The Good Friday Agreement, Brexit, Northern Ireland, Trade – a simple explanation

Editor: Once more we turn to @russincheshire for one of his twitter threads. This time, it’s a brilliant summary of the Brexit/trade/GFA situation. Please share it with those who’ve been subjected to government spin and gaslighting.
If you are interested, you can read the Belfast Agreement/Good Friday Agreement yourself. Doing so will mean that you are better informed than almost everyone in the current cabinet and many others sitting in parliament.

“Someone I know (offline) said they didn’t understand the whole Brexit / Ireland / Trade thing. Didn’t see the first few episodes, couldn’t catch up, now lost.

So for those in the same boat, I’m gonna try to explain. This is (necessarily) simplified, but here goes

In 2016 we voted to leave the EU.

But if we do that without a Trade Deal, we risk making a lot of our economy noncompetitive.


Because if you don’t have a Trade Deal, you have to use WTO (World Trade Org) rules. And those include tariffs.

What are tariffs?

Tariffs are a kind of tax: between around 10% and 90% of the value of the thing you trade. So for example, beef that we currently sell to Spain for £10 will now cost £19.

And that means it’s cheaper for Spain to buy beef from France. So they will. So our beef farmers suffer.

We assemble lots of cars in the UK. We import parts (add tariff) and export cars (add tariff again).

So eg: 10% on car parts becomes 20% by the time we’ve imported the parts and exported the car.

So a Nissan made in UK cost 20% more than the same Nissan made in Denmark.

This doesn’t mean Nissan will immediately close their plants in the UK. But it means next time they choose where to build a new model, they’ll pick somewhere 20% cheaper, inside the EU.

Same goes for 1000s of manufacturers and industries that import parts and export good.

Why do tariffs even exist?

They’re a form of tax (UK treasury makes money from tariffs on countries we don’t have deals with), and they protect domestic industries (make other countries more expensive).

But we can’t eliminate them. WTO exists, and we can’t stop it.

But why are we struggling to get a deal with the EU? If they want one and we want one, it should be easy.

We do both want one. But …

The Irish Border. Lots of people warned about this before the referendum, but were mostly ignored.

3600 died in violence the “Irish troubles”

This was ended by the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which (to simplify it) “removed” the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Free movement, free trade, no guards. And a lasting peace.

So why is the border a problem now?

Because of something called “regulatory standards”.

To facilitate free trade inside the EU, all nations agree to follow certain standards. That way, you don’t need to check Product X meets your standard when you import it.

But the UK wants to no longer follow EU standards.

And that means we have to check goods at the Irish Border again.

And to do that we have to add checkpoints at the border.

And this breaks the GFA.

And unfortunately for the UK, the GFA has guarantors, who insist we stick to the GFA.

When the GFA was signed, multiple nations backed it by agreeing to step in and stop anybody from breaking it. For example, by adding a border.

Those guarantors include EU and USA.

So we are legally bound to NOT do anything to add a border in Ireland.

The EU can’t sign any Trade Deal with the UK that adds a border on the island of Ireland.

The USA have said they won’t sign a Trade Deal with the UK if the GFA is broken.

And between them, USA and EU are are around 50% of our trade. The costs to us of no deal could be huge.

Doesn’t mean we won’t trade with them at all. Just means the things we trade will be 10% to 90% more expensive… and as I said earlier, that will really, really hurt our economy.

So how do we resolve this?

Since 2016, the UK and EU have been exploring multiple options.

Those options are

1: A border between NI and Ireland
2: A border between NI and the rest of the UK, somewhere in the Irish Sea
3: Continue to accept EU rules


1: breaks the GFA
2: breaks up the UK
3: is the opposite of Brexit

There really isn’t a 4th option

Theresa May spent years trying to look for a way around this, and failed.

Boris Johnson signed a Withdrawal Agreement (WA) last year which effectively did option 2 (border in the Irish Sea), but told everybody it didn’t.

His govt voted to prevent parliament scrutinising the WA

And now he’s saying he wants to break the WA (i.e. break the law) and look for a new solution.

But there are only 2 solutions left: break the GFA, or keep following EU rules.

The govt says they will find “alternative arrangements” before the deadline.

But nobody can say what those are. We have been looking for alternative arrangements since 2016. It cost Theresa May her job, and now Boris Johnson is up against exactly the same issues. His solution is to break peace treaties, but guarantors obviously, may object.

And that’s essentially where we are.

I’ve tried to do this without putting my Remoaner slant on it, but here it is anyway: voting for the impossible doesn’t make it possible. The GFA makes Brexit – at least the Brexit that was promised – impossible.

Obviously I have, for space, simplified things. It is not my intention to mislead, so I hope I haven’t. My guess is, lots of people who believe in Brexit will try to find holes in what I’ve said.

But finding holes in this is easier than finding holes in the GFA.”


Originally tweeted by Russ (@RussInCheshire) on 18/09/2020.