The decision of the British government to hold a referendum in 2016 re their membership of the EU was taken without regard for the implications for the peace process in Ireland and the sensitivity about the issue of the border which was imposed on Ireland in 1920. Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, people had become used to free travel and free trade within Ireland. That alone had greatly reduced tension and had built confidence in the whole peace process certainly among nationalists. The border was hardly noticed anymore. Along comes Brexit and the border in Ireland once again becomes an issue of immense significance. It is now, after all, the only land border between the European Union and the UK. The whole purpose of the referendum re the EU was to stop the free flow of immigrants into Britain. In the words of the right wing racists who argued for it –‘to take back control of our borders.’ The border in Ireland has become once again significant since it may be used as a back-door into Britain. How are they going to monitor the 300 roads that cross the border which runs from Derry to Newry? In the British wish list they say that it can be done by the security which is already in place.
The British proposals for dealing with the Border in Ireland post Brexit in 2019 are far from satisfactory. They are not realistic since they do not realise the harm that their decision to withdraw from the EU will do to the Irish economy as well as the social life of people living and farming in border areas. There is nothing imaginative in the proposals that would allay the fears of most people on this island. The focus is on maintaining the border within the island ofIreland. They state that they do not want to see any customs posts or technology at border crossings. They want to see the situation continue as it is within some kind of customs partnership. They state that they will rely on electronic mail to process cross border transport of goods.
The reality is that from a European point of view that border within Ireland will be an international border when Brexit is introduced. It will be the EU which will determine and decide what border controls are necessary to protect the EU- for example from food stuff and other goods imported cheaply from theUnited States into the UK under a new Trade Agreement. The UK will provide a market for the GMO produced food in the USA which is of inferior quality to the food produced here. In Europe there are more stringent standards re food and animal welfare than in the USA. Here all food must be able to be sourced and monitored. The EU negotiators could well insist on more stringent controls along the border- and there’s nothing the British government can do about it.Dublin will also have to comply since they will continue to be a member of the EU. The re-imposed border will, of course, be welcome by the smuggling fraternity-and it will also please the DUP and their hard-line grass-roots who argued for and voted for withdrawal from Europe.
A more imaginative approach is needed to avoid the imposition of border controls from Derry to Newry. It would involve the transfer of sovereignty fromLondon to Dublin and recognition of the border around Ireland rather than through the middle of it. That would allow the northeast six counties to remain inEurope and it would protect the Good Friday Agreement which is an international agreement. That Agreement recognised the will of the people in the six counties as paramount in Ireland. This Northern six county statelet is different from any other part of the UK. That fact has already been recognised by the British government when they signed up to the Good Friday agreement. The Irish government has already a formal role in the government of the north. There is already in place a form of joint sovereignty. It is time for Dublin to produce a more imaginative approach and along with the friends in the EU to insist on the British accepting a new legal framework whereby sovereignty is transferred from Westminster to Dublin. It is time the British listened to us – for a change.