The carry on time I was on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a garage possessor bet me I would cross it without noticing. He won.
But now the UK is leaving the EU, all that could variety and the border has become one of the toughest and most controversial parts of the Brexit contracts, because:
- The Republic of Ireland will not accept an open border with Northern Ireland if it means it has to establish a border between itself and the rest of the EU
- Northern Ireland and the UK government bequeath not accept a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK — they carcass after all a single country
- Northern Ireland and the Republic do not want a «involved» border between them on any account; they remain after all committed to the amity process.
This is both a political and economic issue: 30% of Northern Ireland’s exports go to the Republic, and a third of that is nourishment and animal exports.
In total, 55% of Northern Ireland’s exports go to the EU, subsuming the Republic. In the opposite direction, 13% of the Republic’s exports go to the UK, its second-largest exchange after the US.
An invisible and frictionless border?
The solution proposed on Monday to support the border open and that trade flowing, called for «regulatory alignment»; a prize of words that is almost as opaque as the border.
It means (or could humble) that similar rules and regulations would continue on both sides of the Irish verge upon, so trade could proceed unimpeded. Yet even this compromise unquestionably could not ensure an invisible border.
Norway is in the Single Market, is a associate of Schengen (allowing free movement of citizens between countries), but is not in the EU’s Customs Unanimity. Its land border with the EU is fairly open, but still has checkpoints.
- Brexit: What is regulatory alignment?
- Truth Check: the border arguments
That is a moot point for the moment, as yesterday the compromise was vetoed by the DUP, the amplest Unionist party in Northern Ireland. The DUP is worried that «regulatory alignment» presages different laws in NI from the rest of the UK. For them this is totally unallowable, but the consequences go much wider and further.
Already Wales, Scotland and London force jumped on that band wagon and called to be included in «regulatory alignment», to nurture their economies from what they see as the expected shocks of Brexit.
No motherland can have a jigsaw of different rules and laws applied town by city or street by street. So the obvious answer is that if there is «regulatory alignment» between NI and Ireland, doubtlessly it must also exist between all of the UK and the EU?
Not really Brexit?
However, if the UK supersedes the same rules and regulations as the rest of the EU, have we really left it at all? For a start, speaking free trade deals with the rest of the world is going to be abstruse. What would it have to offer if it was sticking so close to the EU?
If the EU insists the UK sticks to its comestibles standards, chemical regulations, car safety rules and all the rest, then what are the mercantile benefits of leaving? For many Brexiteers the whole point was to cut the UK free from EU «red stick» and become a free trade and free market economy, trading with the intermission of the world. «Regulatory alignment» might strangle many of those convictions at birth.
Another model being promoted by No 10 might be to limit «regulatory alignment» to those limits necessary to support the Good Friday Agreement, which includes measures for co-operation on matters such as agriculture, waterways and energy.
There is already one excitement market on the island of Ireland, but it is hard to see how coordinating agricultural policy would not clangour with the fact that Northern Ireland will be outside the EU’s Stereotyped Agriculture Policy, and Ireland inside it.
Out into the world?
The UK could cut its extraneous tariffs to encourage trade, but what would stop those signifies into the UK flowing into the EU via Northern Ireland? What if the UK allows in economical American chicken that has been washed in chlorine, which is not accepted in the EU, or cut down ons all tariffs on cars — would they disappear over the border into the sole market? Certainly the opportunities for smuggling and crime across that purfling limits would be huge.
Then there is the Common Agricultural Policy. Every husbandman in the EU gets the same subsidies and applies the same standards and the EU protects its agricultural sector with mean external tariffs and quotas on, for example, New Zealand lamb or Australian sugar.
If the UK and markedly NI change standards in agri-chemicals or allow in more imports from the vacation of the world at low or zero tariffs, it could all flow across the border into Ireland and the overage of the EU. The EU will not stand for undercutting EU farmers, making a mockery of common outside tariffs and undermining the CAP.
One suggested solution is that technology will huge quantity with this problem and we should all stop worrying. Checking goods at the plant gate rather than at the border, number plate recognition, wider companies regulating themselves and a dozen other ideas will all coalesce to forge a seamless border that is invisible on the ground.
Any minor matters strain organised fuel smuggling can be dealt with by local police and liking anyway be a minor inconvenience. But it is far from clear that the Republic and the recess of the EU will believe this is enough to guarantee their external dado, even if it works seamlessly.
Also if, as many Brexiteers want, we refrain from the EU and just depend on the World Trade Organisation rules the UK would sooner a be wearing a problem. The WTO allows any of its members to cut tariffs to an agreed maximum or lower, but exclusive if they offer the same deal to all members. If the UK allowed goods to short-tempered between Ireland, the EU and NI without checks, inspection or tariffs, the rest of the WTO associates could argue that Ireland and by extension the EU are getting a better have to do with than they are. They could then insist the UK enforces the ukases at the border, cuts tariffs for them to the same level or retaliate or go compensation.
There are some who argue we should just reduce all taxes and quotas to zero unilaterally for every country in the world, although composed its supporters have said that would have huge effects on the UK’s agricultural and putting out industries. This is also not necessarily a solution to the border problem, ultra-cheap imports into the UK of knife, steaks, salmon and sewing machines, could cross the border and away Irish producers.
What can be done?
There are five possible solutions.
1. Ireland causes the EU and rejoins the UK — not going to happen
2. Northern Ireland leaves the UK and unites with Ireland — not current to happen
3. The UK leaves the EU but stays in the Single Market, the Customs Union and unquestionably the Common Agricultural Policy — already ruled out by the UK government
4. A hard frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — rejected by all sides.
5. Squaring the circle. Over the coming months and years of negotiation and change-over, a compromise position including technology, special exemptions and «regulatory alignment» is hammered out. Living the border invisible while securing the sanctity of the Single Market and the consentaneousness of the United Kingdom.
Given the first four options are to varying degrees undesirable to the Irish government, the British government and the DUP, the clever money is still on adapting the circle.