71-75 Shelton Street
Chief Negotiator Task Force for the Preparation and
Conduct of the Negotiations with the UK under Article 50 TEU
Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
with responsibility for Brexit
Custom House Quay
HM Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union
9 Downing Street
8th June 2018
RE: An Honest Proposal To Make Donegal a Special Economic Zone.
Two years have passed since the referendum that gave the British government the mandate to leave the European Union. The internal Irish border has been given great attention as a challenge to Brexit and to the Good Friday Agreement.
Since that time the UK has proposed various schemes to the EU and the Republic of Ireland to ensure the internal border remains open. The Republic has offered none. There remains a deadlock that could seriously impact the Irish economy, especially that of Donegal which is far more integrated to the UK’s, especially concerning farming and the movement of people.
There are many ideas that have circulated. One is that Ireland unites under Dublin within the EU. Far more controversial but at least equally workable in technical terms is Ireland leaving the EU with or without rejoining the UK. The current discussion over a transition period for the customs union is well known to you.
There is another way: a compromise that solves half of the border issue overnight, returns much of Ireland’s fishing to its own people and would cut down bureaucracy and boost regional development.
That is to make Donegal an outermost region of the European Union and grant it considerable autonomy within the Republic that would allow Donegal to remain within the Republic while remaining well connected to the UK and maintaining community and economic ties.
Any EU treaty with the UK requires unanimity of existing members under Article 50 (2), as indeed does any EU treaty change. Article 349 allows for,
“Taking account of the structural social and economic situation of Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands, which is compounded by their remoteness, insularity, small size, difficult topography and climate, economic dependence on a few products, the permanence and combination of which severely restrain their development, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, shall adopt specific measures aimed, in particular, at laying down the conditions of application of the Treaties to those regions, including common policies. Where the specific measures in question are adopted by the Council in accordance with a special legislative procedure, it shall also act on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament.”
“The measures referred to in the first paragraph concern in particular areas such as customs and trade policies, fiscal policy, free zones, agriculture and fisheries policies, conditions for supply of raw materials and essential consumer goods, State aids and conditions of access to structural funds and to horizontal Union programmes.”
“The Council shall adopt the measures referred to in the first paragraph taking into account the special characteristics and constraints of the outermost regions without undermining the integrity and the coherence of the Union legal order, including the internal market and common policies.”
It is not impossible and it is reasonable that the internal border between counties Donegal and Leitrim be used a single checkpoint for this administration should Donegal be added to the outermost regions of the EU.
This would slash bureaucracy, cost, and crucially leave any administrative checkpoint outside of the UK. Currently the UK and France police a Treaty of Touquet which allows such controls beyond the UK’s borders. This has led to massive benefits to both countries and will survive Brexit as both states have confirmed this.
Donegal’s labour market would keep its integration yet freedom of movement of people from Europe, the common fisheries policy and agricultural policies would cease to apply. The Irish government could develop bespoke policies for County Donegal that would benefit it greatly.
This is by far superior to anything offered yet by the UK or the Republic in that the largest impacts of any hard border are cancelled out for least half of the affected population and boosts to the rural economy will be real and immediate.
It requires the Republic of Ireland to raise such an option at the next meeting of the European Council. The United Kingdom has been asked to do so much more.
The Republic has had a flexible view of what does and does not belong to Dublin’s administration in the past and changed its constitution following the Good Friday Agreement. The Republic led the way with modern free ports long before the rest of Europe, with massive success for the Shannon estuary.
It remains the gift of Dublin to raise this either with the Council or of the Commission to raise with the Council on its behalf.
A submission to the European Council to allow Donegal a unique freedom to cooperate with the North could boost the economic potential for its people. It would lock in and expand cross border arrangements and allow for cross border economic activities, especially for farming, culture and sport.
The United Kingdom has worked with the Republic for 20 years in delivering progress in Ireland and also considerable experience of devolution within Great Britain. Devolution for Donegal within Article 349 of the Lisbon Treaty would allow new opportunities while ensuring the open border between Donegal and the UK is never threatened.
Such an initiative can happen entirely separate from other UK/RoI/EU arrangements but also as part of ongoing Brexit negotiations as a bespoke and limited agreement.
We submit an honest proposal from Dublin to reduce the impact and maximise the benefits to the island of Ireland from Brexit by revisiting our proposal on a special enterprise zone for Northern Ireland.
This would be less difficult than in 2013 given the reduction of London´s corporation tax policy towards Dublin´s. The EU even allows for devolution of corporation tax this as has happened in the Azores.
We will delay the publication of this proposal until after the completion of the next summit of the European Council so that this can be explored objectively and without sensation.
The Bow Group
The Bow Group is the United Kingdom’s oldest conservative think tank. Founded in 1951, the Bow Group exists to publish the research of its members, stimulate policy debate through an events programme and to provide an intellectual home to conservatives in the United Kingdom.