Britain is fettering Irish sovereignty to guard its own

Schengen Agreement
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Long but worthwhile blog over on Nosemonkey‘s site, which takes a look at the debate on the EU Referendum Bill, and specifically at what the amendments say about Bill Cash’s attitude to and knowledge of the British constitution.

Clive is justifiably worried that Britain will use the threat of a referendum to obstruct necessary change within the EU. He says:

If Britain wants to remain a member of the EU but in doing so prevents further European integration from happening, she will be destroying the EU – forcing it to stay as something Britain wants, not what other EU member states may want. And this not by negotiation, but by an obstinate, childish refusal to either compromise or have the decency to leave and let others get on with it. It’d be the diplomatic equivalent of puncturing the football the other children are playing with because no one wants to play cricket with you.

He also points out a strange sovereignty paradox I hadn’t thought of before. Britain for (it claims) the preservation of its sovereignty, is not a member of the Schengen accord on free movement. However, by that very act, it is fettering the sovereignty of the Irish Republic, which can’t join Schengen as it would dissolve the common travel zone which allows free travel between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

This isn’t just a matter of politics, it’s actively harming the Irish economy: not being in Schengen, as the Economist has recently argued, is putting off rich Chinese tourists who can go to Paris, Rome, Berlin and Prague on one visa, but need (and don’t bother to get) a second one to go to London or Dublin.

So whose sovereignty is more important, the Irish or the British? I think we all know what the Eurosceptics would say to that. But as it is, their dodgy constitutional fetishism (a bit Tea-Partyish in its own way), has blinded them to the fact that no nation is an island. Even if it’s an island. Or Ireland.

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Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.

3 replies on “Britain is fettering Irish sovereignty to guard its own”

  1. I am not quite following this argument, as I can’t see how anybody’s sovereignty is being fettered, unless the term is interpreted so weakly that any country not doing what some other country wants counts as fettering sovereignty.

    Ireland can join Schengen if it wants, and there is nothing the UK could do to stop it. Ireland, it presently appears, cannot join Schengen, without losing the benefits of the common travel area with the UK – but that’s a trade off, not compromised sovereignty. If Ireland were to decide that Schengen was more valuable than the common travel area with the UK, the UK would have to implement border controls across the land boundaries and at ports against its will. Would that not compromise UK sovereignty just as much?

    Of course, it would be much more straightforward for Ireland if the UK were in Schengen, as now they have to make a hard choice which they would otherwise not have to make at all. But suppose back in 1973, the UK had decided not to join the EEC in the first place and so now was ineligible to join Schengen. The choice facing Ireland would be just the same, but could anybody argue that it was wrong for the UK not to be a member of the EU because the consequence of that decision was to fetter Ireland’s sovereignty?

    (That’s not intended to address any of the wider arguments about the UK’s participation in the EU and the extent to which it should or shouldn’t act in its own perceived self-interest, just the specific point of whether in so acting on this particular question it is in some meaningful sense compromising Ireland’s sovereignty)

  2. It’s a fair point. Of course, the British decision (and the British attitude that causes it) has put the Irish on the horns of that dilemma – they wouldn’t have the problem if they had a land border with France.

    What I’m trying to say is that the Irish and British fates are so intertwined (and the British the bigger partners) that the idea we can preserve our own sovereignty without external consequences is a phantasm.

    (Apropos the 1973 joining of the EU, there was a cartoon at the time in the Irish press which had Jack Lynch and Ted Heath strapped together on a diving board over a pool marked “EEC”, and Jack saying “After you, Ted”. Can’t find it online unfortunately)

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