'˜Leave means leave': what does it mean?

In June, it will be two years since the UK voted for Brexit.

Well, actually, it was the

English and Welsh who voted for it. Northern Ireland and Scotland were firmly against leaving the EU.

Yet, we still don’t know what “leave means leave” really does mean.

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The Cabinet has been holding a series of meetings to decide the UK’s position in the Brexit negotiations. Let’s go over that sentence and the previous paragraph again.

Nearly two years after the Brexit vote, the Cabinet is still deciding what the government’s objective is in the negotiations with the EU.

Having an objective in mind should be the first priority when entering any negotiation.

But, as the primary purpose behind David Cameron’s call for the Brexit referendum was to heal the European wounds inside the Conservative Party and those wounds have now split wider, having a shared objective within government is proving almost impossible.

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One thing that is becoming clearer is the Labour Party’s position. Labour has now come out in favour of staying in the Customs Union (or something very close to it), while leaving the Single Market. The intention behind this is to keep the Irish border open while retaining close trading links with the EU.

In fact, if there were a free vote in the House of Commons, staying in the Customs Union would probably be supported by a clear majority of MPs. And that might yet happen.

There are obvious tensions between respecting the Good Friday Agreement and implementing Brexit, unless we stay in the Customs Union. That seems to be the reason why those supporting a hard Brexit – including former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Patterson – are now arguing to abandon the Good Friday Agreement. Quite what they believe this would do to civil society on both sides of the border is unclear.

We do at least have more predictions about the potential economic impact of Brexit. Last year, the European Parliament published a series of reports on Brexit, one of which projected that it will cause NI’s economy to become 3% smaller. But different types of Brexit will have different consequences. A leaked report produced by officials within the UK government suggest the economy is likely to be 2.5%, 8% or 12% smaller than it otherwise would be over the next 15 years because of Brexit.

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Those different figures relate to different types of Brexit agreement: the 2.5% hit would happen, they believe, if we stay in the Customs Union; the 8% hit would follow after negotiating a special trade agreement with the EU that is outside the Customs Union; and the 12% hit would happen if we fall out of the EU without a negotiated arrangement.

A report published by the Irish government and produced for it suggests the Republic’s economy will be 2.8%, 4.3% or 7% smaller than it otherwise would be over the next 13 years as a result of Brexit. Those different estimates also relate to the possible different types of post-Brexit relationships.

These potentially destructive hits to our economy are leading to more discussion about Irish reunification – and I have looked at the existing evidence about the economic impact of an all-island economy. My report is published at www.paulgosling.net and, in my view, the evidence is clear that the impact would be economically positive. Responses are welcome.

Our work at the Holywell Trust on Brexit is continuing and the latest podcast is now available. It contains an interview with former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on what he thinks we should expect from the Brexit negotiations, based on his difficult experience with the European Commission and EU government leaders. Senator Mark Daly is a member of Ireland’s Oireachtas and he tells us about the official study he is leading on what Brexit means for the future of Ireland. And, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson explains how she thinks Brexit will affect Northern Ireland.

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Unfortunately, the Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson declined our invitations to be interviewed because of international commitments, while the DUP’s MEP Diane Dodds and MP Gregory Campbell did not respond to requests to be interviewed.

The latest Holywell Trust podcast is available at: https://soundcloud.com/holywelltrust/holywell-podcast- brexit-focus- ep-3/s- H0psB