Immigration less of a problem, trade and customs more so, as Liam Fox rules out a customs Union with the EU. But Theresa and Enda think they see how to keep the border open

One of the leading authorities on EU affairs Charles Grant, the director of the centre for European Reform has issued  this warning:

When it comes to economic ties, the 27 will be much tougher than many Britons expect. European leaders have an interest in ensuring that the EU maintains a close economic relationship with the UK, for everyone’s benefit. But they will not compromise on fundamental principles, such as free movement of labour as the price for single market membership. And they will not want the exit talks to be pain-free, easy or pleasant for the British, since they wish to deter others from following the UK’s example. The opponents of Marine Le Pen and other populists want to be able to say; “Look at the mess the British are in, you don’t want that, do you?”

But free movement may be less of an issue on the Irish border after Brexit. Alasdair McDonnell’s  approach  to maintaining an open border deserves attention. In a Commons debate last week he said that immigration controls could apply to welfare and unemployment rather than to entry to the country.  (To be fair, this was Theresa Villier’s line also).  However trade was a different problem. The McDonnell themes were taken up by Jim Brunsden of the FT (£)

..,. a simpler solution would be for the UK to leave the EU while remaining part of the customs union, but this is unlikely to satisfy hardened Brexiters.

This is because the customs union is far from just an agreement about tariffs, it is also a body of EU rules that Britain would have to continue to comply with, such as product regulation standards.

Other options also come with strings attached. While a free trade deal between Britain and the EU could result in zero tariffs on many goods, there would still need to be customs checks, as duties could still apply on products, or even individual components, that had been imported into Britain.

Zsolt Darvas, a senior fellow at the Bruegel think-tank, said there is another way out, but it is not easy. Effectively, Northern Ireland would have to apply EU rules so completely that it could retain its status within the customs union while the other parts of the UK leave.

“If European single market regulations, such as product market standards, apply to Northern Ireland…then there may be no border between Northern Ireland and the Republic,” he said.

There is only one catch: the frontier of the customs union would then shift to the province’s air and maritime borders with mainland Britain, meaning “border checks in ports and airports” for travellers seeking to cross the Irish Sea. Ms May’s practical solution looks hard to find.

Brexit border choices

Option one Continue to operate common travel area

Advantages Has operated for 90 years since the creation of the Irish Free State. Would allow free movement across the border to continue. Key to the peace process.

Disadvantages Britain would cede part of its border controls to Ireland. EU citizens could fly into Dublin and travel to mainland Britain via Northern Ireland without having to show their passport again. To control illegal working, British authorities would have to identify EU citizens without work permits and deport them.

Option two Continue free trade in goods across border

Advantages Both countries are currently part of the EU customs union. Some 37 per cent of Northern Ireland’s exports go to Ireland, worth £3.6bn. Both Dublin and Belfast will be keen to ensure that the free flow of goods continues unhindered

Disadvantages If Britain leaves the EU customs union, the border would acquire a new significance. If customs checks did not apply, the border could become a hotbed of smuggling, a backdoor route from the UK into the EU (and vice versa) for those hoping to avoid tariffs.

Option three New controls between N Ireland and rest of UK

Advantages Would allow free movement of goods and people to continue across the Irish border.

Disadvantages Would be politically unsellable to unionists who would bridle at having to show their passports to travel to the mainland.

Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s first minister, said yesterday: “There must be no internal borders within the UK.”

She said that Mrs May agreed.

Option four Limited border controls between north and south

Advantages Theresa May has promised to seek a “practical solution” and “no return to the borders of the past”. Few would welcome a return to the hard border that existed during the Troubles, with army checkpoints and roads sealed off by barricades.

Disadvantages Even limited checks to people or goods flowing across the border could be a setback to the peace process. For almost 20 years both sides have tried to erase all evidence of the border, which is little more than a line on the map

Inevitably there would be fears that any checks on the border would become  targets.

Adds later

Liam Fox the International Trade Secretary is in the USA to begin drumming up support for a trade deal – but he’s been warned it won’t be easy. He said  the UK probably won’t seek to have a closer customs union with the EU –( which makes tariffs between the UK and Ireland more likely).

 In an interview with the Wall St Journal Mr. Fox argued that Britons would have the ability to negotiate closer trade and economic links with the U.S. and other countries after the Brexit process is complete. He said London would probably seek to enter a free-trade agreement with the EU rather than a closer “customs union” that could restrict its ability to negotiate lower tariffs with other trading partners.

The U.K can’t sign trade agreements with other countries while it is still part of the EU, and London hasn’t issued the formal notification to start negotiations on leaving—a process that could take two years. The timing is still being debated by the new Conservative government, but early next year could be best since the U.K. wants to figure out its new relationships before general elections in 2020, Mr. Fox said.

Completing a free-trade deal with the US would likely mean not only reducing or eliminating any tariffs on goods but also dismantling services barriers and regulatory impediments to trade, which can be daunting.

“It’s going to be much, much trickier to come to an agreement on that front,” said Sam Bowman, executive director of the Adam Smith Institute, a free-market think tank based in London.

As the bigger partner, the U.S. would probably have the upper hand in negotiations, said Stephen Booth, a co-director at think tank Open Europe.

Quite how no customs union  fits into the pledges made by Theresa May and Enda Kenny in Downing St remains to be decided. But as the Irish Times reports:

The Taoiseach suggested on Tuesday, however, that such checks should not require physical border posts along the Border. “There are other ways of dealing with modern technology in terms of checking trade,” he said. “I think these are things that need to be looked at creatively and imaginatively but we are both agreed very firmly that there will be no return to a hard border as it used to be.”

Electronic pre-clearance customs systems operate on a number of international borders, including those between some Baltic states and Russia and between the US and Canada, minimising delays at border crossings and reducing the need for physical border checks.

At a joint news conference with the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach said: “I do not favour, and would not agree to, a hard border with a whole range of customs posts, and neither does the prime minister.

There will be no hard border from Dundalk to Derry in the context of it being a European border, and by that I mean customs posts every mile along the road.

“We are both agreed very firmly there will be no return to a hard border as existe

Mrs May said there was a “strong will” to preserve free travel across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Britain leaves the EU, and suggested that this could involve a common approach to the use of data on passengers arriving from outside the British Isles.

“I recognise that one of the biggest concerns for people is the common travel area. We benefited from a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland for many years before either country was a member of the EU.

 

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  • cu chulainn

    There is a model here, that NI have a distinct and more thorough version of the EEA that avoids any need for controls on cross-border trade. Certain restrictions might exist on cross channel trade if GB adopts a slightly different version e.g. re agricultural products, but a handful of inspectors at ports could attend to these. Effectively ensure that NI has free access to both GB and the EU and so give its economy a chance of survival and so requiring less handouts.

    The alternative of customs posts and the like will undermine the peace as these will attract civil disorder at best and rocket attacks at worst. This will lead to other security resources being diverted to support these pointless structures and any application of political policing in this way will ensure a collapse of any support for the PSNI in two thirds of NI. Britain reneging on the GFA is a very very dangerous path.

  • terence patrick hewett

    In Ireland immigration is not a problem since we have old fashioned ways of dealing with that…

  • Sir Rantsalot

    My guess would be CTA and close co operation between Ireland and UK on tracking immigrants coming into and traveling between both countries. Security identity checks are high at airports for people travelling anywhere these days anyway. Showing your passport is hardly a new thing. It only takes a minute to pass through the toll on the southern side of the Belfast Dublin motorway. It isn’t really any different driving France to Switzerland either. I have done this a few times on the past.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Why is the responsibility for this customs issue levied on the European Union’s door?

    The European Union got rid of the customs matter, fairly and squarely!

    It was never sorted between Irish independence and the UK & Irish entry into the European Economic Community.

    There are around 40 EU to non-EU land borders in the world where some degree of customs checks apply. There are only two where they don’t.

    Monaco-France

    Italy-Vatican City State.

    Even non-EU parts of the Kingdom of Denmark like the Faroes and Greenland don’t have this advantage.

    It’s time to expose the self-righteous, self-important, self-gratifying nonsense that there would not be customs and no possibility of customs for the nonsense that it is.

  • Kevin Breslin

    A toll machine 60km away from the border that has nothing to do with immigration.

  • Reader

    The logic of the article is that the customs posts will be on the 26 county side of the border. The PSNI may be called upon to cooperate with Garda Síochána and Óglaigh na hÉireann to defend them.
    So I don’t think that will be a political issue for the PSNI.

  • cu chulainn

    Where does it say that? How would you have tariffs one way and not the other.
    This “it will alright on the night” has got to stop. This is serious, throwing away the GFA and 20 years of peace is not a trivial matter.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m going to assume you mean the proper Óglaigh na hÉireann much like the Old Ulster Volunteer’s Force is used.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    I was thinking of the practicalities of people crossing the border. I remember a quick pp check driving from France to Switzerland. Can’t see much of a problem once a uk or Irish pp is shown. You barely even have to stop at the pp check arriving in dublin airport! , and I fly in from the middle east !

  • Tochais Siorai

    How many border crossings are there in Ireland? Are you seriously suggesting some kind of toll booth at them all? All those boreens that have only reopened relatively recently?

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Whats a boreen? Sounds like a female boring person..
    I would suggest doing what I guess most countries do, have security/customs points at main roads. We’re not inventing the wheel here!! I had a quick look on google maps and it looks like there are only 15-20 A or N roads that cross the border. All reasonably spaced along it. I’m sure the ROI could get some of its own money back from the EU to pay for it !!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Switzerland shares a common travel policy with France called Schengen if you haven’t realized, and Schengen takes in most of the EU land area anyway.

    If the UK opt for Kallingrad-esque isolation from Continental Europe and by extension the Republic of Ireland, who knows what ridiculous policies might be introduced.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Just for a laugh, tell us what the worst type of arrangement you can imagine would be??? The details.
    I cant see anything more than showing your passport happening. Other than maybe paying for a tourist visa, have you ever done anything other than show your passport when visiting another country?

  • Tochais Siorai

    As well as the main border roads, there are numerous other small roads and lanes (boreen – anglicisation of bóithrín), many of which were only reopened in the past 2 decades, reconnecting neighbours that had little or no contact in the preceding decades, sundering ties which had built up over generations. What are we going to do with these? Crater them again? Reintroduce unapproved roads, concession roads and all that nonsense?

  • cu chulainn

    What’s the point on a check on main road when everyone then just goes by another road to avoid paying.

    In any case the issue is not how bad will be border be, people do not want any change at all. Britain needs to support the GFA and stop causing trouble.

  • anon

    A tricky problem indeed. Arlene’s support for Brexit isn’t looking too politically astute, looking at those options.

  • Reader

    cu chulainn: How would you have tariffs one way and not the other.
    Easy. Suppose the EU decides to put a 5% tariff on goods imported from the UK to the EU, and that the UK decides not to put a tariff on goods imported from the EU to the UK.
    See? Then the EU needs to spend millions of Euros a year on manning, maintaining and protecting customs posts; and the UK doesn’t need to spend anything.

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin: …assume you mean the proper Óglaigh na hÉireann…
    Of course – the Defence Forces of the RoI. Whereas the other various so-called ONH will be trying to burn down the customs posts, according to cu chulain.

  • Katyusha

    I have to admit, Reader, I did a double-take when I read Óglaigh na hÉireann in your post.

    I blame the dissidents taking up the front pages of newspapers. We should refuse to report on them using that name, really.

    By the way, you’re going to have to point out where in the article it implies that customs checks would only be on the EU side. Because I can’t find it.

    Other options also come with strings attached. While a free trade deal between Britain and the EU could result in zero tariffs on many goods, there would still need to be customs checks, as duties could still apply on products, or even individual components, that had been imported into Britain.

    This applies both ways, too. And its not just about tariffs. Somehow, I can’t see the UK relinquishing control over goods come into the UK just to avoid manning customs posts, if there are already EU controls on the other side. This is all very easy when the UK and the EU are on the same page. When they start to diverge, it will get complicated.

  • chrisjones2

    And the Royal Irish Regiment perhaps

  • chrisjones2

    ..but they have gone away you know

  • chrisjones2

    “throwing away the GFA and 20 years of peace”

    Dont worry. No matter how desperate you are we will not let you

  • cu chulainn

    I am fully in support of the GFA, you need to address your comments to Theresa May and Arlene Foster.

  • cu chulainn

    “Involve a common approach to the use of data on passengers arriving from outside the British Isles.”

    This is nonsense. An EU citizen arriving in Dublin is not recorded, nor would it be appropriate to share data on the movements of EU citizens with a non EU country. There is existing sharing of data on non EU citizens and this will remain.

    Enda is a wimp. He should have said.

    Passport control, that is out.
    Customs posts, that is out.
    Electronic spying, that is out.

  • Katyusha

    That’s not entirely convincing given the DUP’s actions in collapsing or near-collapsing the executive, and requiring both the St Andrews’ and Fresh Start agreements to appease them before they follow through on the powersharing commitment of the GFA.

    It isn’t nationalist parties who display a callous disregard for the GFA. If the DUP want to prevent it being thrown away, they should stop jeopardising it first.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    I don’t think modern border check facilities would be too inconvenient. Not as easy as no border, but other neighbouring countries around the would manage.

    Torchas, yes I think some road closures would be inevitable unfortunately. But only until the ROI escapes from the EU too. Judging by the rising leave campaign and the protests starting over TTP, it shouldn’t be too long. 😊

  • Katyusha

    The imposition of customs checks will not prevent the border becoming “a hotbed of smuggling”. Any kind of physical land border is going to be almost impossible to implement and police. It’s so extremely convoluted and porous. People know the land, and if you try to enforce tariffs, it will lead to smuggling. Based on our history it would most likely be limited to goods, but it wouldn’t be long before the Daily Mail or Express whip up a frenzy about trafficking Eastern Europeans out of the ether.

    Anyway, leaving the CTA in place (the ideal solution, all told) doesn’t raise a massive danger of EU citizens coming to work illegally in Britain when they can work perfectly legally anywhere else in the EU. I think, again, the hysteria of the right wing press is a much bigger battle than any actual illegal immigration.

    Anyway, much scarier is the cavalier attitude to product standards that is becoming evident.

    This is because the customs union is far from just an agreement about tariffs, it is also a body of EU rules that Britain would have to continue to comply with, such as product regulation standards.

    Even without a customs union, they are going to have to comply with European standards if they want to sell into Europe. Standards which are there for good reasons, at that.

    Completing a free-trade deal with the US would likely mean not only reducing or eliminating any tariffs on goods but also dismantling services barriers and regulatory impediments to trade, which can be daunting.

    “Impediments to trade”, like making sure that the chemicals you use in food production are safe, and dismatling barriers such as being able to sue the state for losses if they force you to comply with their laws.

    Just great. The EU was constantly linked to TTIP during the Brexit campaign. Now we see the UK preparing the express route for their own TTIP, negotiated with a fraction of the bargaining power the EU has, and with no pretensions about protecting workers or consumers. Just wonderful.

  • Sherdy

    Arlene’s problem is she wants a political border, but not a border in any other sense!

  • cu chulainn

    She probably does want a bigger border, but doesn’t think she can get away with it.

  • cu chulainn

    And how many troops will be deployed to make these road closures?

  • Declan Doyle

    If the British are absolutely determined to maintain a non border as they say (and I for one actually believe them) and should Europe insist on controls, what would happen if the Irish government (who would be responsible for such controls) simply refuses to install them?

  • cu chulainn

    If the British stay in the single market, or at least NI does, then there won’t be much need for controls.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Zero. It would be roads service to dig up or block off the road at the border.

  • aquifer

    “unionists who would bridle at having to show their passports to travel to the mainland”

    Small beer. Many countries require that identity documents are carried. Maybe driving licenses could and should be upgraded security wise-anyhow.

  • Reader

    Katyusha: This applies both ways, too.
    It only applies both ways *if* the UK decides to collect tariffs, and *if* the UK decides to collect them at the border.
    My guess is that the island of Ireland will be a small effectively free trade zone for all but large supermarkets. If the UK needs to do customs, it will do them at the ports, and if the EU chooses to do customs the Irish government will bust a gut to get those done at the ports too.
    OK – example – suppose the EU wants to put a tariff on e.g. plate glass. Is Pilkington going to send container loads of glass via Larne and Rosslare to avoid tariffs, when the paperwork is already immense? Where’s the best place to do the paperwork – Ballyalbany or Rosslare?
    Example going the other way – suppose the Brits are as stupid as the EU, and want to put a tariff on beef imports from the EU. Do you suppose that they will care that a van load ends up in Dungiven? They will only care about a container load on the way to Reading. Best place to catch that – Larne.

  • Oriel27

    As a border resident who lives just off that very road you talk about in Monaghan, i can tell you any hindrance to people’s daily movements will not be tolerated. As before, they will be blown apart.

  • Oriel27

    Arlene’s homeplace is within 5 mile from the Monaghan border. A border would hinder the movements of her own people to their natural hinterland of Clones (as it did in the past).

  • Oriel27

    complete rubbish. utter complete rubbish. In my youth my own road was cratered. it was always filled in my the locals. There is nothing that will bring the GFA crashing down as fast than to hinder peoples movements within their natural hinterland.

  • Oriel27

    Caledon Road to Glasslough was finally opened in October 2010. The bridge over the blackwater was gone for near 35 years.

  • Tochais Siorai

    And most likely cratered by the British Army not the local council or road services?

  • Thomas Barber

    I wouldn’t care too much about the matter Oriel Brexit wont actually happen without the consent of all devolved regions of the UK.to the required changes before it can happen –

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201516/ldselect/ldeucom/138/138.pdf

  • Oriel27

    I really hope you are right Thomas, by the grace of god, scene will prevail. There was nothing wrong with the status-quo. I cross the border (if one even notices it), 2 times everyday to work and 2 see my daughter – i dont want to be hindered. The peace process is over, if a border returns.

  • Tochais Siorai

    ‘……It would be roads service to dig up or block off the road at the border…..’

    This would be the roads service quite possibly under the control of a nationalist minister in nationalist controlled council areas (which all are except part of the Armagh border). And, of course almost all of these roads are in nationalist areas.

    Good luck with that.

  • Reader

    This is just a reference to the Common Travel Area, which existed from before the EU and will continue to exist after Brexit.
    Ireland and the UK both have a strong interest in maintaining the CTA, and indeed most of your demands on other topics also depend on the CTA.
    As for the Out, Out, Out speech you offered, the Taioseach will have to give that speech to the EU, as it looks like the Prime Minister fully already agrees.

  • Jollyraj

    “I can tell you any hindrance to people’s daily movements will not be tolerated. As before, they will be blown apart.”

    What exactly are you threatening to do?

  • cu chulainn

    Talk is cheap, the Prime Minister’s agreement will be shown when she produces a concrete plan as to how things will work.

  • Declan Doyle

    Does anybody know just out of interest, roughly how many roads and lane ways actually straddle the border between the six counties and the rest of Ireland?

  • cu chulainn

    What drugs are you on?
    In the past you’d have 40 or 50 troops deployed to block a road and the road would have been reopened before they had all got back to the barracks.
    Any blocking of roads and we are back in 1975.

  • Pasty

    Look if there is border controls put in place then it offers a lot of new opportunities to people here who can then “Help” those people wanting to cross the border and get a little tug boat to Britain across the Irish Sea. The sales of those little lifejackets and childrens blow up dingys will go through the roof and the additional tax from that will enable the NHS to get an additional £350million a week. There is a bright side to all this.

  • cu chulainn

    In a question by Ian Paisley at Westminster in 1984, the then Secretary of State for NI stated there were 285.

  • john millar

    “An EU citizen arriving in Dublin is not recorded”

    I think you will find that all persons arriving have their passports scanned.
    Immigration has an extensive database of when where and how often you have travelled.
    Used for Intel and targeting —–same in UK

  • john millar

    “Ireland and the UK both have a strong interest in maintaining the CTA, and indeed most of your demands on other topics also depend on the CTA.”
    The CTA is a function/consequence of partition. End partition and there is no need or reason for the CTA

  • cu chulainn

    I’ve often arrived at Dublin airport with an Irish passport and it is not scanned and EU citizens must be treated in the same way. Many EU citizens would not even have passport but would be travelling on ID cards.
    I certainly would not be happy if the Irish government were telling London of my movements as I am not a person of interest.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “blown apart”? Are you calling for the return of bombs?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    yes, clearly partition is about to end. That’s what I read too. Must be true.

    Oh wait it’s not.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    On my epic drive through six European countries in 2013, mostly Schengen, there were still plenty of hold-ups: mainly (1) the bloody toll roads then (2) getting stopped and fined about €100 in Slovenia for not having some bizarre road tax permit thing you’re supposed to get there but I hadn’t heard of. People deal with queues and tolls and officialdom all the time all over Europe. It’s not great, but I don’t think it’s Armageddon and it’s certainly pretty unlikely to be onerous in our case, as no one wants it to be.

  • cu chulainn

    The majority of people don’t want anything at all, or at least any more than at present, and their wishes should be respected.

  • lizmcneill

    Good luck sealing that.

  • lizmcneill

    Brexit really is ridiculous. We’re going to have awesome trade deals with Brazil and India, but we can’t drive a mile down the road to go to the shops?