The late Fr Denis Faul acknowledged that the one luxury he permitted himself was a television subscription that permitted him to access French and German channels. As a country, we can afford even less today to rely exclusively on the Anglo-sphere for our information. Happily, it was possible to order from a French delivery company Michel Barnier’s secret diary of the Brexit negotiations into early 2020, La Grande Illusion.
The young Michel Barnier from Provence was an enthusiastic supporter of General Charles de Gaulle. He is conscious that General de Gaulle, when he resigned from the presidency of France in 1969, spent several weeks in Ireland, the country of McCartan ancestors from Co. Down in the maternal line, and memorably in Derrynane, home of Daniel O’Connell. While strongly committed to the European Union, in the spirit of Gaullism Mr Barnier is not a Euro-federalist. The EU is about helping 27 distinct nations to survive and prosper, facing global challenges together. Earlier as Regional Affairs Commissioner, he visited, to know this whole island well and to like it. This familiarity was certainly an advantage when he was chosen to lead the Brexit negotiations for the EU.
One result of Brexit is that unfortunately Ireland and Britain are no longer EU partners. Ireland would not have been able to join the EEC without Britain, but, once in, ploughed its own furrow, having a quite different attitude and interests in relation to both the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the level of regional policy funding needed by poorer members. Within five years of entry, parity between the Irish pound and sterling was broken, when the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, a precursor to the single currency, was agreed. The Irish State no longer wished to be so tied to the fluctuating fortunes of the British economy.
Bilateral relations warmed considerably as a result of the peace process and the close rapport that was necessary between Irish and British political leaders. The two countries shared the belief that tax rules in the EU should be subject to unanimity. Since Brexit, Ireland’s primary orientation is the EU and the US, as we are a valuable access point to the EU for the mainly US multinational sector based here.
While there is much worry about potential loss of revenue and employment, should we have to join the international consensus on raising the minimum level of corporation tax, the cost of that would be far less significant than if the Irish State could no longer access the single market in the absence of the Protocol, or if we decided to follow Britain outside the EU.
He queries the broad-brush rhetoric of ‘Global Britain’”
There was a fear in the immediate aftermath of Brexit that Ireland’s difficulties might be overlooked in the departure negotiations between Britain and the EU. Instead, as Mr Barnier’s diary reflects, they became central to the negotiation, with the EU determined to minimise collateral damage to the peace process and to protect the integrity of the single market and Ireland’s place within it. They did not accept any obligation to be neutral between a country that had decided to leave and one determined to stay. Mr Barnier was particularly effective by constant and indefatigable shuttle diplomacy between the capitals of the 27 in ensuring that divide-and-rule tactics, still being attempted over the Protocol, did not work.
Mr Barnier pays tribute to Chancellor Angela Merkel for her tenacity, her simplicity, her desire to see things in detail, while taking time to understand them properly. He queries the broad-brush rhetoric of ‘Global Britain’, asking what prevented it from being that up till now, and objecting that Germany is just as much ‘Global Germany’ inside the European Union.
Early on in his diary, he summarises the EU’s achievements as follows. Shared post-war reconstruction was the best guarantee of a durable peace. The CAP provides food security, preserved landscape diversity, and made products traceable. Commission President Jacques Delors’ cohesion policy has helped less-favoured regions to catch up. The single market encourages company expansion. The Euro provides some protection from US dollar hegemony. In addition, 100 million EU citizens were freed from dictatorships.
On a visit to America in 2018, he was received at a high level by the administration. All he met considered that the UK in quitting the EU was acting against its own interests. From the perspective of American interests, there is a big difference between a European single market of 450 million people and a British market of 60 million.
Northern Ireland has exceptionally been afforded the right of continued access to the European single market and customs union, while remaining part of the UK economy. This special arrangement provides great economic opportunities, which many NI businesses wish to take advantage of, and nor do they want a disruption of all-island economic integration already achieved. Scotland would love to have the same facility. Most of the costs and inconvenience associated with the Protocol can be ironed out in constructive negotiation. The original Government of Ireland Act 1920 envisaged in a number of spheres the continuation of an all-island economy, and this was effectively reinstated in the Good Friday Agreement. For most of the last 100 years, trade levels were well below those that would be normal between friendly contiguous territories, something needing correction.
The Protocol is the only possible way to reconcile cutting Britain’s moorings to the EU; preventing a hard Brexit, in Mr Barnier’s words, from re-creating a hard border in Ireland, which would be unworkable without public consent; and protecting both the peace process and the integrity of the European single market and respecting Ireland’s absolute right and determination to stay part of it. No constitutional change or loosening is involved, only a degree of pragmatism.
Sunday saw Rome rule at Wembley. Italy deserved the break. The bumptiousness associated with Brexit had an off-putting effect for many people. The centenary of the Truce was marked by a simple and dignified plaque at the monument in Sologhead placed by the Third Tipperary Old IRA Commemoration Committee.