There’s a scene in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 where the Welsh magician Glendower declares “I can call spirits from the vasty deep”, to which the hard-headed Hotspur replies “Why, so can I, or so can any man;/But will they come when you do call for them?”
That exchange often pops into my head when I hear people like Theresa May promise that, post-Brexit, the border in Ireland will be soft/invisible/seamless/whatever you’re having yourself. Her fellow Brexiteers take a similar line: the border will be the dividing line between the EU and this tormented corner of the UK, but somehow, miraculously, it won’t make a bit of difference to smooth cross-border trade.
As Hotspur more or less said “Yeah, right. You’ve talked about seamless/invisible/soft. The thing is, will it or can it happen?” And like the spirits from the vasty deep, no such border will put in an appearance. A seamless border is a contradiction in terms. If one part of Ireland is within a trading bloc while another part isn’t, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that there’ll have to be a way of separating one from the other.
Of course, the British would quite like the EU-UK dividing line to happen in the Irish Sea: that is, Britain is realistic. But unfortunately, the Tory government has done a deal with the DUP, who look set to slice off their noses to annoy their faces by insisting that we must have a border here in Ireland. The Brits see the absurdity of this, as do many of them see the absurdity of the whole Brexit omnishambles. But Brexit brings borders and a coalition with the DUP involves putting out-dated notions of Britishness before your own social and economic welfare.
So we’d do well to take a Hotspur line on the Glendower talk of doing the impossible. At the weekend, a Revenue report on the Brexit border was leaked. Brexit will have “an enormous physical and economic impact”, an impact that will shudder through tens of thousands of companies in the south who trade with the UK.
Brexit is less than two years away. Brace yourselves.