“No deal is better than a bad deal.” Prime Minister Theresa May’s own words, spoken scarcely a year ago. It has already been established that the EU will not adjust its stance on the draft Brexit deal, and the Prime Minister’s Deal will almost certainly fail to get though the House of Commons, regardless of assurances. Now, a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, on World Trade Organisation terms, is considered a serious and viable option for the Prime Minister. I can only despair.
The EU: Bloated and broken – but still beneficial
In Britain, it is easy to forget the good work the European Union has done, especially when the only reminder of the immense wealth of 28 (soon to be 27) countries working together is an EU flag sticker on a bridge, or the like. In the North of Ireland the impact is much clearer – organisations, charities, buildings and co-operatives are all whole or part-funded by the EU, and this is openly boasted about by said organisations. But, if you have listened to the crooning of the DUP recently, then you could quite easily forget that 56% of voters in the North of Ireland backed remain in the 2016 referendum. A party, which fully knows the implications a ‘Hard Brexit’ could have on the people and the economy of the North of Ireland, still advocate for said Hard Brexit nonetheless. It is, quite literally, a case of turkeys voting for Christmas.
Yet still I dance around the heart of this issue. The reason why I decided to take the time to write this article in the first place: If there is indeed a ‘Hard Brexit’, on World Trade Organisation terms or similar, then the 499km (310 mile) border between the North of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will, inevitably, be ‘hardened’, with customs posts and vehicle inspections at the very least.
“But we could just do (insert half-baked solution here) instead, right?”
I have heard all the arguments before – “we could just place the customs posts 10 miles inside the border” and “we could just use technology to check vehicles” are the two most popular excuses hard Brexiteers use (in my personal experience) to write off the threat of a ‘Hard Border’ on the island of Ireland. To the first point, moving the border does little to mitigate the impact – the border will still be hard. It is still a stark display of the split between the Republic and the North, and the turmoil caused by delays on heavy goods vehicles will cause chaos – bear in mind an estimated 6000 HGV’s cross the border daily.
Regarding the use of technology to maintain the border – Labour Shadow Minister for N.I Stephen Pound MP quite rightly stated that “If you think that a camera up a pole can actually provide a border security alert, that will become a target.” Drones, another area the government has shown interest in using to patrol the border, can similarly become targets –anything short of a Military-grade Predator Drone can be easily downed by someone on the ground. Even Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee found that the technology needed to keep the border friction-less does not exist – in their own words “We have, however, no visibility of any technical solutions, anywhere in the world, beyond the aspirational, that would remove the need for physical infrastructure at the border.”
An Irish Sea Border?
The concept of drawing the border down the Irish Sea is another possible solution to avoiding a Hard Border. A sea border is heralded by the DUP and many Unionists as ‘a betrayal of the union’. They claim as such because the North of Ireland would be aligned differently to the rest of the UK. This is why the DUP pledges to vote against the PM’s current deal. Contradictions in this statement (e.g. extension of Gay Marriage Rights to N.I) will have to wait for another day…
Norway Style Deal?
Or what about a Norway-style deal? Well, it would be slightly less damaging to the economy here than a ‘Hard Brexit’, at least. This isn’t taking into consideration the fact that there are more border crossings between the North and Republic of Ireland than between the entirety of Norway and Sweden. Don’t forget that the Norway-Sweden border closes at 10 O’clock every night as well!
I’m just re-treading over ground that has been walked before. A hard border is the INEVITABLE outcome of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. It will bring widespread disruption and could even bring the Troubles back. Everyone here knows this. The DUP, which represents only 36% of N.I voters from the 2017 Westminster election, refuses to accept a backstop on the border. This is because of the aforementioned alarm Unionists have in regards to being separated from the rest of the UK.
What can we do to avoid a hard border? Only three outcomes are acceptable in my opinion.
Stop Brexit entirely. Of course, that defeats the point of ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Many speculate that this could lead to a rise in far-right parties in the U.K. Left wing ‘Lexiteers’ would be furious too, albeit for different reasons.
The North of Ireland remains tied legislatively to the rest of the EU. Effectively, this would mean drawing the border down the Irish Sea. This would make sense, saying that the majority of people voted against Brexit here. However, the aforementioned distress this would cause to the Unionist community makes this less acceptable than no Brexit at all.
The Prime Minister calls a border poll. A border poll is a referendum on whether Ireland should become United. Should the people of N.I vote to join the Republic of Ireland, then this whole Brexit debacle could be resolved. The UK could leave on whatever terms it likes, and we would remain in the EU. We would be getting off the Brexit bus before it hurtles off a cliff.
This option was a pipe dream of only a handful of people within the Irish Republican movement a few years ago. It is now a viable alternative for moderates, the unaffiliated and even some unionists. Many would be outraged if the majority voted in favour of a United Ireland, especially in the Unionist Community. Now, the question has been changed. Remain in the UK and suffer though potential economic turmoil? Or join a modern, moderate country with a booming economy and access to the benefits of EU Membership?
Now you have the view from someone who will soon be on the frontier between the UK and the EU. Ask yourself the question – “Is a hard Brexit really a good thing for Ireland?”
Will myself and my peers endure the trials of our parents and grandparent’s generation? A return of customs posts and smugglers? A Hard Border is too divisive and destructive. Its return would undoubtedly bring great misery to the people of this region.
As such, it simply cannot return.