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How many people looked at the 500-page EU/UK Withdrawal Treaty to find out what the Irish backstop really says?

Most people think that it is about avoiding customs posts on the Irish border. But there is much more to it than that.

The letter below from David Trimble, former Irish ambassador to Canada Ray Bassett, Northern Ireland economist Graham Gudgin and others explains clearly why the backstop as it stands should be unacceptable to any genuine democratically minded person, whether Irish or British.

At present the UK can legally leave the EU under the terms of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. With this Irish backstop in place the UK could not legally leave the EU Customs Union, Single Market and Court of Justice jurisdiction unless it had the permission of the EU including Ireland. The could keep the UK under EU rule indefinitely.

The Irish backstop is therefore effectively a device that has been concocted by the Brussels Commission, the Irish Government and some of the UK’s own “Remainers” to frustrate Brexit and, if possible, prevent it altogether.

It seeks to set aside the vote of the British people in 2016 to get back their fundamental democratic right to make their own laws and decide their own governmental policies.

Ireland has surrendered this right to the EU, despite all its public talk about valuing democracy, sovereignty and national independence.

This Trimble/Bassett letter points out that the backstop as it stands undermines the principle of consent in the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. It drives a further wedge between Northern Ireland Nationalists and Unionists instead of encouraging them to come together for a shared future.

How this backstop was agreed to by UK chief negotiator Oliver Robbins is hard to understand. One wonders did Prime Minister May herself realise its implications when she went along with it initially, although the UK Parliament has now declined to approve it?

There are perfectly reasonable alternatives to the backstop that would avoid a hard North-South border in Ireland, while respecting the existing State boundaries and the Good Friday Agreement.

For example the UK Government could give an undertaking to the EU that it will not allow its territory to become a source of non-compliant goods leaking into the EU Single Market. Such an undertaking could be underpinned by a licensing system for UK exporters to the EU that would force them to meet EU requirements or suffer penalties under UK law. EU officials could be invited to assist in investigations.

This would address the fact that what matters for the integrity of the EU Single Market is not what goods may be in circulation within Northern Ireland – which should be no business of the EU once the UK had left – but only what goods cross the land border into the Irish Republic. Full regulatory alignment between the North and South of Ireland, or between the UK as a whole and the Republic, is not necessary for this purpose. After all only some 6% of UK firms export goods to the rest of the EU.

Daily Telegraph, Saturday 12 January 2019:

Sir, Much of the focus on the Withdrawal Agreement has been on the difficulty of the UK unilaterally withdrawing from the backstop. The Irish Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement stipulates that the backstop will take force from the end of the transition period (i.e.from January 2021 or up to two years later). It will remain in force until superseded by a subsequent permanent agreement which must be compatible with the UK guarantee of ‘no hard border including no physical infrastructure or related checks and controls’.

Alternatively, a review procedure may release the UK from the backstop but only if matters have changed in ways which render the backstop no longer necessary to achieve the Protocol’s objectives.

The review procedure lists four Protocol objectives which must be met, only one of which is ‘the avoidance of a hard border’. The others are much wider and in the case of ‘addressing the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland’ and ‘protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects’ are impossibly vague. How such wording was accepted by UK negotiators will be a matter for historians.

The fourth condition, only slightly less all-encompassing, is to ‘maintain the conditions for north-south co-operation’. In the December 2017 Joint Progress Report the UK conceded that such maintenance ‘relies to a significant extent on the EU common legal and policy framework’. The National Audit Office has subsequently contradicted this for health co-operation, but the damage was already done. Again, it is hard to credit that such drafting was accepted

obvious consequence of all of this is that the EU’s common legal and policy framework must be followed permanently in Northern Ireland if the conditions for continued north-south co-operation as defined in the Withdrawal Agreement are to be maintained. This means Northern Ireland remaining permanently within the EU customs union and the single market as described in the backstop and in a way that undermines the Good Friday Agreement itself.

Moreover if the UK Government is to keep its promises of no impediments to trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain the same conditions will need to apply throughout the UK.

It is important for those planning to support the Withdrawal Agreement to realise that like diamonds the backstop is forever.

Yours sincerely,

Ray Bassett, Former Irish Ambassador to Canada

Lord Maurice Glasman, House of Lords

Dr. Graham Gudgin, University of Cambridge

Dr Shanker Singham, CEO Competere

Professor Robert Tombs, University of Cambridge

Lord David Trimble, House of Lords

“Brexit, Ireland and the EU” Submission by Anthony Coughlan to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the House of Commons on North-South border problems in Ireland and the Irish Government’s policy response in the context of Brexit.

Executive Summary


  • Logically, there would be no new North-South Border problems within Ireland if the Republic of Ireland should leave the EU in tandem with the UK;
  • There are no strong positive arguments for the Republic remaining in the EU when the UK leaves and there are good arguments against. The main argument for the Republic remaining in the EU is the negative one that it has joined the Euro-currency and the possible difficulty of leaving that;
  • Germany may be wiling to facilitate an Irexit (Ireland Exit) in tandem with  Brexit in certain circumstances;
  • Current Irish Government policy is to do everything it can to frustrate Brexit, operating as part of “Team EU”. Irish policymakers and public opinion will only face up to the real adverse implications of Ireland remaining in the EU without the United Kingdom if this ambition to frustrate a meaningful Brexit fails – and is seen to fail;
  • The interests of the peoples of both Ireland and the UK are best served by the two States leaving the EU at or around the same time, with free trade being maintained between the two of them and with the EU, or with possibly a customs union being established between Ireland and the UK in appropriate circumstances, with special arrangements for agricultural products;
  • The Republic of Ireland does not need a constitutional referendum to leave the EU.
  • NO NORTH-SOUTH BORDER PROBLEMS IF IRELAND LEAVES THE EU TOO: The only way of avoiding the establishment of an EU federal-state-style external frontier post-Brexit, with all its associated problems, either between the North and South of Ireland or between the two islands of Britain and Ireland is for the Republic to leave the EU at or around the same time as the UK. This seems logically and politically an irrefutable proposition, however unpalatable the prospect of leaving the EU may be currently for many in the Republic. This is for three principal reasons:-


  1. NEW BORDER DIMENSIONS IF THE REPUBLIC STAYS IN THE EU: Firstly, for the Republic to seek to remain in the EU while Northern Ireland leaves it as part of the UK would add several new dimensions to the existing North-South Border within Ireland and make eventual Irish reunification more difficult. Such reunification is an aspiration of all political parties in Ireland, North and South, apart from Northern Ireland Unionists.  The most obvious such dimensions would be customs posts or other customs controls as the UK leaves the EU customs union; food and EU veterinary checks on animals, milk and other items moving across the Border; possible passport controls to prevent EU citizens using the Republic for backdoor entry into a post-Brexit UK; and growing divergence between EU-harmonised law and justice provisions in the South and Anglo-Saxon-based ones in the North.


  1. SECURITY IMPLICATIONS OF THE UK LEAVING THE EU AND THE REPUBLIC STAYING IN IT: Secondly, the statement by Northern Secretary Peter Brooke in 1990 that Britain had “no strategic or economic interest” in staying in Northern Ireland if the majority of the people there should wish to leave the UK at some time in the future underpinned the 1993 Downing Street Declaration and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Brussels has signalled recently that security and military union is the preferred next stage of EU integration. If the Republic remains in the EU when the UK leaves, it means that it will in time become part of an EU military bloc under German hegemony.  That can hardly be in the security interest of the UK.  If Ireland were ever to be reunited on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement, however distant that prospect may seem at present, it would mean that the whole island and not just the Republic would become part of such an EU military bloc under German hegemony also.   This would give future British Governments good reason from their point of view for remaining in Northern Ireland and discouraging any future moves towards a united Ireland.   What the Good Friday Agreement implicitly envisaged as a possibility was a genuinely neutral united Ireland having a friendly and cooperative relation with Britain at some time, however distant, in the future. But if the South stays in the EU while the North leaves the EU along with the rest of the UK, this security calculus significantly changes.



  1. NEW OBSTACLES TO POSSIBLE FUTURE IRISH REUNIFICATION: Thirdly, the Republic of Ireland staying in the EU when the UK leaves would give Northern Ireland Unionists a whole set of new and objectively valid reasons for opposing Irish unity.  From their point of view Irish re-unification at some future date, however distant, would mean that the people of Northern Ireland would have to rejoin the EU, with its 123,000 or so supranational rules, legal acts and international agreements – which is hardly real freedom. They would have to adopt the dysfunctional euro-currency. They would have to take on the burden of helping to pay for the private bank debt that the ECB and the EU Troika imposed on the Republic when it decided in 2010 that no Irish bank should be let go bust following the 2008 financial crisis. And they would have to agree to be bound by all the new EU laws and regulations that will be passed between now and whenever Irish reunification might be brought about.  It is hard to see Unionist consent to reunification occurring in those circumstances.  Yet as the Good Friday Agreement recognizes, Partition can never be ended without the agreement of at least a significant section of the present Unionist population.  One thing is certain. Ulster Unionists will never be attracted to the idea of running what would effectively be an EU province instead of an independent State. For that is what the South remaining in the EU/Eurozone realistically entails.


  1. IREXIT WOULD SAVE THE REPUBLIC MONEY: Apart from the need to avoid adding new dimensions to the North-South Border if the Republic should seek to remain in the EU when the UK leaves, the balance of economic and political argument is heavily in favour of Ireland leaving the EU in tandem with Britain and Northern Ireland. For one thing, leaving the EU would save the Republic money. The Republic became a net contributor to the EU Budget in 2014.  This is a big change from the previous forty years when it was a major net recipient of EU funds, mainly through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. From now on money from Brussels will be Irish taxpayers’ money recycled, as is already the case with the UK, employing some people in Brussels on the way.  Farm payments under the CAP will come from Dublin not the EU. This removes what hitherto has been the principal basis of Irish europhilia, official and unofficial – namely cash. That has always been more important for the population of the Republic than ideological enthusiasm for Eurofederalism or “the EU project”. There has never been any popular support for that, although elements  in the Republic’s “EU industry” of policy think-tanks, politicians, senior civil servants and editorial offices do support it and are in continual consternation over Brexit.


  1. TAKING BACK CONTROL OF THE REPUBLIC’S FISHING WATERS, AS WELL AS OF MUCH ELSE:  If the Republic remains in the EU post-Brexit it will have to pay more to the EU Budget as its proportionate contribution to help compensate for the loss of Britain’s annual net payment.  A bonus of leaving along with the UK on the other hand is that it would get back control of its sea-fisheries and other underwater resources.  The value of annual fish-catches by foreign boats in Irish waters is a several-times multiple of whatever money the Republic has got from the EU over the years.  By  leaving the EU Ireland would also be taking back the right to make its own laws and decide its own external policies – re-establishing its national democracy and national  independence in other words. It would be resuming control of its currency, its budget and taxation policy, its borders, its trade policy and its foreign and security policy and it would be able to maintain a meaningful neutrality policy if it wished to do that.


  1. THE REPUBLIC’S FOREIGN TRADE WITH THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WORLD IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ITS TRADE WITH THE EU: As regards trade and investment, the Republic sends 61% by value of its goods exports and 66% of its services exports to countries that are outside the continental EU26, mostly English-speaking.  It gets two-thirds of its imports from outside the EU26.  The USA is the most important single-country market for the Republic’s foreign-owned firms and the UK for its Irish-owned ones – the latter being especially important for employment. The UK and US markets together are comparable in importance to that of the EU26 post-Brexit.  Taking other English-speaking markets into account, such as Canada, Australia etc., makes trade with the English-speaking world more important for the Republic than the EU26.  In 2015, the most recent year for which Central Statistics Office figures are available, the Republic exported €112 billion worth of goods and imported €70 billion. It exported €122 billion worth of services and imported €151 billion. The table shows the distribution of this trade by area – trade in services being broadly similar.






Distribution of Irish foreign trade in goods,  2015


Exports           Imports

EU26 without the UK.                      39%               34%

Rest of World including UK             61%               66%

UK                                                      14%               26%

USA and Canada                              25%               16%

USA and Canada+the UK                39%               42%


Source: CSO Statbank, External Trade, Tables TSA01 and TSA05



  1. CLOSER TO BRITAIN THAN GERMANY AND TO BOSTON THAN BERLIN: These trade patterns are a consideration also for foreign investors coming to Ireland. Economically and psychologically, Ireland is closer to Britain than Germany and closer to Boston than Berlin. This puts exaggerated talk of the EU’s “giant market of 500 million” in perspective. That shrinks anyway to 435 million with the UK gone. Some 7000 million people live outside the EU. It is not of course a question of the Republic having to choose between one export market and another if it should decide to leave the EU along with the UK.  If common sense prevails in the negotiations, there should be continuing free trade between the Republic, the EU and the UK in the context of any Brexit or Irexit.


  1. THE REPUBLIC WITHOUT THE UK AS AN EU PARTNER: Without the UK beside her in the EU Council of Ministers the Republic would be in a weaker position to defend its low rate of company profits tax, important for attracting foreign investment, for which Germany and the Brussels Commission are now gunning.  It would be less well able to defend its fishery interests, its trade interests, its distinctive Anglo-Saxon-based traditions in the area of law and justice, which the EU aims to harmonise, and its military neutrality.


  1. IRELAND’S MEMBERSHIP OF THE EUROZONE: The main argument for the Republic staying in the EU when the UK leaves is the negative one that it is a member of the Eurozone while the UK is not. When the euro was established in 1999 the Republic’s politicians decided to adopt the currency of an area with which it did just one-third of its trade. They thought at the time that Britain would be bound to adopt the euro-currency too and that by going first they would show how “communautaire” they were. The Republic now desperately needs to get its own currency back so that it can devalue it along with sterling and the dollar, and not be stuck with an implicitly overvalued euro which is hitting its exports and encouraging competing imports. Failing that the Northern Ireland-bound shopping queues will grow.


  1. THE VALUE OF AN INDEPENDENT IRISH CURRENCY: The Republic did very well when it had its own currency and it allowed the Irish pound to float vis-a-vis the currencies of its major trading partners between 1994 and 1999, when it adopted the euro. Those were the years of the so-called “Celtic Tiger” economy, when the Republic had an annual average economic growth rate of 8% a year. This was the only period in the ninety-year history of the Irish State in which it followed an effectively independent exchange rate policy, which made it highly competitive. This is why Dublin should aim to leave the Eurozone and re-establish an Irish currency in a planned concerted manner, negotiating its departure with Germany, Britain and the ECB in private behind the scenes as part of its move to leave the EU along with the UK, rather than be forced to abandon the euro anyhow in some future Eurozone financial crisis. The Republic’s experience of the Eurozone has in any case been very painful. The Republic already had a boom on when it joined the Eurozone in 1999.  It needed higher interest rates at the time to cap this boom, not lower. The unsuitable low interest rates of the Eurozone encouraged the Republic’s property boom for years in the early 2000s.   When that boom turned to bust in 2008 the European Central Bank insisted on imposing  €64 billion of the bad debts of the Irish private banks on to the Irish State’s taxpayers – to prevent the “contagion” of banks having to bear their own losses spreading to the Mediterranean Eurozone countries .


  1. POSSIBLE GERMAN ATTITUDES TO BREXIT AND IREXIT: It is probable that Ireland is the only country that could leave the euro and go back to its national currency without causing a general crisis for the euro area as a whole. But it would desirably need the support of the UK and Germany to take such a step with minimum disruption. Presumably if Brexit is ultimately to be achieved it will boil down to a deal between Britain and Germany, mainly over money. The UK has some good cards it can play in this. For example it might back Germany obtaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.  Germany might indeed be willing to facilitate Ireland leaving the Eurozone, recognizing that it is within Britain’s historic sphere of influence. Germany might also see that the aspirations of sections of its policy elite to hegemony over the continental EU would be advanced if the two English-speaking island countries, not just one, should leave the EU together.


  1. ANGLO-IRISH AGRICULTURAL TRADE: Britain will presumably revert to its traditional cheap food policy when it leaves the EU. Contrary to some Irish commentary, there is nothing immoral in a country importing its food from wherever in the world it can buy good quality products cheaply. At the same time the British Government will doubtless want to support UK farmers for political reasons, presumably by means of direct farm subsidies to replace the price supports they now get from the EU’s CAP. Nearly half the Republic’s agricultural output goes to the UK market at present, so such a development will have major implications for it. There is a danger that Irish farm products will be displaced in the UK market post-Brexit by New Zealand lamb, Brasilian beef, American chicken etc. It may well be in the interest of both States to come to a financial agreement to deal with this issue in the context of both States leaving the EU together.


  1. A POSSIBLE ANGLO-IRISH CUSTOMS UNION: The above are the main reasons why the focus of intelligent Irish policy should now be on negotiating a comprehensive deal with London for the Irish State to leave the EU along with the UK, while maintaining maximum free trade with both EU and UK post-Brexit, possibly on the basis of an Anglo-Irish customs union Such a deal should guarantee continued free access for Irish food exports to the UK market on the most favourable terms. It should also cover Bank of England support for a restored Irish pound so that it did not have to devalue excessively in the initial weeks following its re-launch.


  1. CURRENT IRISH POLICY IS TO DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO FRUSTRATE BREXIT: The current belief in official circles in Dublin is that there is a good chance that a meaningful Brexit can be frustrated by cross-party resistance in the House of Commons and Lords, supported from outside. It is taken for granted that the German, French and other EU Governments believe the same and that for this reason the EU is likely to make things as difficult as possible for Britain in the EU/UK negotiations over the coming year.  The EU is expected to test to destruction the possibility of Brexit being reversed in Parliament.  It is only if the EU and its supporters fail to overturn the Brexit referendum result – and recognize that they cannot – that the serious talking will start, possibly quite late in the day.  One can take it that the Irish Government, to judge by its current stance, will be cooperating in this with Brussels and with Germany and France in every way it can and will do everything possible to frustrate Brexit. UK policy-makers can take it that former Irish-EU grandees such as Peter Sutherland, Pat Cox, John Bruton and Alan Dukes will be working behind the scenes with the Irish Government to this end. They will be systematically interacting with those anti-democratic “Remainers” in British Labour and Conservative circles who refuse to accept last year’s democratic referendum vote.  It is this writer’s view that it is only if such efforts fail – and are seen to fail –  that Irish public policy-makers, and the Irish media and public generally, will face up to the real implications of their seeking to remain part of “Team EU” when the UK leaves the EU, along with 1.8 million fellow Irish nationals in Northern Ireland and some 500,000 Irish citizens living in Britain.  Irish public attitudes to remaining in the EU are likely to change significantly then.


  1. DUBLIN’S UNTHINKING COMMITMENT TO TEAM EU: Former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern implicitly criticised Dublin’s unthinking commitment to “Team EU” when he stated that Ireland had “missed the boat” by failing to engage with London directly before the UK/EU negotiations began with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, using Strand Three of the Good Friday Agreement for that purpose. “For the next year it is left to trying to influence him and his team. That is the challenge we face as a country,” Ahern said. (Irish Times, 12 July 2017). In considering the Irish aspect of the UK/EU negotiations it is important to bear in mind that the career-federalism amongst Irish policy-makers, supported by unthinking sections of the Irish media, which is the principal influence on current Irish Government policy on Brexit, is fundamentally opposed to the interests of the Irish people themselves as well as to the interests of the UK.


  1. NEW NORTH-SOUTH PROBLEMS THE RESULT OF IRELAND’S DECISION,NOT BRITAIN’S: If new dimensions are added to the North-South border within Ireland in the context of Brexit it will be the result of the Irish Government’s deciding to go with “Team EU” rather than with its 1.8 million fellow nationals in  Northern Ireland.  The responsibility will be overwhelmingly Ireland’s, not Britain’s.  There are the closest cultural, linguistic, sentimental and historical links between the two island countries.  Ninety percent of the Republic’s oil and gas come from the UK. Some 80% of the Republic’s trade with the continent goes through Britain.  There would be a popular revolt in the Republic if the policy commitment to “Team EU” by the Republic’s political elite put the Anglo-Irish travel area in peril in any way. These are relevant points for UK policy-makers to bear in mind when they are interacting with Dublin’s Euro-federalists in the period ahead.


  1. NO REFERENDUM NEEDED IN IRELAND TO LEAVE THE EU: It is worth noting that the Irish State does not need a referendum to leave the European Union should that become the policy of its Government. Referendums in the Republic of Ireland are exercises in direct legislation whereby citizens vote to amend or not amend as the case may be the State’s written Constitution, which was first adopted by popular referendum in 1937. In the Republic’s EEC Accession Treaty referendum in 1972 citizens gave a license or permission to the State/Government to join the then European Communities: “The State may join… ”  Ireland joined the Communities under a permissive, not a mandatory, power, so the State/Government may exercise the same license to withdraw from the EU if it should come to so wish.


“EU paper on the Irish border manages to state much while saying nothing – except that it expects Britain to figure it all out” Dr Ray Bassett (Sunday Business Post)

The EU has finally produced a paper on the Irish border issue. To describe it as a paper, however, risks violating the Trades Description Act. The long-awaited document is actually a huge cop out. It point-blank refuses to clarify the EU position and states that the onus remains on the United Kingdom to propose imaginative and unique solutions. In Australian terms, the EU, and by extension the Irish Government, have gone walkabout. Michel Barnier added insult to injury by claiming that it had been drafted in close cooperation with the Irish Government. It is hard to envisage what they have been working on since it is essentially empty of any real substance, just a short descriptive document.

While having nothing new to offer, it again re-iterates the conditions which makes it impossible “to square the circle”. It states that any solution “must respect the proper functioning of the Internal Market and the Customs Union, as well as the integrity and effectiveness of the Union’s Legal Order”. In the immortal words of the great Henry Ford, “You can have any colour car you like, as long as it’s black”. Any solution can be proposed, as long as it does not allow Ireland and the United Kingdom any local derogation from EU conformity.


(Dr Ray Bassett is a retired Irish diplomat and former Irish ambassador to Canada)

Irish Seanad Special Select Committee on Brexit – Witness Statement by Anthony Coughlan

Most of the problems the Special Select Committee has been considering in previous hearings as resulting from Brexit would be avoided if Ireland left the European Union at or around the same time as the UK, for five principal reasons:-

(i) Leaving the EU would save the State money, as we are now net contributors to the EU Budget rather than net recipients from it;

(ii) It would give us back control of our valuable sea fisheries, the annual value of catches by foreign boats in these being a several-times multiple of the money we have got from the EU over the years;

(iii) It would give us back control of our law-making, free us from the rulings and sanctions of the EU Court of Justice, and therefore restore our State sovereignty and national democracy;

(iv) It would give us back a national currency – one of the two pillars of any independent State – and with it the capacity to run the independent exchange rate policy that is vital for our economic competitiveness, especially in the context of Brexit; and

(v) above all, leaving the EU along with the UK is the only way to save the Irish Government and the parties that support its policy from the guilt before future generations of implementing in our time a new Partition of Ireland.


“The logic of following the UK out” Anthony Coughlan (Village Magazine)

Logically therefore the only way to avoid adding new dimensions to the North-South border post-Brexit is for Brexit to be accompanied by Irexit. This thought may be so novel it will shock many. EU membership has brought Ireland good things. Most Irish people have positive attitudes towards it. But if the North is leaving the EU along with Britain we should be able to consider dispassionately the advantages of leaving too – and the drawbacks of remaining in it without the UK as a fellow member.


“The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty”Diana Johnstone (Counterpunch)

The confusion is due to the fact that most of what calls itself “the left” in the West has been totally won over to the current form of imperialism – aka “globalization”. It is an imperialism of a new type, centered on the use of military force and “soft” power to enable transnational finance to penetrate every corner of the earth and thus to reshape all societies in the endless quest for profitable return on capital investment. The left has been won over to this new imperialism because it advances under the banner of “human rights” and “antiracism” – abstractions which a whole generation has been indoctrinated to consider the central, if not the only, political issues of our times.

The fact that “sovereignism” is growing in Europe is interpreted by mainstream globalist media as proof that “Europe is moving to the right”– no doubt because Europeans are “racist”. This interpretation is biased and dangerous. People in more and more European nations are calling for national sovereignty precisely because they have lost it. They lost it to the European Union, and they want it back.

Read more: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/21/the-main-issue-in-the-french-presidential-election-national-sovereignty/

The real difference between Iceland & Ireland (Cormac Lucey), & “How to abandon the common currency for a new national currency” (Nyberg)

Cormac Lucey, Sunday Times, 19/III 2017
At the height of the financial crisis, Michael Noonan stated that “Ireland is not Iceland”. Rather than stating the obvious, at a symbolic level Noonan was making clear that he didn’t intend Ireland to follow the same route as Iceland in terms of burning bank bondholders. So what happened in Iceland, and what lessons, if any, can our closest northwestern neighbour offer us?
… In Ireland we deployed €65bn of state funds to prevent our banks going bust. Much of that money ended up paying foreign creditors of our banks. This was done after the European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet phoned Michael Noonan from Frankfurt and warned that if foreign creditors were burnt “a bomb will go off, and it won’t be here, it will be in Dublin”. Let the record show no bomb went off in Reykjavik when it successfully burnt foreign creditors.
Moreover Ireland is not Iceland, as Iceland retained currency and monetary sovereignty. A halving in the value of its currency restored international competitiveness. Ireland pooled its currency and monetary sovereignty with its eurozone partners. Following the outbreak of crisis, the euro rose against those of our main trading partners, especially sterling. That strengthened deflationary forces here and contributed significantly to Ireland’s economic woes.
Despite having a population of only a third of a million, Iceland asserted its independence by retaining its own currency and aggressively promoting its national interest in the banking crisis. Ireland submerged its independence in a continental currency and had to meekly follow the Nuremberg doctrine in obeying orders from Frankfurt.

Read more: http://cormaclucey.blogspot.com/2017/03/independent-iceland-teaches-great-deal.html

The following linked paper, co-authored by Peter Nyberg (“the same Finnish former civil servant picked by the Irish government  to report on how the banking system here collapsed”), was referred to in the second (postscript) piece in Cormac Lucey’s column, in the above-mentioned Sunday Times (Irish edition) Business Section.

Malinen, Nyberg, Koskenkylä, Berghäll, Mellin, Miettinen, Ala-Peijari, Törnqvist, How to Abandon the Common Currency in Exchange for a New National Currency (October 4, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2847507 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2847507http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2847507


The question of how to leave a monetary union has become an important economic issue during the last few years. Uncertainty relating to its costs tends to discourage political leaders from taking decisive steps towards an exit. This article provides thoughts on what the necessary steps are, what are the associated pitfalls, how they can be overcome, and how can an exit from a currency union be effectively managed to control associated risks and costs. Uninterrupted functioning of the payments system, political response and the solvency of the private and public institutions are shown to be the major determinants of the costs of an exit. Issues of public governance, such as legality of the exit, can become an issue only if political and public support for the exit is lacking.

Read more: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2847507

“The lesson from Brexit is that too much market and too little state invites a backlash” Kevin O’Rourke (London School of Economics)

It has recently become commonplace to argue that globalisation can leave people behind, and that this can have severe political consequences. Since 23 June, this has even become conventional wisdom. While I welcome this belated acceptance of the blindingly obvious, I can’t but help feeling a little frustrated, since this has been self-evident for many years now. What we are seeing, in part, is what happens to conventional wisdom when, all of a sudden, it finds that it can no longer dismiss as irrelevant something that had been staring it in the face for a long time.


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