A botched border will be bad for all .
It’s the EU that wants the wall not us – and I wish that our politicians pointed this out more often. The UK and Ireland governments have made great strides in trying to reach a settlement for Northern Ireland and this could unravel if the EU are not pragmatic in their approach to the Northern Ireland.
In some recent coverage on the radio along the Northern Irish border there was lots of talk of not wanting the return of the “watchtowers” and the “troops” along the border as we had during “The Troubles” between 1968-1998.
And what irks me about this is two-fold – firstly the UK voting to leave the EU does not mean we have to put up a military presence along the NI border. The Troubles are long over and many of the reasons for having the military border have gone.
The second reason and the most important of the two – if the EU insists on a hard border it will not have been imposed by the British, but by the EU. There is not a lot of support for this anywhere in Ireland and the UK government should continue allow Irish citizens to pass freely into the UK, as they have been able to do so.
Imagine a scenario where the UK keeps the border much as it is now – open. And the EU build a customs border on their side. It would not be the UK causing security and customs delays. Instead it will be the EU forcing a border on the Irish mainland. Irish haulers and government would then have to lobby/petition at an EU level to remove the log jam of goods crossing into UK and back again. In this situation the UK position at an EU level would be weaker and we would have to allow the Irish to do our bidding.
The EU fears by keeping an open border between themselves and the UK , that goods from let’s say, America, could creep into the EU. The UK could simply mandate that all products be labelled as made in the USA like we do already , and then simply let the consumer choose. If they want beer made in Germany with a Texan steak who are we to get in their way ? If free trade is good across the EU then why is it any worse if we just extend that boundary to include the globe ?
This logic reveals the EU for what it really is, an intra-nation free trade area with a common tariff border to the rest of the world. As opposed to an international free trade area .
The British and Irish governments have long had a common travel area (CTA) which allows for easy movement of people dating back to 1925 – well before the creation of the EU. Therefore is no reason why an agreement could not be reached on goods crossing the border now. Electronic customs solutions for goods already exist, adopting blockchain technology could be used to ensure that there is an accurate record of what has crossed the border. There is no point in re-inventing the wheel for customs clearances , we should adopt technology in lieu of border bureaucrats.
There is nothing that stops the EU making an exception in this case . Such exceptions are already in place along border between Norway and Sweden, and the border between Germany and Switzerland. Both of these borders have components which could be incorporated into creating a no border situation. Not only would this be helpful for NI, but the UK as a whole. Any solution used by the UK and the EU could always be used a template for other accession countries or be used with other nations who want to trade with the EU bloc but want to avoid political entanglements.
As final thought, replacing my economics hat with a political one, we have to consider the actors and their intentions. The border could well be used by Politicians on both sides as a stalking horse.
The Irish could demand that they will forgo a border as long as NI adheres to the same regulatory standards as the Irish have. This would mean that the EU has a border inside of the UK. I doubt that Westminster would go for that. But for the Irish government this would be a win as it would bring NI closer into their sphere of influence; perhaps even realising their dream of a united Ireland again.
On the UK side the threat to build a wall may well force the Irish government to compel the EU negotiating team to give concessions such as passporting for financial services or generous access to single market etc.
Perhaps this is the real reason that power is not going back to the NI assembly – maybe an ace up May’s sleeve.