So, having run on a campaign of “taking back control (of our borders)” the latest cunning plan to deal with its only actual EU border is for Brixitian to ….cede control of its border to another EU state. Yep.
This is cracked. Humpty Dumpty , sorry James Brokenshire , the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has suggested that in order to avoid a hard border at the actual legal border between the EU and Brexitian the Common Travel Area external border would be “the” UK border. Several thoughts come to me on this
- The Common Travel area is a freedom of movement of persons, a visa free zone, a miniSchengen. We can maintain that, if we wish, without any other issues. It predates the EU , is mostly enshrined in administrative procedures and has been suspended a number of times. What it need not be is a common work area.
- The one thing the three governments on the stage – Northern IReland, Brexitian and our own – agree is that a “hard border would be bad”. But, here is where things get fuzzy. Hard for whom, or what?
- Brexitian seems to want to leave the Customs Union. We know this as the ony way they can sign the free trade agreements with third countries, about which they bang on incessantly, is to be outside the CU. Now, its possible to be within the CU and not in the EU (Turkey) – and its possible to be in the single market and not fully within the CU (Norway). But these are bespoke arrangements, made in the run up to accession. In any case, take Norway. It is, apart from food and drink, fully within the CU. The Economist explains the subtleties well. But, if the UK leaves the Customs Union, then there WILL have to be a customs border at the border. In fact, when we think of borders we think of customs posts, of forms to be filled in declaring what you are bringing in and what out etc. The customs posts are the visible sign of the border.
- We cant have Northern Ireland exempted alone from the customs elements of Brexit. At minimum Scotland would want the same. Imagine a scenario where the UK was outside the customs union, and Northern Ireland, part of the UK, not. This would be the mother of all smuggling opportunities, both ways across both (NI- rUK / NI-EU/RoI) borders. I seriously doubt that the intent of Brexit is to enrich paramilitary smugglers. So we would , it seems, have to have a customs border on the border. In which case, why not go the whole hog
- A hard border at the border, stopping freedom of movement of goods, services, and persons, would be pretty disastrous for the border areas, the cockpits of the Troubles. Economic growth and a modest prosperity are good for calming tensions, for allowing people to step away from violence. Conversely… Pretty much all the analysis (see here, here ) suggests that at minimum Brexit will further retard the development of the pallid all island economy, at worst be a fairly devestating blow to some of the more export facing parts of the NI economy. In particular a hard brexit leading to the UK trading under WTO rules would be very bad news for the NI agrifood sector.
- An under-discussed element of the Brexit is the bivariate flow. The EU may well wish, indeed for sure will wish, to protect its borders. We dont, as a union, give automatic rights of entry, work and residence, to non EU citizens. How do we stop illegal british migrants seeking to take advantage of the EU? We see already a large increase in UK related jobseekers.
- The kite that was floated seems to me to suggest that 100y on the UK establishment still don’t seem to get that Ireland is an independent country. Worse again would be if elements of the Irish establishment don’t. Either Brexitian is in charge of its borders – including the land border in the North – or its not. It’s not our business, although it is our problem, to deal with. On its own logic of Brexit it makes no sense. The only way it makes internal logical sense is if Brexit is seen, somehow, to encompass Ireland. We had extraterritorial “treaty ports” until the late 1930’s and we are not going to be going back to that.
- An argument is possible that “oh, this is just like USA preclearance, whats the issue.?” Preclearance is a tourist friendly initiative to speed up processing on landing in the USA. Its rather different to suggesting that we operate a customs/person border for a entity leaving the Union, which entity wished to leave to avoid having to have its borders so controlled externally. Again, against what is the border? Goods? Services? People? The latter is easy to do, on a preclearance style. The first two require a hard border, somewhere.
- Even if we wished to be special snowflakes we will have to coordinate with and gain agreement of the other 26 EU members. Why would they allow us to be such snowflakes? What would they wish for in return? I have written on this here and here.
Bottom line – there WILL have to be a hard border if the UK leaves the customs union. This will either be around or on this island. There are no easy choices. But we cannot decide on our own.