There’s an article in this morning’s Irish Times by Katy Hayward of Queen’s University. It’s titled ‘A frictionless Border is impossible, an invisible one undesirable’ (Yes, Virginia, the IT was always one for the snappy headline). I find myself in total disagreement with the second half of the headline and in total agreement with the first.
An invisible border (because one doesn’t exist) is a goal towards which hundreds of thousands of Irish people are presently pressing. There will, of course, be many – perhaps like Katy – who wouldn’t like to have an invisible/non-existent border because of their loyalties to Britain. But the fact that one section of the population doesn’t desire something doesn’t mean that another section of the population must follow that cue and think likewise. That’s a mistake (or a deliberate strategy?) which much of our mainstream media make. Maybe that’s why Katy does a little dance around the word “invisible” and addresses the questions of “frictionless” and “hard” in relation to any border.
She makes a number of points which would appear to boil down to a core acceptance that if you have different trading units /systems, you’re going to have to have some kind of monitoring/examination of goods between one and the other. That’s a fact which it seems impossible to avoid, regardless of what Theresa May or Michel Barnier may say. And if the monitoring is going to be thorough, it’s going to have to perform physical checks and customs posts at some point, on the border or just before the border or after the border. But checks there will have to be.
Katy raises one other point that deserved fuller development: that smuggling in the post-Brexit era will be “incredibly lucrative”. I haven’t seen much consideration of this matter. Because smuggling has always been a feature of life on the border. Whether it’s a pot of jam secreted in my Auntie Peg’s knickers or a herd of cattle moving through the darkness, those living near the border have always had an eye for how to get something good from the bad that is the border. There are those who get hot in their leather about this dereliction of civic duty. Me, I think they’re realists, courageous and nimbly entrepreneurial.
The other thing that’s not addressed in Katy’s speech is the attitude of the DUP and other Brexiteers towards a hard border. We’ve been repeatedly told, by Arlene and others, that they want a frictionless border. But if you are keen to emphasise the difference between yourself and the state to the south of you, what better emphatic marker than a customs post? Or actually, over 200 of them, since that’s loosely the number of access points along the border.
I’m assuming that the DUP and the Brexiteers don’t want physical attacks on these border posts. We want to leave all that behind us, is the usual mantra. Although if I were a unionist politician, maybe I’d welcome the security of insecurity. That is, I’d be happy to see border posts being attacked because that would bring home to my electoral base what I’ve always wanted them to think and feel: that the union with Britain is under siege, and we can only be saved by – anyone? Yes indeed, Virginia, you got it – constant watchfulness and voting for the champions of the union. Nothing like a little bit of violence from dissident republicanism to encourage unionism to circle the wagons. Sure wasn’t that what big Ian was about for some forty years?
Here’s a link to the article, so gio won’t get all fretful…