The “Irish question” is back with a vengeance, says Arthur Beesley in the Financial Times. As we head towards a “crunch summit” with the EU in December, Brussels insists that there are three key issues to be resolved before trade talks can begin: citizens’ rights, the divorce bill, and what to do about the Irish border. The latter is becoming “the most intractable of all”.
The Irish government has called for a five-year transition period and wants Northern Ireland to stay under the writ of EU customs and internal market rules – after the UK leaves the bloc. Dublin is worried about the dearth of concrete proposals from London and fears that border checks on a new frontier could undermine the Good Friday Agreement. If a deal isn’t agreed within the next fortnight, the EU may decide not to begin trade talks in December.
London appears not to “give a damn” about the issue, says The Irish Times. It is “ignorant of the border”, which is why it appears “ready to sacrifice the spirit, if not the letter, of the Belfast Agreement, with all its imperfections” in its “pursuit of a fantasy that does not include us”.
Oh calm down, says Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph. The whole issue is “ridiculous”. Britain and Ireland have addressed the border issue “in bilateral
treaties many years before we both joined what was then the European Economic Community”. We then “successfully maintained it right through the Troubles”.
Left to their own devices, London and Dublin “could achieve this with the greatest of ease”.
The problem is “EU theology, which prevents Ireland, as an EU member, from making any sort of special arrangement with us”. Worse, the idea of Northern Ireland remaining within the single market and the customs union “would turn the North into a semi-colony of the EU – having to take, but not help make EU trade rules”.
“But we are where we are,” says Rafael Behr in The Guardian, and the fact is that if you leave the customs union and the single market, you will create an external boundary of the EU that the Republic of Ireland will have “to police… to verify that incoming goods meet the requisite standards”.
There are 275 crossing points, traversed 110 million times per year; business supply chains “weave in and out of the Republic”. A border implies “friction… roadside infrastructure and smuggling by organised crime gangs”. Given all this palaver, you start to appreciate why “Brexit looks like economic aggression across the Irish sea”.
Saudi’s power play could spark a conflagration
“The Middle East is consumed with a real-life thriller,” says Robin Wright in The New Yorker. Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, suddenly resigned earlier this month after being called to Riyadh. His mysterious silence since then has “dominated headlines, spawned conspiracy theories, deepened regional tensions, and even triggered fears of yet another war”.
The Lebanese president has rejected the resignation. The affair is seen as a “power play” by the Saudis to “strengthen the desert kingdom’s command” in the region. The Sunni kingdom is worried that Iran, which recently intervened to support Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the fight against Islamic State, is only months away from establishing a “Shia crescent” across the region, says The Guardian.
Israel is also worried about “a confident, well-armed and very close foe”. The immediate concern for Saudi Arabia is that the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, backed by Iran, “is taking an increasingly active role in providing training and missiles to Yemen’s Houthis”, adds Erika Solomon in the Financial Times.
The Saudis also accuse Hezbollah and Iran of intervening in neighbouring Bahrain, where the Shia majority have long been protesting against the Riyadh-backed Sunni minority government. There is a strong risk that “misjudgments, misinterpretations and plain old mistakes will spark a conflagration”, says The Guardian. Even if we avoid that, regional tension hasn’t been this high since Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006.