We can’t go back to the “borders of the past” has been a constant political refrain on all sides in the Brexit debate. And we probably won’t, at least not in the way most people think of the old Irish Border, as a security checkpoint with watchtowers and soldiers. But a report published during the week points to what a border of the future might look like after Brexit, and that is none too pretty either. As Boris Johnson seemingly heads towards 10 Downing Street with a mandate from his party to “just get on with it”–as he put it in Friday’s BBC interview– the danger is that he is prepared to take the risks this involves.
There is simply no way around the border dilemma. If Northern Ireland leaves the EU trading bloc, then goods and animals need to be checked entering the Republic – as part of the EU single market. Speaking in Dublin this week, the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson called on the Dublin Government to enter talks with the DUP to find a way forward.
But no way exists which combines the kind of Brexit which the DUP has supported with the absence of a trade Border on the island. A time-limit on the backstop would only be a fig-leaf covering over the real issues and would inevitably sets up risks and uncertainty for the future. Now the EU insists there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement and so the collision course is set, when the new UK prime minister heads to Brussels and starts banging the table about the backstop.
The latest report to set out the consequences of a no-deal for the Irish Border was published by the North’s Department of Economic Development and written by Michael Lux, who headed the European Commission’s directorate general for tax and customs for 25 years and Eric Pickett, a German lawyer specialising in customs, trade and WTO law. The department itself said its conclusions are a “sobering reflection” on the limited options available in relation to border trade in the event of a no-deal Brexit.