Is the UK remaining in the Customs Union the only answer to the Northern Ireland border question?
Northern Ireland has had no government since March because of a row over a green energy scheme. This gets almost no attention in the rest of the UK.
These two facts together explain so much of the current row over the future border arrangements: the politics of Northern Ireland are both intensely complicated and disgracefully neglected. If Brexiteers are surprised that this is a major issue, then they shouldn’t be – it is a simple piece of logic. Leaving the Customs Union means there have to be checks on goods and people at the Ireland border. In fact, creating hard borders with the EU is the entire logic for leaving.
There is no magical technology that gets around this basic fact, but there is a political solution. Staying in the Customs Union and Single Market would not only solve the border problem – it would secure our trade, boost manufacturing and safeguard jobs across the whole of the UK.
It is not too late to change course.
The answer is not for the UK to remain in the Customs Union, and nor should we make the Irish Sea a customs border – especially with 59 per cent of exports from Northern Ireland going to the rest of the UK.
Technology and common sense are the answer. The border, with its numerous twisting crossing points, has never really been formalised. The issue of people has been solved since 1923 by the Common Travel Area, which will continue.
As for goods, “trusted trader” schemes – for traders who cross the border regularly – are well used on the more formal border between Canada and the US, while non-EU Norway allows for wandering random customs check 15km either side of the border with Finland and Sweden. Automatic number plate recognition works too. But above all, most customs checks are electronic, and completed not at the border but some time before dispatch.
With the right attitudes and flexibility, the customs border issue will be no more than an exaggerated red herring.
November 28th, 2017: CityAM