The division within the EU on the Refugee Relocation Scheme is about to be ruled on. The European Court of Justice will consider the submitted opinion of their Advocate General in the coming weeks.
The issue was referred to the Court by the Government of two Member States, Slovakia and Hungary. Both states where joined by Romania and the Czech Republic when all four voted against the asylum seekers mandatory relocation scheme, when the Council of Ministers agreed the programme. A fifth member, Poland, supported the appeal to the court. It seems certain that the court will uphold the recommendation of the Advocate. It will be interesting to see what combined reaction such a decision will bring from this group of EU dissidents.
Last week, France announced that it will commence pre-screening of refugees within Libya. This is a sensible move and should contribute greatly to reducing the numbers availing of people traffickers. The EU should commence a joint operation. Such action will immediately save lives, put order on the movement of refugees and allow for their structured integration into the EU.
The Brexit negotiations are moving slowly, resulting in EU threats to postponement of the second round which are due in the autumn. Reality is kicking in as the real questions are faced. The border arrangement between Ireland and England presents a really complex problem for both negotiating teams. A Hard Brexit may result in the customs border running down the Irish Sea. This would see Northern Ireland having to establish custom controls at their ports, while there would be no controls with the EU at the border with the Republic. That seems to present the most straight forward solution to the problem. It gives the North a foothold in Europe with free trade movement within Ireland and by extension the EU. But it would have the effect of custom controls between the members of the UK and Northern Ireland.
This would see the UK having a border within its jurisdiction. Should that happen, all goods coming into the island of Ireland would be subject to EU legislation, tariffs and controls. All goods exported from this island to the UK would be liable to UK taxes and standards. The advantage for commerce in the North is that they would have free access to the EU. Issues, such as, to which exchequer will these custom taxes be paid, do arise. Would Northern Ireland continue to benefit under the common Agricultural Policy? Will the North be entitled to EU grants in addition to UK funding? These will be difficult issues to resolve. There would of course be all sorts of other administrative problems to contend with should the Irish Sea border concept be decided on.
Such a solution would force an administration in the North to turn to the Southern Government to look after its interests within Europe, particularly so in the Council of Ministers. The Irish Sea solution may be another stepping stone on ourlong journey.
It will be very hard for the UK Government to sell such a solution to the DUP and others in the North. It may be impossible to get agreement, as long as the DUP hold such powerful sway at Westminster. But at the end of the day there may be no practical alternative but for Westminster to say, “do it.”