Let me be clear….again….

Who said what on the question of the Irish border, hard or soft, and any attendant problems….. well, that’s how this post started out. Since then it’s rather been overtaken by events.

Before the vote

Boris Johnson told the BBC that Brexit would leave arrangements on the Irish border “absolutely unchanged”.

Labour MP Kate Hoey, co-chair of Labour Leave says: “I don’t see a situation where we would end up with big barriers up.”

Former Chancellor George Osborne said there would have to be a hardening of the border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland if the UK votes to leave the EU.

Since the vote

Boris Johnson tells the Irish Times that the Common Travel Area (in place since 1923 ) will continue, even though this covers goods and people. Not a peep from our Foreign Secretary about the specific issues raised by Eire about the Irish border. This is an interesting tactic – ignore any detail or difficulty at all in the hope that it will go away.  Very reminiscent of the ‘cake and eat it’ approach.

Kate Hoey – both sides in the Brexit negotiations should look to Switzerland and Norway, which are outside the EU but have close trading relationships with it, for solutions to the Irish border issue. (Norway and Switzerland are in the EEA, but Hoey does not advocate the UK staying in the EEA).

Also Hoey channels Trump. ‘If this ends with a no deal, we won’t be putting up the border, they’ll have to pay for it because it doesn’t need to happen.’

Theresa May – “We have been very clear, and the European Union agrees with us, that there should no physical infrastructure on the border,” she said. “It is important … that we don’t return to the hard border of the past.”

If…

…Northern Ireland is allowed to remain within the customs union and the single market then Boris and Kate will, of course, be proved right, although this is directly counter to their positions on the EEA, the single market and the customs union. Nonetheless, this would be very similar to HMG’s approach in the House of Commons these days, hold out against anything it doesn’t want until the eleventh hour with a lot of sound and bluster, than concede it completely, thus avoiding defeat.

…one part of the UK stays in the customs union and single market, what of Scotland?  And, dare one say it, London? Sturgeon and Khan have already gone public.

…Brexit negotiations stall because of the DUP, when will HMG accept that they cannot deliver on Brexit (of whatever type) and step aside for another election?

Some facts

The Good Friday Agreement is predicated on the assumption that both the UK and Eire are members of the European Union. It is, like many such agreements, open to differing interpretations, but one of them is that the Agreement is broken if the existing relationship changes. Technically, a mischief-maker could claim that the Agreement is broken and demand a return to the previous situation, with a hard border.

The GFA also includes provision for a ‘border poll’ which can be called to test opinion on abolishing the border all together and unifying the island of Ireland, a potentially useful way for HMG to put pressure on their DUP allies, though the DUP might call their bluff.

Currently Northern Ireland is treated differently to other parts of the UK on a number of issues, on party funding transparency, for example. See Step right up! Buy your democracy here!

The EU has introduced a hard, policed border in recent years between EU and non-EU countries, particularly between Greece and Turkey because of fears about terrorists entering along side refugees fleeing Syria and other war zones. Some EU member states have, unilaterally, tightened their border controls, even within the EU. A hard border between N.Ireland and Eire, however regrettable, would be part of this trend.

What if we leave the EU without a deal? We move to trading on WTO rules. These rules require states operating under them to have a consistent approach. So, if the UK declares the border with Eire to be an open one then it has to open up the rest of the UK to the rest of the world.  Cue floods of cheap, unregulated goods. This is the opposite of ‘taking back control’ of the borders.

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