A border down the Irish Sea is a straw man

The Times of London lead “Irish want sea border after Brexit”  is probably plugging a line from Dublin harder than it deserves, in claiming that the Irish government under  new leadership is calling for  an economic border down the Irish Sea as the only viable alternative to an unacceptable  hardening of the  land border.

Sir Jeffrey immediately shot down that kite on behalf of the DUP on the Today programme, (although BBC NI’s habitually sleepy news website has yet to catch up). That in its way would appear to be definitive for at least the two years of the Conservative-DUP pact.

The story has surfaced along with signs of impatience in Brussels at alleged British  underpreparedness in the opening rounds of the negotiations. But as Brexit Secretary David Davis has pointed out: how can the issue of the Irish border be settled when trade talks have yet to begin, as required by the  EU’s own agenda which the British have now apparently accepted?

The looser British approach with Barnier is beginning  to look as much as a negotiating tactic as a sign of cabinet divisions, a view reinforced by the Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s  Today progamme interview today  (yes, Sir Jeffrey had an airtime competitor) when he answered  nearly every question  by saying that was a matter for negotiations which have barely begun.The tactic may be designed to reveal that the EU’s step by step approach is overly mechanistic and ignores the interdependence of many themes. While he holds to the line that the UK will leave the single market and the custom union by 2019 it will be succeeded  at least temporarily by something very like them.

Hammond appears to be in the driving seat. He looked forward to a transition period of up to five years which although he didn’t refer to it, would give more time to settle the border question.

The FT reports Hammond’s position as follows:

Mr Hammond said he wants a “standstill” transition leaving companies with full access to the single market and customs union, followed by a further “implementation phase” while a new, UK-specific trade accord is put in place. The chancellor believes it would be a waste of time and political capital trying to persuade the EU to adopt a new legal framework for an interim agreement, according to government officials and business people who have discussed the idea with him in recent days.

The push by Mr Hammond follows a softer line on immigration outlined by Amber Rudd, home secretary, this week and signals growing confidence among backers of a “soft Brexit” that they are gaining the upper hand over hardliners. Mr Hammond and Brexit secretary David Davis are edging towards a transition deal on terms broadly laid down by Brussels.

One British official said the government would seek a “swift, broad and simple” deal. The EU says the only transition model offering single market access it would accept would see Britain stripped of voting rights and influence in Brussels but obliged to accept European Court rulings, free movement rules and budget contributions. In a dramatic shift in cabinet thinking on the issue, Eurosceptic ministers including Michael Gove and Liam Fox have indicated they are prepared to accept such conditions for a time-limited period in the interests of a business-friendly exit.

This  ought to be good news for Dublin. What the Times story doesn’t mention  is that it’s as much up to the EU as the Brits to ensure that a “frictionless” border works.

From the Times story

The British government had proposed using technology such as surveillance cameras to allow continued free trade between the north and south of the island. Dublin called on British ministers to come up with new ideas that guaranteed absolute freedom of movement of goods and people across Ireland, irrespective of any wider Brexit deal.

The Irish government’s preferred option is for customs and immigration checks to be located away from the land border and at ports and airports instead — effectively drawing a new border in the Irish sea.

The move would antagonise the Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up the Conservative government and is at loggerheads with Sinn Fein over a power-sharing deal in Belfast. The DUP would object to any implication that Northern Ireland was not being treated as part of the UK. Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, told his European counterparts that the republic “cannot and will not” accept the return of a hard border after Brexit and specifically took aim at the idea of solving the problem using technology. A Whitehall source said: “There is a new taoiseach and a new foreign minister and they’re stamping their authority. We’re being as positive as we can but it’s true to say that their attitude has hardened.”

The issue of the 310-mile Irish border has been thrown into sharp relief by Mrs May’s commitment to leave the customs union after Brexit, as it would become a potential smuggling route. Neither government wants a situation that would be reminiscent of the checkpoints that operated during the Troubles. In February The Times reported that Irish officials were working on technical solutions including the use of surveillance cameras.

In a significant departure from that position, Mr Coveney told a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers: “What we do not want to pretend is that we can solve the problems of the border on the island of Ireland through technical solutions like cameras and pre-registration and so on. That is not going to work.”



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  • Damien Mullan

    I think the significance Adams may have been drawing, though I wouldn’t want to be putting words in peoples mouths, is not the death but the life of Collins. Or rather, the life achievements of Collins, which I think most would agree were fairly eventful and significant, at least as far as the struggle to remove British rule in five-sixths of the island of Ireland is concerned.

    Tis I think the ‘Life’ that matters most, after all, most biographers don’t title their efforts as ‘A Death’, it’s rather the more familiar, ‘A Life’. And what ‘A Life’ Collins’s had.

  • Roger

    Authentic or otherwise, UKNI is a 96 year old reality. Let’s not entertain illusions.

  • Trasna

    It’s not entirely up to you though, is it?

    What’s with the stupid UKNI? Is it akin to Team Britain?

  • Damien Mullan

    Until such time as the people self-determine it otherwise, as the GFA outlines. Lets be equally as clear, on one seriously suggests that you can abolish the country of Scotland, or Wales, or England, or Ireland, but northern Ireland, well it’s abolition is outlined in the GFA.

    Let that just sink in and then come back to me without the hysteria and feigned outrage. No other portion of the UK has that existential damocles sword perpetually hanging over it. NI is therefore profoundly different in the most illustrative way than any other portion of the UK.

  • Tochais Siorai

    When was Heather Humphries ever a Unionist?

  • Damien Mullan

    What I stated was heritage and background, that’s why I stated family history. Her grandfather signed the Ulster Covenant which she expounded on last year when referring to the inclusive nature of the 1916/2016 commemorations. It was a juxtaposition she herself alluded to, her family heritage and background, and her being the culture minister presiding over the commemorations.

  • Roger

    I seem to recall UKSCOT had a secession referendum not so very long ago…

    As for the ‘GFA’ and the secession referenda it contemplates, the Belfast Agreement laid down a far more cumbersome and challenging route for any secession of UKNI than the UK’s Ireland Act of nearly 50 years before.

    Remember too, there is no ‘people’ having a say under the BA. It’s ‘peoples’.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There may be multiple “Morocco-Spain” borders, but it’s mostly the same rules for transit.

  • Damien Mullan

    “Remember too, there is no ‘people’ having a say under the BA. It’s ‘peoples’.”

    That hardly makes sense, as it could easily work in reverse, and we’d be presently living in an entity that had neither Irish nor UK jurisdiction. So that’s that one dealt with.

    As I seem to recall they were voting on abolishing the Union of Great Britain, it was Great Britain and it’s successor, the UK, that was for the chop in that referendum, not Scotland.

  • Georgie Best

    Alan N/Ards I think there is no doubt that unionists can be part of the Irish nation. I think too though that if they do not respect the interests of the Irish nation in any way then they have themselves withdrawn from that birthright.

  • Roger

    I could not understand your second para.

    They were voting on secession from the United Kingdom. You could have a look back at the question put to the people. It was very much along the lines as put to people in South Sudan or Montenegro in comparatively recent times. Nothing particularly unique about it.

  • The Saint

    I’m finding your posts fascinating, I myself a northern Nationalist. I do think there is a place for unionist thought in a potential united Ireland. There must be to make the new state functional. I think there are many many positives bringing that alternative thinking, skill set and alliances into a new vision for the Island would be facinating. A new mutual respect, shared symbols,reimagined governance and identity protected.

  • Damien Mullan

    It actually was, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

    Not, Should Scotland seceded from the UK?

    Effectively they were being asked to undo the Act of Union of 1707. Much like how the UK will ultimately withdraw from the EU when they repeal the European Communities Act 1972.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    Fair enough then that Irish nationalists (who clearly don’t respect the interests of this nation) should also have that birthright removed?

  • Roger

    That’s exactly what I thought they were asked. Much the same as South Sudan and Montenegro, recent examples. All 3 electorates including UKSCOT’s were being asked if they wanted their territory to secede from the state of which they were part. There’s no difference between any of the 3.

    The EU is an international organization and not a state.

  • Damien Mullan

    Mightily thorough you indeed are. Answering questions I never asked.

    You extrapolate from my correct interpretation of the UK Parliament’s legislative processes, by which to make effective the outcomes of a successful Scottish Independence referendum, had it come to pass, and the legislative process by which Brexit will ultimately be enacted, the juxtaposition of intergovernmental institutions with statehood, a point which I was not intending to make or juxtapose.

    I don’t think I gave much credence to, ‘Independence Day 2 – Rise of the Bullingdon Boys’, a la the suggestion of Nigel Farage, which I took instinctively as being the boll**ks I knew it was.

  • Roger

    We don’t really need to get into it but suspect you may have difficulties distinguishing between municipal and international law. Every territory that secedes from a state is the subject of legislation. But whatever the legislation is called, the territory is seceding. And any pre-secession referendum is about whether to secede.

    Bougainville is coming up. It’ll be the same thing. UKSCOT was no different though outcome was against.

  • Damien Mullan

    I think you mean the difference between de jure (“in law”) and de facto (“in fact” or “in practice”) as it pertains to law and government.

    The correct legal reference is encompassed by both de jure and de facto. Those cases in which there is no legislation setting out procedural separation de facto, and those that do set a legal framework for separation de jure.

    “Most sovereign states are states de jure and de facto (i.e., they exist both in law and in reality). However, a state may be recognised only as a de jure state, in that it is recognised as being the legitimate government of a territory over which it has no actual control. For example, during the Second World War, governments-in-exile of a number of continental European states continued to enjoy diplomatic relations with the Allies, notwithstanding that their countries were under Nazi occupation. The PLO and Palestinian Authority claim that the State of Palestine is a sovereign state, a claim which has been recognised by most states, though the territory it claims is under the de facto control of Israel. Other entities may have de facto control over a territory but lack international recognition; these may be considered by the international community to be only de facto states. They are considered de jure states only according to their own law and by states that recognise them. For example, Somaliland is commonly considered to be such a state. For a list of entities that wish to be universally recognised as sovereign states, but do not have complete worldwide diplomatic recognition, see the list of states with limited recognition.”


  • Roger

    No I didn’t. I meant what I said. Not something else.

  • Damien Mullan

    Once I read ‘municipal’ in the context of sovereign state formation I knew my leg was being proverbially pulled.