Pro or anti treaty? Could you make that choice?

Pro or anti treaty? Could you make that choice?

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Thursday 3, August, 2017

A CENTURY AGO a plucky new nation, the Saorstat, embarked on a voyage. How could the Irish Free State survive and thrive outside the UK and strike up trade relations with the rest of the world? How could it possibly seek preferential trade deals with Dominions such as Canada?

Some of the records of the Dail Eireann make for good reading. People engaged in civil war were just nine years later debating the quantity of bacon allowed from Canada into Ireland. Should chlorination chicken surprise anyone? One exchange that jumps out was between the incumbent and former Ministers for Industry and Commerce where the government negotiators are challenged over the poor offer they received,

"I said before, about this, that those who were going to sell their souls for a mess of pottage might, at any rate, have seen to it that the mess was going to give some sort of a substantial meal."

- Patrick McGilligan, TD

A nice line and certainly one for the jar for later but it's the preceding events that give me trouble....

When the split between the UK and Ireland, as declared in 1916 and assembled by the Dail in 1918, happened it was clearly on acrimonious grounds. The treaty that resulted, the Anglo-Irish Treaty, split the Republican movement and the nation and plunged it into a bloody and divisive civil war. It was almost impossible to conclude an agreeable treaty. The goodwill and the common sense are just not there, the differences between the two parties too large for anything agreed not to be dismissed as a fudge and a betrayal. 

Fast forward to now and one can see there are several very obvious thorns in our feet that we need to examine before going further into agreeing an Anglo-European Treaty. They are each so serious they could not only cause the treaty to fail at the outset but lead to a split in Labour and certainly the Conservative Party. More so the Conservative Party for historic positions on the EU and for existential questions on global standing and the integrity of the UK – where the Tories have been seen as the more patriotic party and most committed to the British Union.

1. Any treaty requires us to accept qualified majority voting to approve the secession of member states in the future. This was an antidemocratic notion signed by Labour that undermines the right of peoples to self-determination. Our own constitution allows for Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland but the Republic of Ireland would not be allowed to leave the EU. This is for what of a better word, Yugoslav. Had we entered into the campaigns for independence by Croatia from Yugoslavia or by Estonia from the Soviet Union the world would be a very different and darker place. 

Linking our ability to recognise new states to an economic treaty is a mess of a potage and a mess in general. It cannot be allowed to stand and the UK must be free to recognise any member state leaving the EU of its own accord, unlikely as this appears at the moment.

2. Any treaty will be modelled on an existing framework. The idea of a Hammond’s transition is ludicrous when the obvious is considered; to what are we transitioning to? We cannot agree any transition unless the final outcome has been agreed with the EU and it clearly hasn't been. It is in effect a stalling tactic and the only agreement we are certain to transition to is remaining in the EU. There is no existing framework with the EU that works for the UK: the EEA does not on a permanent basis; the EUTUCU with Turkey also does not work on any basis. A free state that remains under ECJ jurisdiction, and yes the EFTA court is under ECJ jurisdiction by proxy because it is ECJ rulings that is bases judgements on – is not free!

Any deal based on a pre-existing formula will fail the UK either through the continuation of freedom of movement of people, or by loss of decision-making, or adopting a goods only deal which suits the EU far more than it suits us.

3. Outside of a treaty a deal similar to Canada's CETA, a Super Canada deal, would be ideal for the UK and would be a nightmare for the EU as it would allow other members to potentially slip away easily. The very fact they could affects their dynamic with the ECB and with Germany markedly, and the Germans will say Nein. Any trade only deal struck has to be on non-inferior terms to Canada’s and allow for non-inferior terms with nations the EU already has a FTA with. If Ireland could deal fairly with Canada in 1932 the UK should be able to deal with Korea, Taiwan, EFTA and Canada now without the EU dictating terms. To prevent the UK being part of EU trade talks with third parties during Brexit, as Article 50 demands, and banning us from holding talks at the same time is disgustingly insulting and will not wash.

It is not acceptable for any EU deal to jeopardise trade terms with other nations.

4. The continued threats of invoicing the UK with a massive bill for leaving, and the sloppy populist moves by the new Taoiseach and the Dail in promoting Irish reunification as their Brexit plan mean the UK is being forced into a pincer. How can any government hope not to fall when pondering whether we should pay Brussels 40, 50, 60 billion having stood on a General Election platform of cutting elderly care, winter fuel allowance and housing benefit for the young that cost pennies on the pound of this so called Brexit bill? These moves can only be seen as aggressive and divisive both to the people of Northern Ireland and to those who face cuts to their benefits and services as we maintain fiscal discipline.

A crude attempt at a rough wooing and any Brexit treaty on punitive and threatening terms will not be accepted for long.

5. Given the history of the European question in British politics and the relationship with Dublin post 1918 we are incapable of revealing the future by reliving the past. The consequences are just too well known for the public and politicians to allow this. Those who were once close became bitter enemies during the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Michael Collins (featured above) was the leader of the Pro-Treaty faction and pushed the advantages of the deal hard. 

That it was not perfect was known, but it gave peace and a chance to achieve more later on, it gave Ireland economic security in exchange for some political freedom, and Ireland was just too weak and exhausted to slip back into conflict simply to push for more. It is clear from history that that argument was not universally accepted, crucially not by some of the original negotiating party who felt too much compromise had been made. 

The governing party split in half and to this day Irish politics is dominated by the Pro-Treaty successor Fine Gael and the Anti-Treaty successor Fianna Fail.

This brings me to a wonderful poem, "'Tis the voice of the lobster" that describes quite well the two main kinds of Eurosceptics to date, the lobsters and the owls. Both excel in denial, the first of their own nature and the second of their adversaries. 

Lobsters belong to UKIP and some outriding Brexiteers in the Tory party. Very proud, very confident, full of extrovert exuberance who are more than happy to snipe and disparage sharks so long as they are on dry sand but all quick to cower when surrounded by sharks. Has anyone heard a single credible argument by the lobsters recently? Is there any alternative to the Hammond plan they seem so keen to bark at? There is nothing but hubris and extreme laziness. We are still hearing the same claptrap about how bad the government are but without any narrative beyond memes to offer an alternative. Owls are the Brexiteers in cabinet and in junior office. Introvert, calm, polite, dining in elegance as they do with the panthers. The more the cutlery scraps the plates, the more praise sung of the chef, the more the owls conclude this meal is going well… until eventually they find they too are on the menu!

'Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare

"You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair."

As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose

Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.

When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,

And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark;

But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,

His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.

I passed by his garden, and marked, with one eye,

How the Owl and the Panther were sharing a pie:

The Panther took pie-crust, and gravy, and meat,

While the Owl had the dish as its share of the treat.

When the pie was all finished, the Owl, as a boon,

Was kindly permitted to pocket the spoon;

While the Panther received knife and fork with a growl,

And concluded the banquet by ---

Too many lobsters and too many owls. If Eurosceptics don't grown spines and teeth soon we are all going to be eaten. It will in the end split the Tory party and leave UKIP utterly irrelevant and discredited. We can start with the most obvious narrative of all and that is that any treaty agreed with the EU will be to its pleasure and our restriction. The consequences will be too divisive to keep the party united against a resurgent Labour party.

Let's walk away now and offer continuity of existing trade agreements including the elimination of non-tariff barriers. Any treaty will be disaster for the right. The only way we win this game is not to play it.

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