John Campbell, the BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor, has a gift: he’s able to break complex matters into understandable bites. He’s also able to present examples that anchor economic talk ,which otherwise might fly off into the clouds of generalisation and confusion.
A good example of his work is on a piece he’s put up on the BBC website recently under the heading ‘Brexit: the NI border checks already in place’. You didn’t know there were border checks on things coming into the north from Britain? I’m not surprised – it’s something that’s kept firmly in the background by the DUP.
That’s because the DUP has firmly set its face against any economic border between the north and Britain – as part of the UK, it argues, there cannot be ‘a border in the Irish Sea’ between Britain and the north.
Except that there already is a border in the Irish Sea for some things. Campbell describes a scene at Larne, where cattle coming from Scotland into the north must have a veterinary certificate. In addition, officials get into the lorry, count the number of cattle, look for signs of disease. Campbell quotes the divisional veterinary officer:
“All consignments are subject to documentary, identity and physical checks…Very often, we can do the physical check from outside the vehicle, but where the consignment is larger, we may have to off-load the animals.”
Likewise food products – New Zealand lamb, for example – have to be checked at the Belfast Border Inspection post. The number of these is described as “low throughput”, but some 300 cases a year – around one a day, seven checks a week –doesn’t sound so low to me.
Diane Dodds of the DUP says oh yes, those checks exist, of course, but what the EU is talking about is multiplying the checks. Really, Diane? So all the defiant talk of the DUP being insistent on no border in the Irish Sea is simply a matter of scale, of quantity rather than quality.
Ask any farmer living on either side of the border whether he or she would rather have the present system, with its various checks, or a system where farmers and everyone else were pulled out of the EU, separated from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), cut off from all the agri-food links that thread north and south in over 140 co-operative cases – ask him or her which they’d prefer and you’d be likely to get a sharp answer.
So it’s clear that border checks between Britain and the north exist and cover all cattle and some agri-foods. In other words, the Never, Never, Never, Never of the DUP’s border-in-the-Irish-Sea is actually Never, Never, Never, Well Hardly Ever. And amazingly the Good Friday Agreement, guaranteeing the north’s link with Britain except or until a majority of people want it, appears to be still intact.
Not many people know that. Or rather, everybody knows that but some would rather pretend it’s not there.