What is the big sticking point on Boris’s Big Deal (BBD)? That’s easy – he’s for putting in place customs checks/posts/huts/whatever you’re having yourself.
This will please the DUP, whose future existence hangs on the extent to which they can persuade people that Ireland is really two countries. The presence of a physical border, whether stationary or on wheels, will drive this message home. No wonder they shouted “No surrender!” when Boris appeared at their ‘event’ on the eve of unveiling his BD.
This will not please and is not pleasing nationalists and republicans north and south of the border, but especially north. Middle-aged and older nationalists /republicans will remember the small humiliations, the delays, the gun-toting peace-keepers, the atrocities such as the death of Aidan McAnespie, killed at the Aughnacloy border crossing because, the British army explained, the soldier on duty’s finger slipped and pulled the trigger.
Younger – people in their teens, their twenties, their thirties – will not like a border. For them it won’t be a returned border, it’ll be first-time. And when you’re used to moving freely, you do tend to get a bit hostile when someone tries to hobble your movements, create delays and difficulties where none were before. A hundred years ago a civil war was fought because a border was introduced to Ireland. Not a happy precedent.
The third group who’ll be totally opposed are the business people, including the farmers. For a long time the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) kept schtum about the way the DUP were acting as Brexit cheerleaders. Only after a couple of years of discreet silence did they declare that a hard border would be bad news: they chose finally to follow their business interests rather than their DUP loyalties. This time they were out of the traps within hours of the announcement of the BBD, which the DUP are now hailing. The UFU president Ivor Ferguson declared that it was a deal which would inflict grave damage on the livelihoods of its members.
Then there’s the four-year thing. In different circumstances, it could be an eminently reasonable factor to include: every arrangement requires regular scrutiny to check that its tyres are sound, its bodywork holding together, that it’s doing what people want it to do. Unfortunately, the people most affected, business people, have made it clear it’s a hopeless arrangement. The CBI, Retail NI – they’ve all said that business doesn’t work like that. You don’t get a bank loan or make an investment with nothing more than the next four years certain, after which all bets are off.
Without a radical overhaul of their attitude to the customs union, investing your hopes in BBD is equivalent to jumping off a cliff and knowing you’re safe from harm for the first twenty feet.