If there is to be a hard border, it will be the EU that imposes it, say the British

No surprise then that little new has emerged in the British paper on the border.

It’s right that as we shape the unprecedented model, we have some very clear principles. Top of our list is to agree upfront no physical border infrastructure – that would mean a return to the border posts of the past and is completely unacceptable to the UK.”

What has become a bit clearer is a key point that the expected chorus of  critics from British Remainers and all of Irish nationalism chose to ignore  – that as far as the UK government is concerned,  if there is to be a hard border  it will be the EU that will impose it.

Whitehall officials told The Telegraph that the EU will be legally responsible for any hard border imposed after Brexit and insisted that the UK is determined to be flexible on the issue.

The British have always talked about a ” bespoke ” or ” unprecedented” deal  and believe they have to heft to win it. This remains to be seen. But merely scorning the British position from the point of view of  formal EU rules and almost wanting the negotiations to fail  is not a useful response and ignores the EU’s unrivalled ability to fudge and accommodate.

So the real border solutions will be deferred until later in the negotiations . But will the EU regard the week’s sequence of papers as “sufficient progress” to allow the Article 50 negotiations to continue?  If not we all have a huge problem.

So far official  reactions from Dublin Brussels has been prudently cautious. Position papers do not constitute a negotiation result.

The border paper follows on logical from yesterdays’ paper of a temporary  customs arrangement and the off the record reactions have been cool to say the least.

The real test of progress will be made when the  EU heads of government meet to review it in October.


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  • Korhomme

    These proposals, with the more general border proposals from yesterday, are seen by many as an exercise in maintaining control and discipline in the Tory party, particularly among the ‘swivel-eyed loons’. They are also seen as an attempt to keep Theresa May in office, and to give Liam Fox a job. The International Trade Secretary is unable to negotiate trade agreements as long as the UK is within the Customs Union. (And he is often referred to as the ‘disgraced former Defence Secretary’.)

    And, why didn’t we see any proposals such as these before the referendum?

  • The Saint

    This is just going on circles now. The britishers change the rules and then attempt to place the blame at the door of those wanting to retain the status quo.

  • noodles

    How do you square ‘taking back control of our borders’ and ‘EU will be responsible for any hard border’ – unless you have special status for NI and that is ruled out. Somebody could be accused of lacking seriousness, and of serial can kicking.

  • Kevin Breslin

    “A return to the border posts of the past and is completely unacceptable to the UK.”

    Nice spin for “futuristic border posts”. Empty words that lack any measures of feasibility.

  • Oriel27

    And after all of this ‘coded talk’ my interpretation is, the 6 counties, after a vote, can automatically join the south and remain part of the EU if there is any detriment to businesses in the future.

  • Zorin001

    Or before triggering Article 50? Or even before or during the election campaign?

  • epg_ie

    Slugger is of course an objectively pro-DUP, pro-Leave website, in the sense that its public articulations are designed to have the effect of criticising or demeaning opponents of said right-wing tendencies.

    But objectively, nobody’s “ignoring” the UK’s points. We simply don’t agree with them. Your beloved UK is leaving the customs union. You don’t want to be in the customs union. You want Brexit. You want the border. Bye.

  • ted hagan

    Who is ‘we’ and who is ‘you’?

  • ted hagan

    I don’t know about ‘keeping May in office’. It appears to me the knives are out in an ‘every man for himself’ scramble for the leadership that is tearing the Tories apart.

  • Zeno

    That was confirmed with the EU by Enda Kenny in April.

  • Briso

    On 19th March 2019, the Northern Ireland border becomes an EU external border with a third country. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

    Our current Eastern border countries are Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Turkey. Few crossings, heavily regulated but not many unapproved crossings anyway, for historical reasons. Plenty of these are closed off though.

    The Balkans is maybe a better place to see what will happen. When new countries have joined in the past, they have sometimes had to harden borders which were pretty open before. I think the best example is the Croatia – Bosnia – Croatia border between Split and Dubrovnik. On the Croatian side of both border crossings, new buildings to manage cross border traffic. On the Bosnian side, nothing. (take a look on google maps https://www.google.it/maps/@42.9386137,17.5811249,551m/data=!3m1!1e3 ). The responsibility for protecting the EU border eventually lies with the EU member state.

    If the UK does not play ball, then Ireland and the other member states can veto the whole deal, but it won’t change the fact of the EU external border. It will require border posts which are physically manned by the Irish, irrespective of what UK decides to do (and don’t doubt it, the UK will put up physical infrastructure too if Ireland is in and UK is out). Don’t forget that a similar catastrophe awaits Dover port. Most of the problems have nothing to do with customs, but are non-tariff barriers essentially removed by the single market, to emerge all of a sudden on Brexit day.

    As far as I can see, the only way out of this mess is for UK to join EFTA/EEA, the so called Norway option. Otherwise the future is grim.

  • Brian Kann

    The basic problem I see, as a lawyer specialised in EU law in particular, is that none of the UK’s proposals seem to take any of the existing EU legal frameworks and principles into account. Actually, they seem to be drafted as dream scenarios for the UK, in willful ignorance of whatever principles the EU must operate within. Great for the UK; ridiculous for the EU to even consider.

    I’d take the Customs Union first as the border proposals seem to be flow secondary from this. That union would simply fall apart if exceptions were made for any member country to strike its own trade and customs deals, never mind one that is just “on its way out” of it. What’s to stop France say, from now wanting its own customs agreement with say, Asian countries? Or Poland with a neighbouring country such as the Ukraine? Allowing a massive exception to import controls on goods from third countries for an economy such as the UK, whether by “trusted trader” schemes or magic (and currently not even available) IT solutions would also fatally undermine the key principle of the Customs Union: together as one, we are many times stronger. Say for example the UK strikes a deal with Australia, allowing it to import lead-based paint. This is actually banned within the EU on health grounds by virtue of the Paints Directive (yes, there is one, which the UK has even transposed it into its own national law!): the UK is essentially asking the EU to trust it to police this on its behalf and prevent any non-EU law compliant products such as this from entering and circulating freely its market. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands of shipments, every week, and by thousands of different product standards and rules of origins requirements that are intrinsic conditions of the union. You can see how none of this could ever work and why the Irish Border plans become central to all of this.

    Also, being out of the Single Market means no freedom of movement from the UK to the EU. Has the UK considered that this means that any bespoke customs union would have serious limitations in any case? Take Turkey for example, where goods may travel past EU inspection posts (once correctly labelled and processed) but the people driving them cannot – unless they have a special transit visa. So would this mean that lorries in the UK would have to pass over their cargo at Dover/Calais, for them then to be picked up by French haulers from there on in? How on earth is this sort of infrastructure going to be set up and funded? Does NI get “special status” in this respect – and how can this be done without creating a dual economy in NI’s case?

    I respect the UUP’s statement that we can’t start ridiculising every British suggestion as some sort of anti-UK narrative. But equally, people have a right to criticise the UK government if after more than a year of supposedly planning this, it comes up with half-baked, unworkable and perhaps even time-wasting nonsense and then simply sets the scene for blaming the EU for not accepting it, with NI and ROI presumably collateral damage in its eyes.

    The rules and consequences of leaving the EU were too easily dismissed during the referendum debate as somehow inapplicable in the UK’s case – conveniently and perhaps decisively for those arguing for Brexit. These proposals will likely be soundly rejected across the board, and then what? At what point does the UK accept some accountability for changing the status quo here and the consequences that come from that?

  • Kevin Breslin

    To be fair to slugger, it is a debating platform … we know most of the readers here don’t agree with this side of the story but it still needs to be heard.

    Even Doug Beatie said he’ll believe the invisible border only when he sees it. I’m every bit with him on that.

    To me it would be better for the British government to say what they did when they lead the Remain campaign, that they don’t know what to do and any approach they are going to take is experimental not revolutionary.

    They are pathetically trying to calm the markets as an excuse to dismiss the concerned people, but at the end of the day the concerned people are the markets in my opinion. The most relevant markets to this international trade and Brexit turns border workers and border suppliers into international traders overnight.

    We all heard the same Boris bus promises, not even the DUP trust this government fully to deliver, you can hear the worry and defensiveness when they speak about it.

    The UK will need to speak candidly and manage expectations in the future, because Northern Ireland born out of a political Covenant, may die as a result of the Ultimate Betrayal.

  • Kevin Breslin

    They were wishful thinking then, and they’re wishful thinking now.

    I don’t want to rain on Britain’s parade here, but there has to be a political partnership on customs and technological updates to avoid hard customs posts.

    You cannot blame the European Union for not designing the British side of the border to be easy.

    Engineering works on constrained optimisation, not idealism.

  • Kevin Breslin

    What we need is for Donald Trump not to blame both sides on Charlotteville, but rather to blame both sides here.

  • Barbazenzero

    Why? The UK government wrote the EU referendum act more than 2 years ago and refused any Swiss-style approach of requiring both a majority of people and polities. They have had more than a year to figure out what to do. It’s 100% a problem for the Con party to solve.

  • Dan2

    Leo better get back from Chicago and draw up his plans.
    The onus is on him.

  • A Bit Left and a Bit Lost

    Great post. It’s the nitty, gritty details that could scupper a successful Brexit. The rhetoric of the senior Tories will soon hit the brick wall of German engineered bureaucracy and fastidious approach to detail.

    I don’t think the UK is prepared for all the “NO”s and “that won’t work”s it will get when the serious negotiations begin…

  • lizmcneill

    “We want to have the cake and eat the cake!”

    “….It’s all the EU’s fault we have no cake now!”

  • lizmcneill

    Aren’t most of the people who cross the border frequently Nationalists and thus would have already claimed their Irish citizenship?

  • ted hagan

    Perhaps the Tories are merely going through the motions as the hard right of the party prepares to steer Britain towards a walkout and a ‘no deal’ scenario?
    Such is the pickle they are in, it seems to me impossible to negotiate a withdrawal and the Tories will eventually use the cover of ‘at least we tried’..

  • ted hagan

    A ‘Yes’ vote, that is.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well you can argue the DUP share some of the responsibility.

  • Aurozeno

    This will be the deal breaker , seems to me the UK are trying to isolate the ROI from the rest of the EU and keep it blanketed within its own economic sphere. I doubt the EU will abandon ROI to this fate. Its one of two things either NI stays in the customs union or the EU will erect a very hard border as the UK crashes out without a deal , in the latter case the border would not be up for very long .

  • Kevin Breslin

    A case of we got you into this mess, you should get us out?

  • Barbazenzero

    OK. I agree with that point.

  • Barbazenzero

    The NI position paper is now on gov.uk here.

  • Barbazenzero

    The NI position paper is now here.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    The same thought has also crossed my mind ! It is all political cosmetics ?

  • Smyth

    No Liz – and I’m completely bemused by your comment. I cross the border almost daily – to visit my Dad – and I’m not a ‘nationalist’. My sister and husband cross the border to work – they aren’t ‘nationalists’either. I often travel behind lorries, vans and buses. I don’t know if their drivers/ occupants are nationalists. I do know (from childhood experience) that stopping to be checked along that road will be unworkable – Irish passport or not.

  • Brian Walker

    Brian, let me go through this. First, I’m an extreme Brexit sceptic generally and I’m convinced Brexit bodes nothing but bad for Ireland N and S. But rather than endlessly play the Cassandra which many in Ireland do so instinctively being historically suspicious of British aims and intentions , let’s give the headlines of the optimistic view of Brexit.

    Like so many in Ireland you neglect Brexit’s exceptional character and the genuinely two-way nature of the negotiations. People are wrongly treating the rules as gospel and the commission as at least the Holy Spirit.. History suggests otherwise when the chips are down.

    Next, there is a fundamental difference between the UK leaving the EU with standards and trade rules presently in common and an EU country negotiating with a third country outside.

    In bidding for free trade arrangements with EU 26 the UK likes to think it has solved the literal border question and it’s over the EU to set obstacles in its path I agree this sounds too good to be true but it emphasises that the game isn’t onesided.

    The UK must continue to harmonise its standards and trading rules with the EU unless it sees a clear advantage in doing otherwise. So what happens if the UK wants to strike a deal with a third country where standards differ? What would happen for the UK is what happens now with the EU; a deal is struck where the balance of advantage lies. But that is unknown until the UK can see the shape of a deal outside the EU. That could become a big problem for the talks over the next couple of months but it’s so obvious problem that ways through must already be worked on. On the island of Ireland for example the UK must surely propose essential harmonisation for the integrated energy and agriculture markets.

    On freedom of movement for non-British and non-Irish, the present line of formal EU rigidity looks doubtful after the German elections. But even if it eases less than hoped for, UK immigration aims are modifying already. While they are some way from devising agreed categories with minimum bureaucracy you can feel them groping towards a solution.

    The best British argument on Ireland it seems to me, is that you can’t settle the border question until you settle trade. That’s why the two part customs offer is worth developing. The EU may compromise on their rules and the UK yield on the ECJ or both agree to parallel jurisdictions. Both sides will play their cards closer than the rhetoric implies in order to make compromises later. I agree that it may not seem to be worth all the effort and energy. On the other hand I don’t see how either side can afford to fail

  • mac tire

    It is the UK that is leaving even though the EU would rather it stayed.

    The onus is on the UK. They have created the problem and issues and it is they who must bring real solutions, not the nonsense ‘position paper’ they released today.

  • runnymede

    I see the EU Commission has produced a response to the UK position paper equally illogical to the one it produced to yesterday’s paper.

    #Brexit -On Ireland, we must discuss how to maintain Common Travel Area&protect Good Friday Agreement before looking at technical solutions


  • John Stafford

    There is a fundamental flaw in your assessment, the EU is already a comprise of 28 Member states.
    A further comprise to suit a country putting itself outside the EU because the rules do not suit that country will be a step to far.
    You few the EU as a monolith, when in fact its the rules that make the EU work, so any change to the rules is a big issue.

  • lizmcneill

    Requirements before implementation? What’s illogical about that?

  • lizmcneill

    Just considering the demographics of the border areas. Worrying about whether goods drivers from NI have the right to enter the EU seems like a minor problem.

  • Dan2

    Continue to kid yourselves, but the EU, if it’s going to be arsey, will be the one’s looking the border checks. Hope Leo has his plans drawn up

  • Kevin Breslin


  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    And who is Chris Donnelly? And what is the real meaning of ‘objectively’?

  • Kevin Breslin
  • nilehenri

    basically you’re hoping that europe will ‘back down’. they won’t, because that’s not how europe works and shows one of the fundamental misunderstandings of ‘brexit think’. europe just has to say ‘no’ until both sides reach an agreement that is to europe’s satisfaction. an agreement which scotland has to ratify first. good luck with that on.
    regarding their respective positions, ireland produced a document several hundred pages long and have been at the forefront of the argument while so far england has published a wishy list that is clearly a sop to the hard right of the tory party. this just gets better and better.

  • Cal Cryton

    The British might want to remember that we Irish can veto their transition deal, as well as veto the future EU-UK trade deal simply by not ratifying it in the Dail.

    And before you say that would be shooting ourselves in the foot, take a look at the latest trade figures. IN 2016 just 11% of ROI exports went to the UK, and just 1% went to NI. Just 1%…..We’re not going to sacrifice our position within the EU customs union due to 1% of trade. The British better start their grovelling now.

  • hgreen

    Why will the EU be wanting to impose checks again on a tiny economy within the UK when it can do this at the European EU ports and airports?

  • runnymede

    Wrong I’m afraid, there is no such veto.

  • runnymede

    It’s illogical because technical factors will determine to a large extent how the border can be organised.

    The EU is trying to box the UK in by putting the cart before the horse.

  • Cal Cryton

    Why do you say that. Ireland is one of the 3 top priorities to be sorted before a transition deal is possible, that gives Ireland veto power. And all 27 states need to ratify any future EU-UK trade deal.

  • Zeno

    Do those trade figures include the Multi Nationals?
    Ireland had to redo how their economy was measured because the Multi Nationals were making it look silly. Like this..

    They don’t make anything in Ireland or sell anything from Ireland, just book their European and Australian sales through a small Irish Office and those billions are added to Irish Exports obviously.

  • Cal Cryton

    They are the official trade figures for Ireland and include everything. The multinationals employ hundreds of thousands of people in the ROI, with hundreds of manufacturing plants and they buy tens of billions of local goods and services every year. So you are being nonsensical to exclude them.

    Or you can exclude them, but you’d have to exclude Bombardier from NI, Nissan In Sunderland and all the foreign banks in London from the UK figure.

  • Oriel27

    Exactly. The British know they have far more to loose by pissing the Irish off than the unionists. All ready the unionists have been sold.

  • Trasna

    It will be a border around the Irish sea.

  • Zeno

    What date is on the figures?
    It wasn’t me that excluded them it was the Irish Government in a bid to prevent being called a Leprechaun Economy. Counting Googles 17 billion as an export skews the figures and Google is only one example.
    The 1st set of adjusted figures came out in July.

  • Cal Cryton

    2016. Where did you get 17 billion in exports from Google? Anyway, Google employ 6,000 in Dublin. Why wouldn’t we count Google exports, Google Europe is an Irish company.

    They did it because monthly figures were distorted by multinational flows. You are not a Central Banker so you don’t need to go into that much detail.

  • Kevin Breslin
  • Zeno

    Moving up one place from its previous year’s ranking, Google recorded a 36.5pc increase in export turnover to E17bn.
    Microsoft Ireland’s export turnover came to E15bn).

    That was in the link, you obviously didn’t read it.
    Figures from 2016 are out of date and have been replaced by a new measuring system to stop the Leprechaun Economics accusations.
    So your figures obviously include google who manufacture nothing in Ireland, sell nothing from Ireland and pay next to no tax in Ireland. That and the rest who do similar has has to be removed from exports.

  • Cal Cryton

    You really don’t get the modern tech economy do you. Google employ 6,000 in Ireland in all sorts of areas, including engineering, research, sales, business development etc. It’s time you Orangemen moved into the 21st century, metal bashing and ship building are not going to help you.

  • Zeno

    First, there is a Rule here that says,
    Slugger O’Toole Comment Policy

    Remember: “play the ball and not the man”, so we can allow free play for diverse ideas without hinderance.
    I’m not an Orangeman or even a loyalist.
    3rd It wasn’t me that decided to exclude the Multi Nationals from the figures, it was the Irish Government and they were right to do so.

  • Brian Kann

    Brian: any reason why my comment is in the moderators sinbin?

  • Trasna

    No surprise then that the UK are using Ireland for leeway. Announcing no borders means jackshyte to the EU. Will the Irish ever learn when dealing with the UK? Ireland should now agree to leave the border issue until trade deal has been struck. Let’s face it, the DUP are all over this silly anouncement and if they think they can drag Ireland into UK”s orbit, they need to be made think again.

    To help them on their way, Ireland should leave the CTA and agree to a very hard border and join Schegwen, thereby making it easier for the EU.

  • lizmcneill

    If we work backwards from what’s possible at the border, the logical conclusion is to stay in the customs union.

  • Reader

    Trasna: Ireland should now agree to leave the border issue until trade deal has been struck.
    But it was Ireland that was delighted to get itself listed as one of the 3 preliminary items on the agenda; and the EU that insisted that trade cannot be discussed until everything else was sorted out.
    Could you guys get your act together?

  • Brian Kann

    Thanks -slugger doesn’t seem to think so as the comment has been hidden “for moderstion” for some reason 😉