key point regarding Ireland will come down to whether Britain does or doesn’t leave the customs union, as it has stated it will.

Many of the obstacles being debated will become moot if a deal can be done to allow Britain to remain in the union, but should it make the break, there is no way around the creation of a full border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

That eventuality would be a disaster for all people on this island. It is time the British got real.

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