Row over islet: another Brexit problem?
A dispute over an uninhabited granite islet in the northeast Atlantic has flared up once more. Rockall lies in an oil-rich area around 400 kilometres northwest of Ireland and Scotland. On the weekend Scotland threatened to take action and deploy patrol boats against Irish fishermen who it claims are fishing in the area illegally. Ireland's press fears that the dispute could be the first of many.
A bad joke
This is not about fisheries, catch quotas, oil or gas, the Irish Examiner warns:
“The more likely explanation, seen through an Irish porthole, is that Britain is preparing for a fast-approaching untidy exit from the EU and it wants to have the clearest possible delineation of its national boundaries ... [Ireland's] Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said that diplomacy, not threats, is needed to resolve the dispute and he has made reassuring noises about sorting matters out without budging from Ireland's long-held stance on the issue. Privately, given the role the barely visible land border has played in the Brexit negotiation shambles, he must be pondering the utterly invisible sea border that now confronts him and wondering if he has woken up on page one of the ultimate book of bad jokes.”
Worrying reminder of how fragile peace is
For the Irish Times the incident shows how much harm Brexit has already done to British-Irish relations:
“The sudden outbreak of tension between the Scottish government and Ireland over fishing rights around Rockall is probably just a hint of the kind of difficulties that will inevitably arise if the United Kingdom as a whole leaves the EU without a deal. Fishing rights are a difficult issue at the best of times, as evidenced by the Irish Navy's arrest of vessels from the North in Carlingford Lough a few months ago, but the sabre rattling by the Scottish authorities is a worrying reminder of how relations can sour very quickly over relatively minor disputes over sovereignty.”