It is often said the Belfast Agreement was an exercise in constructive ambiguity. In some respects that’s true. On issues such as decommissioning, adherence to peaceful means and cultural parity, ambiguous language was deliberately included of a scale so each side could collectively claim a victory. However, there was one section of the Belfast Agreement where the text was crystal clear: The British/Irish Agreement dealing with the constitutional position of the province. Northern Ireland would remain ‘in its entirety’ part of the United Kingdom, unless referenda held concurrently but separately in ‘both jurisdictions in the island’ (with plebiscitary primacy retained in Northern Ireland) indicated jointly a desire to terminate the Union. The former territorial claim to Northern Ireland in Articles 2 & 3 of Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Constitution of Ireland) was removed as a consequence.
The Belfast Agreement essentially provided for a unique devolution settlement and areas of cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic, whilst fundamentally holding true to the 1921 territorial arrangements on the island of Ireland. Insofar as the European Union is mentioned in the text of the Agreement, it is in only a limited capacity. Moreover, the UK Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the Belfast Agreement was unaffected by the Brexit process. Thus, when certain parties begin to invoke language and clauses supposedly contained therein, which in reality do not exist but can be used to sow political and constitutional dissent, we must expose their tactics for what they really are – mendacious meddling rooted in bad faith.
It can hardly be healthy for the future of the Belfast Agreement if the Irish government and its EU collaborators fabricate clauses at will, or misinterpret text so as to boost nationalist/republican tropes concerning Northern Ireland and Brexit. Michel Barnier, in a press conference delivered early on Friday afternoon (09/02/2018), suggested the EU would seek to insert a clause in the Withdrawal Agreement using binding language on ‘regulatory alignment’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic so as to avoid a ‘hard border’, and to maintain consistency with the ‘provisions of the Belfast Agreement’. Excuse me, but where does the BA mention anything to do with the ‘all-Ireland economy’ (a phrase beloved of ardent Remainers)? Effectively trapping Northern Ireland within the Single Market and Customs Union would quickly damage its economy. With regard to goods and services exported from Northern Ireland, 60% go the rest of the United Kingdom. Only 14.7% are exported to the Republic, whilst 8.2% go to the EU and 16.5% to the rest of the world. You do not need to be an expert in economics to see the British market is the mainstay of the Northern Irish economy.
Just supposing any UK Government was stupid enough to concede the principle of Northern Ireland uniquely remaining within the Single Market and Customs Union, with Great Britain outside its ambit. That would create a situation whereby the UK would retain sovereignty over Northern Ireland without having the supreme authority to decide on its trade policy. Consequently, any EU trade law which succeeded in erecting barriers between Northern Ireland and its largest trading market (Great Britain) would precipitate losses to the Northern Irish economy the UK Government would have to compensate for by way of increased subvention from London. The only way to obviate such an eventuality would be for the whole of the UK to maintain regulatory alignment with the EU – an outcome covertly desired by Brussels because it would prevent the UK gaining trading advantages with emerging dynamic economies elsewhere in the world.
Both Brussels and Dublin are in this exercise of playing political games with the Northern Irish border to ultimately prevent Britain gaining competitive trade advantages once Brexit has concluded. Having made workable and sensible suggestions for a technological application of customs regulations in previous submissions, these two actors are now instead focused on weaponising the border, the Belfast Agreement and the spectre of subliminal terrorist activity for their own ends. Let nobody be fooled by talk from the Irish or the likes of Barnier on the need to ‘follow rules’, for we know the EU is very good at bending rules to suit its own ideological preferences. It if wasn’t, the Greeks would still be using the drachma.