Lord Empey: Withdrawal Agreement backstop is a sledgehammer to crack a relatively small nut

The comments of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and President of the European Council Donald Tusk at the European Parliament in Brussels above on Wednesday February 6 have "poisoned the atmosphere further," says Lord Empey. Photo: Michelle Devane/PA Wire
The comments of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and President of the European Council Donald Tusk at the European Parliament in Brussels above on Wednesday February 6 have "poisoned the atmosphere further," says Lord Empey. Photo: Michelle Devane/PA Wire

If you leave a customs union, naturally you cannot expect to have the same rights and privileges as an existing member.

Thus, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland becomes a land border between the UK and the EU.

Letter to the editor

Letter to the editor

Ironically, between 80% and 90% of the Republic of Ireland’s goods travel to Great Britain, either for consumption there or moving on to other EU or world destinations.

Therefore, the land border only deals with comparatively small volumes of goods. It might be useful to put this in perspective as compared to total EU goods flows.

The EU statistical agency, Eurostat, stated in January 2018 that the total value of Intra-EU trade in goods in 2016 was €2,978 billion. On 12th December 2018, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency stated that in 2016 the value of goods exported to the Republic from Northern Ireland was €3.02 billion.

Consequently, Northern Ireland’s exports to the Republic represented 0.00101% of EU trade in goods in 2016. This was equivalent to 1.6% of the Republic’s total imports from the world in 2016 (Irish central statistics office.)

Of course I fully understand and appreciate that €3.02 billion is a huge deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s economy; but the fact remains that when local cross border trade is assessed against the total volume of EU trade, it seems utterly bizarre that such a relatively modest amount should be threatening to derail negotiations affecting €2,978 billion — a thousand times as much — right across the continent, from Lisbon to Latvia.

Of course there will be goods in transit and there is potential for some unscrupulous traders to try and subvert the single market, but there are ways of dealing with that.

For example, the UK could create an offence for anyone to export goods to the EU which are not compliant with EU standards.

Geography is also a protection as it is expensive and obvious to be moving goods around these islands especially if ferry crossings are involved.

I believe the Withdrawal Agreement is a sledgehammer to crack a relatively small — although crucial and politically sensitive — nut and serious discussions need to be taking place to negotiate an alternative.

It’s all politics now and the exchanges and comments of Donald Tusk and Leo Varadkar have poisoned the atmosphere further.

If they have nothing constructive to say they would be better to stay silent.

Lord Empey, House of Lords