Yesterday’s paper published by the ERG has put the Irish border issue to bed, from a UK perspective at least.
Crucially it outlines how we will overcome each obstacle the EU has attempted to throw in our way, keeping the border as it is and preserving the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom.
There is no longer any excuse for delays to the Brexit negotiations based on the border. The government should adopt this workable solution as it’s own policy, and put the onus squarely on the EU.
The plan has four elements which explain how each function of a border can be conducted. The need for tariffs can be eliminated through a free trade deal. VAT, customs procedures and declarations are dealt with via a range of pre-existing technology solutions. With regards trading standards, eventual regulatory divergence will be flagged through data-sharing and cooperation. Agricultural standards, the paper concedes, will have to be maintained through the all-island Common Biosecurity Zone, mutual recognition of some standards and pre-export inspections which are common elsewhere.
None of this is new – these are solutions raised by many of us during the referendum campaign and subsequently.
However, the debate on how to deal with the border has taken place with little regard to either rationality or the 44% of people in Northern Ireland who voted leave. It is a debate that has, until now, been devoid of substance and meaning.
Of course, the usual crowd have their objections. Objectors to Brexit have frequently used the Belfast Agreement as an excuse to stay in the Customs Union and/or Single Market, but the text of the Agreement demands no such thing. Others say that the ERG plan demands more cooperation than the EU is used to allowing with non-members, but as all parties have already acknowledged the special circumstances of Northern Ireland and the reality that bilateral agreements like the Common Travel Area already mean the UK and Ireland cooperate more than is usual, this is not a fair or legitimate objection either.
Managing divergence is, of course, a challenge. Especially to a supranational organisation used to arranging convergence. The ERG paper tackles this by looking at how other countries manage cross-border trade, including mutual recognition of standards and other measures. This is not as challenging as it might be elsewhere, as most of the NI-RoI cross-border trade is simple, repetitive, and predictable.
The Irish government, in the form of the completely unlikable Neale Richmond, says it’s unworkable but doesn’t say how – only saying that they would prefer it if we were in a customs union. They were joined in this call, predictably, by the Alliance Party. Have they not realised that that ship has sailed? Have they not realised that such a thorough, sensible, coherent proposal from the ERG requires an equally thorough rebuttal for that rebuttal to be anything close to credible?
On Radio Ulster yesterday, the former head of the Remain campaign in Northern Ireland conjured up images of tailbacks as vehicles were checked. He perhaps didn’t realise that most countries only physically inspect around 5% of freight anyway – usually that suspected of violations. The ERG paper itself calls for intelligence-led customs inspections. Only 5% of NI sales go to the Republic. There is very little freight actually passing between the Republic and Northern Ireland that has either destination as its end point. Most of what does travel across the border belongs to businesses that make regular trips and won’t need inspecting. At a rough estimate, you might be checking one or two vehicles a day. If that.
These are emotionally charged objections that aren’t based in reality, from people who simply can’t accept change or who have an ulterior motive. Such is the impotence of their arguments that we can be assured that we’re finally on to something.
Conservatives for Liberty believes in the Union and believes in Brexit. We therefore back these sensible, practical, solutions to deal with the Irish border issue.