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Barnier, Border and Brexit: A Game of Cynics by Brussels

Michel Barnier seems hell bent on imposing an internal border in Ireland if there is a no-deal Brexit. It’s the same old EU song: using the Irish border to try to disrupt Brexit, with hints of a return to Irish Border terrorism unless Brussels gets its way. In reality, North/South trade in manufactured goods can be easily managed by means of trusted trader status and is a non-event in terms of difficulty. All that is required is a UK system of export licences to control what is actually carried across the land border into the Republic, as suggested last August by former senior EU Commission official Sir Jonathan Faull:

Brexit: Backstop plan by Sir Jonathan Faull dismissed by EU, BBC NI, 27 Aug 2019

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-49488844

“Under this proposal it will be a violation of UK law backed up by severe penalties knowingly to export, through the frontier between the North and the Republic, goods which do not comply with the regulatory standards of the EU.”

If the Irish Government does not like such a reasonable offer, then they could lump it and/or erect their own border control posts on behalf of the EU. Sales to the Irish Republic make up only 6 per cent of sales by businesses in Northern Ireland, and the goods exported across the land border comprise only 7 per cent of the GDP of the province, and probably involve a similar fraction of its businesses; and the goods carried across the Irish land border into EU territory constitute a mere 0.1 per cent of UK GDP.

Northern Ireland goods exports to the Republic in 2016 = £2.4 billion, not all of which were driven across the land border, compared to NI GVA of £34.4 billion = 7%, and compared to UK GVA of £1666 billion = 0.14%. So why has the UK government decided that numerous other businesses, not just in Northern Ireland but also in the rest of the UK, must be dragged into an ill-designed, cumbersome and expensive system to protect the EU Single Market, when the obvious solution is to apply any necessary restrictions just to those businesses that actually export across the border?

“Brussels playing games with Irish sea border” is the title of an important article by Northern Ireland journalist Newton Emerson in the Irish Times on Thursday, 4 June. In his article Mr Emerson points out that four-fifths of all grocery spending in Northern Ireland takes place in just three supermarket chains: Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda. Tesco and Asda have one distribution centre each in the region: Tesco in the Belfast Harbour Estate and Asda by the Port of Larne. Sainsbury’s model is even simpler, with one huge distribution centre in East Kilbride serving Scotand and Northern Ireland. So most imported goods roll off ferries to be sorted in one place, effectively on the quayside, before arriving in store straight from loading bay to ship.

The EU is making heavy weather over Irish sea border controls. As Newton Emerson says, the EU is continuing to use the Irish border as a bargaining chip. It is significant that Barnier felt obliged to respond to Emerson’s article the following Saturday (Irish Times, 6 June) as follows:

Regarding Mr Emerson’s concerns… I would say that we can take into account those concerns within the framework as it’s currently written because it’s written in a very precise way… Simplified declarations can be used for large economic operators, supermarkets being one of of them.

NB. The most important point in Newton Emerson’s article below is its last two sentences. In the light of these there can be no excuse for the new Government in Dublin not seeing that Barnier is bullying this State and this country. If the Dublin politicians want to let that happen, so be it. If border posts go up, the world won’t cave in. Violence won’t resume in the North and the technical solutions that Dublin has been saying were impossible will be quickly found to be possible. It will just mean that the South’s ultra-europhile politicians will be setting themselves up to be all the more discredited in the eyes of the public as things finally play out.

 The EU’s approach to Northern Ireland has been dangerously cynical from the outset. Whatever excuse there might still be for that, there is no longer any excuse for not seeing it.

https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/newton-emerson-brussels-playing-games-with-irish-sea-border-1.4269775

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