Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been betrayed over Brexit again and again – but this week's Supreme Court decision was the worst

It is simply impossible for the UK to leave the customs union without a hard border being installed in Ireland, either around the island of Ireland or between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Either would damage trade – and quite possibly wipe out entire industries

Michael Hugh Walker
Wednesday 25 January 2017 11:50
Nicola Sturgeon described her meeting with Theresa May as ‘greatly frustrating’
Nicola Sturgeon described her meeting with Theresa May as ‘greatly frustrating’

Consigned to a destiny over which they no longer have any power or influence. Sinking to their knees in resignation. Thudding their fists against impenetrable glass.

Dramatic? Yes – but such is the depth of desperate voicelessness suffered by all the devolved nations, which are all likely to suffer worst from a loss of single market and customs union membership. Having no influence over your destiny is a frightening thing, and after hearing Theresa May’s Brexit speech, it is becoming clear that the devolved institutions’ pleas are falling entirely on wilfully deaf ears.

If in any doubt, see the frustration spewing from the Joint Ministerial meetings (the discussions between David Davis and ministers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). After its very first meeting, Sturgeon shocked reporters with how candid she was – describing it as “greatly frustrating”; she noted “words are not matched by substance and action”, while the Labour first minister of Wales said “nothing concrete came out of the meeting and I am none the wiser as to what her proposals are”.

After the most recent, a Sinn Fein minister said Theresa May “treated the council with utter disdain” by giving her Brexit speech two days before the council met, highlighting its impudence, with a Sinn Fein source describing the meeting as ”heated” with the devolved nations feeling they are being treated with ”contempt and disdain”.

People are getting frustrated, angry and worried at the prospect of a Brexit guided solely by English politicians swayed by hard Brexit sentiments, which has elevated hard controls on immigration and building nonsensical new trade deals as a priority far above economic prosperity or political stability in the devolved nations. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each harbour specific anxieties about Brexit but with the Government’s ears so finely tuned to the needs of the loudest Leave voters, they cannot hear them.

There is serious concern in Northern Ireland about a hard border. People lazily couch this concern in the language of peace or war, which is ridiculously out of touch. But it is simply impossible for the UK to leave the customs union without a hard border being installed, either around the island of Ireland or between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Either would damage trade, with the former increasing our sense of isolation from our closest brothers in the Republic or with the latter isolating us from the rest of the UK – if that happens, to travel between areas in the UK, I’ll need to go through a customs check and passport check, so we’ll be both within and without the UK. And that would be with a UK passport: life would be even more difficult for the sizeable amount of Northern Irish citizens with just an Irish passport.

Recent submissions to the Parliamentary Northern Ireland Affairs Committee highlight the impact on people’s lives that Brexit’s direction will have. Looking at one industry alone, Dairy, the head of the Northern Irish arm of Dairy UK, insisted how damaging the current course will prove to be. No longer being part of EU trade deals (the other side of the coin to this incessant desire for the UK to strike its own) will see exports to major markets like Malaysia and Thailand face “at least double” tariff rates, which “would kill that business”.

On a hard border, he stated: “It’s a major, major issue for the dairy industry. We are very, very dependent on what we call an all-island value chain. If we have any interruption in the current practices it is going to affect the longer-term viability of the industry.”

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage reacts to Brexit ruling

Faced with such dire consequences, we sought refuge in the law, specifically what is called the Sewel Convention, which is essentially a political promise that the UK will listen to the devolved institutions. In Tuesday’s judgement, all 11 Supreme Court Justices rejected the request for each of the devolved assemblies to be consulted on leaving the EU.

The Supreme Court noted: “The sanction for non–observance of a convention is political in that disregard of a convention may lead to political defeat, to loss of office, or to other political consequences, but will not engage the attention of the courts which are limited to matters of law alone.”

And here lies the problem the devolved nations face: quite simply, no one will be subjected to a political defeat or a loss of office in Westminster as a consequence of completely neglecting us. If anything, it might even play well among some of the 52 per cent.

So with no legal or political consequences for ignoring us, what is to stop Westminster blocking us out entirely?

Nothing – and it shows.

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