Of all the arguments presented as ‘evidence’ of the ‘damaging’ effects of Brexit, the arrangements for controlling the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland must be the most misleading and least well understood.
Arch opponents to self-determination, and the referendum vote, present this as being an insurmountable obstacle were Brexit to proceed, implying, therefore, that only continued membership of the European Union, albeit under a different guise, can resolve this problem.
This false scenario has only become possible because the government, and all Brexit supporting arguments, have failed to adequately outline a clear and obvious solution; even our own Brexit spokesperson has little to say on this issue. I’ve looked today for an exposition, video, Facebook post, or even a tweet, that adequately counters the stream of rhetoric that holds there is no solution to this problem, so we must remain a part of the European Union. Nobody is refuting the misleading and inflammatory rhetoric about the border issue coming from Monsieur Barnier, Chuka Umunna and their Ilk.
The future trade arrangements between Northern Ireland and the European Union will change when we leave the Customs Union and Single Market, but can easily be managed without the need for a ‘hard border’
The term refers to a fortified border. It is a physical barrier of some form that may include fences, or walls intermittently spaced with access points that are themselves controlled by border personnel. Often, personnel are armed and the border crossing points may also incorporate a second line of defence.
For trade purposes, vehicles are stopped at crossing points, paperwork checked and logged, and searches carried out. This is the traditional way of doing things, though technology has sped up the process considerably. 42 countries have fortified borders.
Although there is no explicit obstacle to a hard border in the Good Friday Agreement, it could be seen, and is certainly being presented as a barrier by those ideologically opposed to Brexit, as being contrary to the ‘Spirit of Concord’ and the undertaking to remove security installations, though the latter refers specifically to military installations and not civil ones.
A hard border, then, is not prohibited by the peace agreement, though it is undesirable and, more to the point, completely unnecessary.
Currently, and because of our membership of the European Union, we have an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. 15-28 countries have open borders.
When we truly leave the European Union, there will likely be tariffs applied to goods moving to and from the European Union area. In today’s world, all the necessary paperwork, regulatory requirements and payments are completed in advance so that vehicles can cross without impediment. Virtually the same happens now, though there would be an increase in administrative effort. 75-88 countries have soft borders, more than any other kind of border used, so it is effectively the norm and, as such, a practical option in this case.
Trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland represents only 5% of Northern Ireland exports and 1.6% of the Republic of Ireland’s exports going the other way. It is a very small amount indeed.
From the United Kingdom side, monitoring and surveillance can easily be accomplished using number plate recognition technology and incorporating spot checks on vehicles after they have driven into Northern Ireland. Vehicles have GPS locators installed, so this would be a simple operation to implement. Most of the vehicles crossing the border are ordinary people going to work or shopping or any other routine activity which can easily be accounted for through a simple registration process. In short, for most people, nothing would change and, for business, little would change.
Such a mechanism could easily be employed by the Republic of Ireland also, but they are not the sovereign party in this respect.
The Good Friday agreement, in a number of places, refers to the sovereignty of the Republic of Ireland. Implicit in the agreement is the understanding that the sovereign Republic of Ireland has obligations and rights under the agreement, but their membership of the European Union forfeits much of that sovereignty to the institutions of the European Union, so it is not the government of the Republic of Ireland whose wishes will be enacted but those of Juncker, Barnier and Merkel.
The Republic of Ireland would clearly want the ‘soft border’ option, as it would work extremely well for them too. However, the European Union may insist upon a ‘hard border’ and overrule the Republic of Ireland, whilst creating the impression of a breach of the ‘concord’ by either the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, when neither of those states is calling the shots. It’s worth noting that the European Union has a policy of ‘hard’ external borders and employs them elsewhere.
From the United Kingdom side there will be no problem as we’ll go for the ‘soft border’ option. However, the European Union may force a ‘hard border’ on the Republic of Ireland. One can only hope that the people of the republic are so incensed by this blatant domination that their growing movement to exit the European Union will gather pace and the border issue will simply disappear.
The motivations for the European Union stance are clear.
Let’s not forget that they are terrified of us leaving and of losing our money and trading options. That our government cannot see this and is operating as if it were the supplicant chimpanzee, terrified of causing offence and cow towing to every unreasonable demand, is nauseating and counter-productive.
They threaten us with discord in Ireland by deliberately imposing a hard border. They seek to frighten us into remaining fully attached to all their institutions even if we are no longer formal members. This is a dictatorship behaving as badly as any others have done before.
We are well rid.