The Border with Ireland

There are a few things I don’t understand about the whole issue of Brexit and the border with Ireland.

Firstly, Ireland is not in the Schengen area and there has been free movement between the UK and Ireland since 1922 as part of the Common Travel Area. If this were to continue (or be resurrected), it would mean all EU citizens could enter the UK via NI without being subject to passport control, but non-EU citizens or visitors wouldn’t be able to, as Ireland isn’t in the Schengen area. Is there any likelihood of Britain being flooded with EU citizens via Northern Ireland in the absence of a hard border? I’d say this is highly unlikely, and if it turns out that tens of thousands of Romanians or French are pouring into Strabane and later taking the ferry to Anglesey, we can probably cross that bridge when we come to it.

Which leaves the main problem being that of customs. Switzerland is in the Schengen area but not in the customs union. That’s why if you drive from Annecy to Geneva you pass through a customs post with bollards, chicanes, and an absence of anyone manning it. I’ve been pulled over once and I when I explained I was going to Switzerland solely to change the PIN number on my Credit Suisse ATM card, the man’s face looked more confused than if I’d told him I was smuggling cuckoo clocks. If this is what a hard border between the customs union and a neighbouring country looks like, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

Actually, I do. The EU is worried that goods might pass between Britain and the EU via NI without being subject to the tariffs they wish to put in their way. I don’t think anyone in Britain is particularly worried about EU goods being smuggled into Britain and avoiding British tariffs. At least anyone sensible. The EU therefore want a hard border to prevent this, but they don’t want to be seen as imposing it because that would seriously piss off the Irish on the south side. So, from what I can tell, the EU is demanding the British put in a hard border to keep the two customs regimes separate and making out it is a British obligation as a result of Brexit. The advantage in this is that it would make the Brits extremely unpopular, and the whipped-up anger from rent-a-gobs in Ireland can be used to bash Brexiteers over the head.

Which leaves me wondering why the British government doesn’t simply say:

“We have no interest in a hard border, but we may put a few cursory customs posts on our side if we feel like it. If the Irish or EU want a hard border and to control everything that goes in or out, they are free to put one in place – on their side of the line.”

Am I missing something here? Or is the reason we are not saying this simply that Theresa May is blitheringly stupid and incompetent? That I could well believe.

Also, I don’t think waving the Good Friday agreement around is a sensible tactic. Firstly, the British public were not informed that signing the Good Friday agreement meant the UK could never leave the EU; had they been, it would never have been passed. Secondly, there are probably a good few Brits – especially among those who voted Leave – who might want to scrap the Good Friday agreement and immediately move to prosecute the likes of Gerry Adams and others who have blood on their hands. This is particularly true while former British soldiers are still being hauled in front of courts for their conduct forty years ago. The more attention is drawn to the Good Friday agreement, the more Brits might be inclined to revisit it – particularly if it is being held up as a blocking point to leaving the EU.

And let’s be honest, for all the squawking about the Good Friday agreement, that ship has sailed. Terrorism is a lot less fun these days – the perpetrators tend to get killed outright – and the Americans are strangely less inclined to fund the murder of civilians since 9/11. The main players who were making the bombs and laying the traps for the British during The Troubles are well past retirement age now, and won’t have much stomach for returning to the field against an opponent which is a lot more technically savvy than they are. Is there a new generation of nationalist youngsters ready to dig up the arms caches and start fighting the British over an EU-imposed hard border between NI and Eire? I highly doubt it.

It’s high time the British called their bluff and closed this issue out: border or no-border, this is an Irish/EU problem and we don’t care either way.

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49 thoughts on “The Border with Ireland

  1. The situation with the EU/CH border is a bit more complicated than that – CH is:

    – in Schengen (so no passport control)
    – inside the Single Market (so tariff-free)
    – Outside the customs union (so not VAT-free above the limit).

    UK/IR will be a touch different, because UK will be outside the single market as well.

    Plus, the EU wants its 454g of flesh pour décourager les autres

  2. – inside the Single Market (so tariff-free)

    Ah, okay. Thanks, I didn’t know that.

    Plus, the EU wants its 454g of flesh pour décourager les autres

    Yeah, that’s the main point, isn’t it?

  3. The issue with the border isn’t really monetary tariffs or even people crossing. The EU is scared shitless that we’ll do a trade deal with the USA that will allow goods like chlorine washed chicken or GM crops to enter UK and these will then leak in to the EU. I don’t know whether its because they’ve been told these sorts of things are bad or they genuinely fear them but the EU population does seem to want to keep the,m out, opr at least from what I observe.

    Interesting point point the IRA and 9/11. I was in the air flying to Malta for a project when it happened. That evening when walking out for dinner with my colleague one of my first comments was that this was the end of IRA terrorism, there’s no way they’d be allowed to collect in NY no matter how sympathetic the cause.

  4. “The main players who were making the bombs and laying the traps for the British during The Troubles are well past retirement age now”

    I’d be cautious about this kind of pronouncement. It’d be nice to think that kids these days are slaves of their phones or whatever and too sissy to ever pick up arms again, but testosterone is a powerful drug and a quick visit to the less pleasant corners of Irish social media will still turn up an awful lot of hate. Of course it’s one thing to write something verbally violent and another thing to do it, but the potential is there. We’ve already seen something similar with the Call-of-Duty jihadi generation. And on similar timescales, the Border Campaign had petered out into IRA failure by the late 1950s. The subsequent infighting and ageing of personnel didn’t prevent things getting very bloody again in the 1970s,

  5. The subsequent infighting and ageing of personnel didn’t prevent things getting very bloody again in the 1970s,

    I’d say that was mostly down to youth unemployment among Catholics than anything else. I reckon the decrease in violence had as much to do with NI getting richer and teenagers having better prospects than lying in a muddy field in camos and demins “for the cause” than anything else. 9/11 and the public reaction to the Omagh bombing were the other two significant factors.

  6. The simple option is to have separate “red” channels for exports of goods (mostly lorries), leaving the vast majority of people totally free to drive through without stopping – as happens today on the Irish and (most of the) Swiss borders. Sure you will still have the option of random customs stops of other vehicles either at the border, or more likely for political reasons, once in the Republic, but that happens at the Swiss border already, and doubtless at a limited level in Ireland too (to find and tax booze, cigarettes, weapons, and the other few things not freely ex/im-portable).

    It really isn’t likely that the police in either the Republic or the North will bother local people engaging in low-level cross-border trade they already do, whether or not it remains technically legal post-Brexit. The EU’s fear is (to expand on BiND), of the Irish border becoming an uncontrollable conduit for non-community goods (not just British but from everywhere).

    I (despite being an incorrigible EU-enthusiast) dislike tariffs as much as you do, but they’re unfortunate reality, and have been going in the right direction (towards zero) for the last 30 years (pace the smartarses who will remind us about the few that remain high). I also don’t think a unilateral zero-tarrif environment will be politically saleable to the Brexit voters – most of them voted for more protectionism, not less.

  7. I reckon the decrease in violence had as much to do with NI getting richer and teenagers having better prospects than lying in a muddy field in camos and demins “for the cause” than anything else

    This is true — perhaps the most effective bit of the Good Friday Agreement was the massive state-funded bribery programme that saw vast amounts of the Northern Irish youth population being ’employed’ by the public sector — but the problem is that since the financial crash, there isn’t the money in the treasury to keep that kind of thing going.

    Nevertheless, it does need to be remembered that the people responsible for terrorism are the terrorists. If people choose to murder other people, that is on them and nobody else.

  8. Nevertheless, it does need to be remembered that the people responsible for terrorism are the terrorists.

    Indeed, which is why we should hang Gerry Adams.

  9. The smart thing would be to sit on it and say that on the morning of the negotiations to the press.

    The whole Remoaner thing is about spreading fear to the British public, in order to get another vote. And the best thing to do with them is giving them false hope. Let them pick targets and keep going at them as long as possible before wrecking it. Wrecking it early gives them time to think of new strategies.

    Not that I think May is that smart…

  10. MBE,

    Whilst I’m not too sanguine about NI, as Tim says the social conditions are vastly different. In the ’60s when the Troubles started Catholics really were 2nd class citizens and the civil rights marches gained quite a lot of sympathy. Its also forgotten we first sent troops to protect the marches and Catholics in general.

  11. which is why we should hang Gerry Adams

    Well, I would have said lock him up and throw away the key, but I understand the sentiment.

  12. Sorry about that last comment, for reason I remembered that he died whereas he’d only announced hisretirement sorry chaps, senior moment… Still on th positive side of the balance sheet that does mean we are still in time to hang him.

  13. “most of them voted for more protectionism, not less.”

    They didn’t the majority voted simply to leave the European Union 18 months ago and all that has happened since is a Carry on Brexit comedy production. May has intentionally scuppered Brexit and this hard border thing is just another example of it. I also wouldn’t be surprised if she goes down in history as just another Tory leader that shows a reckless disregard for Irish peace and sovereignty. How has her cosying up to the DUP thing gone, that could quite easily reignite sectarian differences which still simmer under the surface.

  14. The way the EU is behaving, the only reasonable inference is that they don’t care whether there’s a deal or not. The sooner we stop playing patsy, the better. If they don’t start proper trade negotiations right away we should tell them that we’ve lost interest; and they’ve lost £40B. If they decide later that they want to get real, they know where to find us.

  15. The way the EU is behaving, the only reasonable inference is that they don’t care whether there’s a deal or not.

    Their approach is painfully obvious, and unfortunately supported by a good chunk of the UK electorate: impose punitive terms on Britain in the hope the government (or another one) will be forced to hold another referendum or simply vote to remain.

  16. Their approach is painfully obvious

    And worked on Greece, remember.

    But for many reasons, the UK is not Greece.

  17. We should just lie.

    You want a border here? See them signs? There, that’s the border.

    Now feck off.

  18. You want a border here? See them signs? There, that’s the border.

    Yeah, that’s a good point too. Agree to whatever they want and just take the piss when implementing it. A few signs saying “You Are Now Leaving the EU” ought to suffice.

  19. Agree to whatever they want and just take the piss when implementing it.

    They’ll be screeching “Perfidious Albion!” for years 🙂

  20. The Single Market is an area in which all the member states are subject to the same regulatory regime, enforced by the same central authority in the form of the European Commission. Goods being exported from country X do not need to be inspected at the border when they arrive in country Y because the same regulations apply in both countries and the results of an inspection carried out at an approved facility in the country of origin will be accepted in the destination country.

    On day 1 after Brexit the EU and Britain will still be applying the same standards and regulations but they will soon diverge. So, if Northern Ireland is outside the Single Market and still has the same frictionless trade with the ROI then it allows free entry to goods that may not meet EU standards. It’s a gap in the fence. But if the EU allows a country that’s not in the Single Market to continue trading with members of the Market as if it was still inside then the whole system becomes meaningless. That’s why the EU is so concerned about the ROI/NI border and also why it is unlikely to offer any compromise.

  21. But if the EU allows a country that’s not in the Single Market to continue trading with members of the Market as if it was still inside then the whole system becomes meaningless. That’s why the EU is so concerned about the ROI/NI border and also why it is unlikely to offer any compromise.

    Oh, I can understand why the EU cares deeply about it. I’m just at a loss to understand why Britain should.

  22. “You want a border here? See them signs? There, that’s the border.”

    To which the EU can reply:

    See that new border inspection post on our side? That’s where everything coming from your side has to wait until it can be inspected, however long that takes. Oh, and forget about negotiating any sort of trade agreements with us until you stop dicking about.

  23. “Oh, I can understand why the EU cares deeply about it. I’m just at a loss to understand why Britain should.”

    I was addressing the first point. As to the second, there is an enormous amount of trade between Britain and the other members of the EU. Any disruption to that trade will be painful for both sides but much more so for us. We also have close political relationships with the nations of Europe and many shared interests, and we certainly don’t need all the diplomatic complications that would arise from the Brexit negotiations collapsing into recriminations.

  24. See that new border inspection post on our side? That’s where everything coming from your side has to wait until it can be inspected, however long that takes.

    I think the good citizens of Ireland would object to not being able to get their stuff because they are being used as pawns by the EU.

    And I think they might then very quickly work out other ways of getting their stuff than having it go through the official customs points.

  25. I think the good citizens of Ireland would object to not being able to get their stuff because they are being used as pawns by the EU.

    Unfortunately the good citizens of Ireland show no such inclination, so far anyway.

    The Irish Government, clearly, has thrown its lot in with the EU.

    The British Government’s improvised clown-show performance on Brexit does not help either

  26. they might then very quickly work out other ways of getting their stuff

    Smuggling works for supplying small, high-value items that are easily concealed, like drugs. But it couldn’t deliver ordinary consumer goods or parts and raw materials for industry on anything like the scale that would be required to meet demand. The Irish people would either have to go without or force their political leaders into a confrontation with the EU.

    The bottom line is that the integrity of the Single Market is always going to be a red line for the EU and if that can’t be guaranteed they are going to retaliate on the issues that are red lines for Britain. It’s in the interests of both sides to recognise where the red lines are and find some formula that is minimally satisfactory to both of them because a “now feck off” scenario would be much worse for everybody.

  27. The bottom line is that the integrity of the Single Market is always going to be a red line for the EU and if that can’t be guaranteed they are going to retaliate on the issues that are red lines for Britain.

    Frankly, I think the EU sees Britain leaving as the red line and the Irish border issue is simply the first of what will be many punishment beatings.

  28. What AndrewZ said. And also, CH is NOT in the single market. They have a bilateral agreement with the EU.

    We are better off staying in the single market, at least until we have managed to upgrade our ports, train customs officials etc. This will take many years.

  29. Smuggling works for supplying small, high-value items that are easily concealed, like drugs. But it couldn’t deliver ordinary consumer goods or parts and raw materials for industry on anything like the scale that would be required to meet demand

    I think you seriously underestimate the ingenuity of the Irish.

  30. We’d be better off using the 40 billion to build, arm* and man a fleet of fishery protection vessels and deploying them on the day we officially leave.

    *20 mm cannon should suffice but if necessary, a couple or more of .50 calibre M2 Brownings would do. Or go the whole hog and use 3 inch guns.

  31. We are better off staying in the single market

    Indeed. We should stay in the single market, but get out of the customs union.

  32. “I think you seriously underestimate the ingenuity of the Irish.”

    Absolutely.

    Not sure if it got much air time in the UK but NAMA the “bad” Irish bank that was set up by the state to fix the Irish housing bad debt problem is just about to make it’s last payment, miles ahead of schedule, which will absolve everybody of their mortal sins meaning that they can now all go to heaven when they die. Instead of the state disbanding them on completion they have announced that they will continue in their newly created role as Property Developers!

  33. @TN

    Which leaves me wondering why the British government doesn’t simply say:

    “We have no interest in a hard border, but we may put a few cursory customs posts on our side if we feel like it. If the Irish or EU want a hard border and to control everything that goes in or out, they are free to put one in place – on their side of the line.”

    Am I missing something here? Or is the reason we are not saying this simply that Theresa May is blitheringly stupid and incompetent? That I could well believe.

    Missing something? No

    Theresa May is blitheringly stupid and incompetent? Yes

    As I’ve been saying since EU raised issue: Not our problem, EU decides what RoI must do.

    JRM & more has said same on BBC and elsewhere, as did DUP chap on BBC QT

    If, as we should, UK implements Free Trade (No Import Tariffs), EU claimed border problem clearly becomes EU alone issue.

    .
    PM May, listen to JRM, Dyson, Martin, Minford and stop pointless negotiation, leave now.

    .
    As for “Divorce bill”; EU has an £80 Billion pa Trade surplus with UK – EU should be paying UK for access.

  34. @TN

    The more attention is drawn to the Good Friday agreement, the more Brits might be inclined to revisit it – particularly if it is being held up as a blocking point to leaving the EU.

    I read first page and decided “No”

    The most anti-democratic legislature ever empowered in UK (created by Blair & Clinton) – majority party(ies) and opposition party(ies) must vote “Yes” for any new law, regulation etc.

    Transpose to Westminster: majority of Conservative MPs and Labour MPs must vote “Yes” for any new law, regulation etc.

    Disgusting.

  35. “Am I missing something here? Or is the reason we are not saying this simply that Theresa May is blitheringly stupid and incompetent?”

    I think if you start on the assumption that May is biltheringly stupid your heading in a safe direction.

  36. AndrewZ

    “we certainly don’t need all the diplomatic complications that would arise from the Brexit negotiations collapsing into recriminations.”

    I hate to break this to you, but you had this the moment you voted to leave the EU. There is going to be no outcome from this negotiation other than recriminations, to think otherwise is naive beyond belief.

  37. “And also, CH is NOT in the single market. They have a bilateral agreement with the EU.”

    And their bilateral with the EU makes them de facto members of the single market. Which is why there is tariff-free bilateral trade. The fact it’s arranged by means of a bilateral is a distinction without a difference (but then I’m an engineer working in a legal-ish field, so we tend not to care about the niceties of the arrangement and focus rather on the practical effects).

    And this arrangement is also why the Swiss can produce non-EU compliant products for internal consumption (like stupid shit such as non-EU salad sauce).

  38. “Oh, I can understand why the EU cares deeply about it. I’m just at a loss to understand why Britain should.”

    Because a border will piss off just about everyone in Ireland, north and south and the British government doesn’t want to piss off its closest friend and nearest neighbour.

  39. Because a border will piss off just about everyone in Ireland, north and south and the British government doesn’t want to piss off its closest friend and nearest neighbour.

    Look, I know the Irish blame everything on the British but are they really going to get angry at Britain for the EU insisting that the Irish build a wall?

  40. Look, I know the Irish blame everything on the British but are they really going to get angry at Britain for the EU insisting that the Irish build a wall?

    Logic is not an Irish national trait.

  41. Yes, because it’s a consequence of the Brits “taking their country back”, and bringing back “sovereignty and control”.

    Staying in the EU was on the ballot paper, and as we all know all voters on both sides thoroughly thought through the consequences, the pros- and cons, and made a considered choice on the trade-offs. There was no “EU – OUT NOW!!!” mindless sloganeering jingoism, backed by the belief that you can cherry pick further from an already cherry-picked menu and that there would be no downsides, only advantages, and nothing would get at all fucked up. None whatsoever!

  42. Yes, because it’s a consequence of the Brits “taking their country back”, and bringing back “sovereignty and control”.

    If this is the basis of their ire, then they’re not worth listening to. Not least because it makes them astounding hypocrites.

  43. Who gives a rat’s arse about the EUs problems apart from EU suckers like Biggie. Let their rotten arrangements leak like a sieve and let their tinpot empire sicken and die all the quicker.

    The UK Govt needs to set the war aim of the destruction of the corrupt nascent Euro-Tyranny as a top priority. And prepare for any shit that comes along.

    It was never about money as far as I and many others are concerned. I want to see all the worlds would-be tin gods begging for their lives thro a mouthful of smashed teeth and the EU is an excellent place to start. Followed up by the Westmonster scum as next on the Bill. They are rapidly outliving their usefulness. Just not quite as quickly as Drunker and gang.

    The EU never had any.

  44. @Ecks the Impaler,

    So the Great Brits should smash the froggies, krauts, wops, paddies, polacks, and whatnot, then smash themselves for being just like the above.

    Got it.

  45. “Who gives a rat’s arse about the EUs problems apart from EU suckers like Biggie.”

    Its a crying shame that England has completely lost its bottle.

  46. That you are a friend to and a supporter of arrogant dictatorial thieves and wannabe masters-of-the-world do not blame me Biggie.

    Nor do I note that I have expressed any of the sentiments that you attribute to me as far as national identity. Indeed I prefer the possibly nefarious activities of old fashioned nations to the cultural Marxist internationalist arrogance to which the likes of you willingly submit.

    Your rhetoric sadly suggests your inner demons will not let you be.

    Altho some may argue that the EU is nothing more than a scummy squeeze box played –with some small skill-by the very nation you offer your allegiance to–however dubious.

    Merry Christmas.

  47. An EU vote approving the use of a controversial weedkiller for another five years triggered an immediate backlash from Paris and Rome, and is poisoning German politics on the eve of grand coalition talks.

    After more than two years of fierce political debate over whether glyphosate causes cancer

    Wonderul, a rare occassion of sense prevailing.

    Glyphosate has been around for 40 years with no evidence for a problem against human health

    Meanwhile, Greens being intransigent in Germany, chaos in Spain, Macron trying to find a cause, Visegrad rebelling. EU response – Brexit Britain must be punished.

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