“It’s entirely up to the EU if it wants to undermine the goodwill in Ireland embodied in the Good Friday Agreement by setting up a hard border.
“The British and Irish governments do not want this. They have no need to create it. With a little more than irony, Brussels dominates Dublin and now wants to dominate Belfast. Its imposition of a hard border would be a new form of colonialism in itself.”
Where do these extraordinary words come from? The Daily Mail? The Telegraph? Boris Johnson? Arlene Foster? No: one Doug Nicholls, writing in the Morning Star (October 10 2018). Mr Nicholls is not, it turns, out a member of the European Research Group or the DUP, but a self-styled “socialist” and chair of Trade Unionists Against the EU (TUAEU). Mind you the socialist credentials of anyone associated with TUAEU must be somewhat called into question given that organisation’s record of accepting funding from the ultra-right wing friend of Bannon and Trump, Aaron Banks.
Anyway, it seems to have escaped Mr Nicholls’ notice that the danger of a hard border in Ireland does not originate with the EU but with Britain — or, more precisely, England and the Tories. One of the key provisions of the agreement is that anyone born in Northern Ireland has the right to be a citizen of the UK or Ireland or both. What does that mean under Brexit? Can someone be both an EU citizen and not an EU citizen? Likewise, the agreement underpins human rights through the “complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
The Tory Brexiteers are committed to removing the convention from UK law – in other words to ripping out a core part of the peace settlement. The Belfast agreement is an international treaty, registered with the United Nations. Despite its short comings it has allowed peace and security for twenty years: yet during the referendum campaign it was scarcely discussed and even now Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and the “Labour” disgrace Kate Hoey airily brush it aside as of no significance.
Mr Nicholls’ anti-EU tirade displays typical English post-imperial arrogance towards Ireland: “If no-one in Ireland or Britain wants a hard border, why does the EU want to impose one and what right does it have to do so?” asks Nicholls. This is either a rhetorical question to which he knows the answer, or a demonstration of quite breathtaking ignorance.
People like Mr Nicholls and the editorial team of the Morning Star are all in favour of borders and of restrictions upon free movement — except when it comes to the EU’s one land border with the UK, to be imposed against the wishes of the people of Ireland, North and South, and against the wishes of the EU.
The Brexiteers suggest that the EU should agree that a 500km external border with more than 200 crossing points should be be unpoliced. People and goods should pass over it without hindrance. Smugglers and gun-runners should be allowed to go about their business unmolested. Small companies will not have customs checks; large ones will operate solely on trust: they will voluntarily declare the goods they have moved and pay their duties afterwards. US beef (hormone-enhanced, of course), Australian lamb, Chinese steel and Indian cars could be imported into Belfast, sent an hour down the road to Dundalk and exported tariff-free to France, Germany or any other EU country.
The only way to stop this happening would be in effect to make Ireland itself a semi-detached member of the EU with all Irish exports subjected to customs controls at EU ports. And if the EU and Ireland refuse to agree to this, whose fault will it be, according to Mr Nicholls and his friends at the Morning Star? Why, the EU’s, of course!
If the Brexiters’ demands to take back control of immigration to the UK are meant seriously, the border would have to be heavily policed to keep EU migrants who have lawfully entered the Republic from moving into the UK. And it will run between Newry and Dundalk, between Letterkenny and Derry. The Dublin-Belfast train will have to stop for passport controls. Never mind that May’s contortions on Ireland come down to the fact that her “red lines” on the Customs Union and Single Market, flatly contradict her “red line” that there can be no hard border in Ireland, and similarly no new border down the Irish Sea. These conditions are not reconcilable.
If Britain, including Northern Ireland has different standards and regulations in relation to goods and services circulating inside its borders, either produced in whole or in part, inside its borders, or imported from elsewhere in the world, then it is clear that the EU will need to undertake checks on all of those goods and services, before they are allowed into the EU, to ensure that they comply with EU standards.
Never mind that last December, in order to give a guarantee that there would be no hard border, Theresa May agreed a “backstop” position based upon enabling Northern Ireland to remain inside the Customs Union and Single Market and that, despite reiterating this commitment in March, May is now reneging upon it under pressure from the DUP and her own hard-line Brexiteers. Never mind that May’s claim that no British Prime Minister “could possibly agree to Northern Ireland being separated from the rest of the UK” is patent nonsense, given that the UK does have different laws and regulations in Northern Ireland already with regard to gay marriage and abortion rights.
The Little Englanders who comprise the Tory Government and the Brexiteer movement didn’t think about Ireland during the referendum campaign because they don’t care about Ireland. They articulated their vision for Brexit — a brave new world in which all of their fervent nationalistic delusions would become reality — and expect the Irish (North and South) to simply roll over and let them get on with it. The wails of despair you now hear from senior Tories and their supporters, as the reality of securing Brexit proves much more difficult than merely holding a referendum, is the sound of those dreams dying. Meanwhile, the pro-Brexit “left” like Mr Nicholls and the Morning Star join in with the wailing, blaming Johnny Foreigner in Brussels and the ungrateful Irish in Dublin.
• The author would like to acknowledge the enormous debt he owes to Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times, by far the best-informed writer on Brexit and its effects on relations between Ireland and Britain.