Brexit and the Future of the Irish Border

Yves here. Politico’s daily European e-mail said: “Katrina Williams (U.K.) and Sabine Weyand (EU) will take charge of Irish border plans, which British Brexit Secretary David Davis said took up more time than any other issue on the first day of the talks.” Even though it’s good that Whitehall is no longer neglecting this issue, the time it took is not a good sign for making progress overall.

By Filippo Biondi, a Research Assistant in the area of innovation and competition policy who was previously a Research Assistant at the Centre for Applied Research on International Markets, Banking, Finance and Regulation of Bocconi University, and Consultant in the Research Division of the European Central Bank. Originally published at Bruegel

The future of the Irish land border has been thrown into uncertainty by Brexit. The UK’s confirmation that it will leave the EU’s single market and customs union implies that customs checks will be needed. However, there is little desire for hard controls from any of the parties involved. This is especially true for Theresa May’s potential partner, the DUP. Creative solutions are needed to reach a solution.

As Brexit negotiations get underway, we still do not know the outcome of the talks between the Conservative Party and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party (DUP), which are being held with the aim to prop up Theresa May’s government after the Conservatives lost their majority at Westminster.

In a previous Bruegel blog about Brexit we concluded that “Northern Ireland represents a small region in the UK (less than 3 per cent in population terms), [so] it may struggle to exert pressure and wield influence in the upcoming negotiations“. But with the Conservatives dependent on the DUP, it now seems likely that Northern Irish issues will attract more attention during the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Indeed, Northern Ireland always deserved this attention, given the significant political, social and economic implications of Brexit for the region.

It is thus worth understanding how this shift may affect the Brexit outcome. The key issue at stake is the Irish land border, so we present the complex (and still unsolved) trade-offs around the future of this border.

The DUP position on Brexit: get the best possible Brexit deal for Northern Ireland

In their political manifesto, the Democratic Unionists listed many objectives for the future relationship with the EU:

  • Ease of trade with the Republic of Ireland and throughout the European Union;
  • Maintenance of the Common Travel Area;
  • Strengthened relationships across the four component parts of the United Kingdom with no internal borders;
  • Full consideration of the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, with a land border with the EU;
  • Progress on new free trade deals with the rest of the world;
  • A frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland assisting those working or travelling in the other jurisdiction;
  • A comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with the European Union;
  • Customs arrangements which facilitate trade with new and existing markets;
  • Arrangements to facilitate ease of movement of people, goods and services;
  • Jurisdiction of European Court of Justice ended and greater control over laws.

They conclude that “the stronger and more positive the agreements reached, especially on trade and customs relationships, then the better for the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland”.

However, this wish list is not internally consistent, in particular regarding the impact on cross-border movement of goods and people.

As noted by Prof Winters, from the UK Trade Policy observatory of the University of Sussex, the current debate is full of weasel words which mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean at the time.  “Customs agreement” is one of those. It typically entails procedures to minimise the waiting times and paperwork associated with crossing the border. “Frictionless border” is another deceptive concept. As noted by academics at Durham, Birmingham and Newcastle Universities, “while it is highly unlikely that a wall will be built on the border, some (and perhaps especially those living close to the border) might consider other types of border checks to be hard. There might be, for example: spot checks on people travelling across the border; restrictions upon the goods that can be taken across the border; duties to declare goods going across the border; the need for work permits; electronic monitoring of border crossings; the presence of some physical checkpoints”.

The shared land border: a thorny dossier in the divorce proceedings

It is estimated that that there are up to 300 major and minor crossings along the contorted 499km border, which meanders through towns, villages, local communities, farms and occasionally houses.

A recent Irish government survey noted that there are now around 200 border crossing points and an estimated 177 000 lorries, 208 000 vans and 1.85 million cars crossing the border every month. Around 30 000 people cross the border each day.

Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which ended more than 30 years of violence, the border has disappeared for all practical purposes. As recognised by the Irish government, “the disappearance of physical border crossings and checkpoints is both a symbol of and a dividend from the success of the peace process”. Now Brexit threatens to bring the physical border back, with its echoes of division and conflict.

No major impediments to the maintenance of the Common Travel Area

No matter the result of the Brexit negotiations, Irish people should continue to have the right to travel, live and work freely in the UK. UK citizens should retain the same rights in Ireland. This is the result of the Common Travel Area (CTA), a bilateral arrangement which long predates Irish and UK membership of the EU.

There is consensus between the UK and Irish Governments that the Common Travel Area arrangements should be retained, and this has been recognised also within the EU Commission’s negotiating directives. Analysis by the Irish authorities has not identified any obvious legal barrier to the CTA being maintained bilaterally in a manner consistent with Ireland’s EU obligations. In particular, Ireland’s non-participation in Schengen would facilitate the continuation of the CTA, because it means that all entrants to the CTA are checked by UK or Irish authorities, even those arriving from EU countries.

These CTA-based freedoms to travel, live and work will apply to British and Irish citizens only. The implications of Brexit for the free movement of EU citizens across the border are another question. But, so long as the UK and EU reach an agreement which at least continues to allow visa-free travel, as is very likely, then EU citizens will be free to visit the UK for a short period for holidays or to conduct business. Thus, looking purely at the movement of people, there should be no need to close the Irish land border to travellers and instigate universal document checks.

As pointed out by Raoul Ruparel, co-director of Open Europe, “border checks from a purely security perspective are already in place since the UK and Ireland are not in Schengen and it seems likely the UK could continue to trust Ireland to enforce the border of the Common Travel Area.” Once people have entered the UK, “the enforcement of ensuring people do not over-stay cannot be at the border but via other mechanisms such as regulating access to social security and the job market.

All the parties want minimum disruption, but is wanting it enough?

So far, the Irish and UK governments as well as EU representatives have stated that they do not wish a return to a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This is because of the considerable negative economic, social, political, security and psychological impacts on people of the border communities.

However, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, bluntly described the complex reality of things:

How on earth do you resolve the issue of the border with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, unless you know what our general borders policy is, what the customs agreement is, what the free trade agreement is, whether you need to charge tariffs at the border or not? […] You can’t decide one without the other.”

As a matter of fact, if we presume the stable continuation of the CTA, the future of the border in terms of the movement of both goods and people intrinsically depends on the scope of any post-Brexit trade arrangement.

Custom checks will be unavoidable in case of withdrawal from the Customs Union

While negotiations are underway, there will be no immediate establishment of customs posts along the border. However, after the official withdrawal of UK will effectively make the Republic of Ireland-Northern Ireland border an external EU border.

If the UK also withdraws from the Customs Union, it will be inevitable to re-establish some sort of customs control. This is because goods from outside the Customs Union must pass through full customs clearance processes. This is not least to address risks around the origin of goods and the application of the common external tariffs.

As noted by de Mars, Murray, O’Donoghue and Warwick, there are light-touch models of customs enforcement (with limited spot checks and electronic filing of customs documentation) practiced on EU borders with EEA countries. One example is the border between Sweden and Norway, which is not a member of the customs union but is part of the EEA. However, even in such a scenario Ireland will still have to comply with the requirements of the Union Customs Code. And a more onerous arrangement is likely if the border is not an EU-EEA border, but a fully external border. For example, some sanitary and phytosanitary checks would be introduced for agri-food products, especially if regulatory divergence emerges. This has been recognised by the European Union Committee of the House of Lords in its report on the UK-Irish relations: “the experience at other EU borders shows that, where a customs border exists, while the burden and visibility of customs checks can be minimised, they cannot be eliminated entirely. Nor, while electronic solutions and cross-border cooperation are helpful as far as they go, is the technology currently available to maintain an accurate record of cross-border movement of goods without physical checks at the border”.

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, reaffirmed yesterdaythat UK will leave Europe’s single market and customs union. It therefore seems unavoidable that there will be some form of customs checks on the Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland border.

Looking ahead to future arrangements, we must therefore presume that the final destination of Brexit will be a new UK-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that would allow UK to exercise an independent trade policy and conclude its own trade agreements with states outside the EU. KPMGhas reviewed the two main existing models: the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada; and EEA membership with exclusion from the Custom Union like Norway. In both these cases goods cross a customs border, which means customs clearance would be unavoidable, inevitably resulting in some form of physical manifestation of the Irish border.

A peculiarity of the Norwegian option is that this process is streamlined, with much of the bureaucracy completed in advance. This makes the Norway model more attractive for UK. However, Norway is an EEA member and, according to the KPMG analysts, “there is no guarantee that the EU would offer the same streamlined procedures to a country outside the Single Market. EU customs law is currently directly applicable to the UK. Without it being so, the EU is simply less likely to accept that goods coming from the UK are of British origin, without evidence in advance”.

Could a special status for Northern Ireland offer a “flexible and imaginative solution”?

In the EU Commission negotiating directives, formally endorsed by the European Council on 22 May 2017, it is recognised that “the unique circumstances and challenges on the island of Ireland will require flexible and imaginative solutions. Negotiations should in particular aim to avoid the creation of a hard border on the island of Ireland, while respecting the integrity of the Union legal order”.

One way to avoid a “hard” land border for goods would entail moving custom checks so that they fall between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain – between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Many analysts believe that this approach would be less disruptive and easier to implement than applying controls at the Irish land border. As noted by James Anderson, of the Centre for International Borders Research at Queen’s University Belfast, this solution “would limit Brexit’s damage to two substantially integrated economies. Ports and airports connecting the island of Ireland and Great Britain already have physical infrastructures for controlling freight separate from people. Not so the land border where controls would mean costly delays and clog up border roads for the thousands who regularly criss-cross to work, study, shop and socialise, living their lives on both sides”.

This option would be strictly dependent on the recognition, under some hybrid EU arrangement, of a “special status” for Northern Ireland such that free trade continues between the Northern and Southern parts of Ireland. But even if this were possible, it would be in stark contrast with the DUP’s rejection of any internal border within the UK.

With Brexit negotiations finally getting underway, the conundrum of the Irish border will hopefully call the British political class to reality. The complexities of the question mean some compromises have to be found, otherwise the call for “soft Border” will remain merely a slogan.

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  1. Emorej a Hong Kong

    … at least no solution that the presently proposed coalition government could possibly negotiate. The process could change from impossible to difficult if Corbyn can force and win a majority in a new election.

  2. Terry Flynn

    The fact that at some point the British (i.e. mainland UK) people are going to realise the DUP is getting pork barrel politics whilst they endure “austerity-lite” will blow things up. At that point expect pressure on vulnerable Tory MPs to go up exponentially. I think the Conservative government will eventually fall due to economic issues concerning Northern Ireland, not the media-inspired circus over DUP social policy, or the (correct) analyses concerning how there simply is no solution to the BREXIT issue in this instance.

    (Lots of people here just wish the Catholics in NI would hurry up with those additional babies so we can get the referendum to be rid of the 6 counties and let it be Eire’s problem – it will eventually on current trends.)

    1. Mickey Hickey

      In Canada the big scare among Anglophones in the 1940s’, 1950s’ and 1960s’ was that the French/Irish were breeding like rabbits and would take over the whole country (become a majority) by 1990s’, 2000s’. The Francophones both French and Irish as the Irish heavily intermarried the French speakers and both were Catholic on taking over government would then impose French as the only official language and support Catholic schools where the language of instruction for all would be French. Well what happened is oral birth control came out of Massachusetts and the French/Irish birth rate dropped like a stone and secularism became the new religion. The issue in NI is not religion it is the lingering results of the Plantation early in the 17th century where land was confiscated, the Irish were pushed out and Scots/English were granted land. To the present day the Scots/English (mostly Protestant) fear that the people of the Republic of Ireland (mostly Catholic) will repossess their land. As most Irish see it the Catholics in NI are being treated much like the Palestinians which accounts for Irish opinion on that troubled part of the Middle East. The situation in the Republic these days is that after centuries of emigration, intermarriage and the relentless spread of secularism is that over 50% of Irish are related to Protestants, myself included.

      1. Darn

        ~38% of NI’s public spending is from taxes collected in GB, but this is tiny compared to the UK’s economy. Public spending is higher per head in NI than in England so that is the pork barrel. If that argument was accepted it would mean removing Scotland and Wales from the UK to save England money. Protestants and Catholics are now roughly 50-50 by the last census, bit of uncertainty due to “not stated”. Would nationalism win a referendum? Opinion polling says no, even if you ask “do you want a united Ireland in 20 years?”. It’s not just the Eurozone crisis, then — it’s the net fiscal transfer from GB and the doubt that a united Ireland is politically and economically workable.

        It isn’t repossession of land the Protestants fear, farming doesn’t employ many people in NI anymore. And since the Land Acts most land in Ireland is owned by Catholics (not in NI of course but the situation became more equal over time). What Protestants fear is domination by the Catholic majority of Ireland. Can try and give whatever generous guarantees to them you want, but nationalism still exists in NI despite everything that’s been done to try and placate the minority. And while Protestants have grown to 10% of the southern population, the Catholic Church still mostly controls education etc.

    2. Richard Wyndbourne Kline

      The solution is for the English to withdraw from Ulster. Which is a virtual certainty anyway, if by a messy process, if the UK withdraws from the EU since the Union will not survive such a transition. Scotland will get a better deal from the EU and depart, and the same will in all probability be offered to Ulster by Ireland and the EU. Sink with an isolated, Anglo chauvinist, economically gutted Wales and England, or take a load of sweets and soft wooing to referendum into the EU? Not hard to handicap where a majority vote goes, but it would be close and divisive for sure.

      The Brexit camp has no idea of the implications of their actions. Very like a ha’penny version of the Soviet recession from Eastern Europe and the Baltics 1989-91, or the initial process of the collapse of federal Yugoslavia. Civil strife is not out of the question, but not the most likely outcome. Wouldn’t make any difference, the Union will not survive the transition, which is the first reason I expect there to be no transition come the day.

      1. Darn

        Polling in Scotland and NI doesn’t support the notion that people there will now vote to leave the UK. In NI’s case, “the English” can’t “withdraw” due to the UK and RoI’s treaty commitment not to do this without a referendum in favour.

        Some Scottish nationalists deny that there is a net fiscal transfer to Scotland worth 6% of Scots GDP from rUK every year. (The Great Recession was only a loss of 5% of UK’s GDP, for comparison.) EU cash pales in comparison to that, and while Scots trade with the EU would be disrupted to some extent by Brexit, leaving the UK affects 4x as much trade for Scotland. If Brexit’s economically bad, independence is far worse. And the EU isn’t gonna replace 38% of NI’s public spending, and neither is the Dublin government. The UK really can get away with Brexit, then, even though it was an ignorant idea and is gonna be a total mess.

  3. I Have Strange Dreams

    A couple of very large “devices” planted in the City will help to focus people’s minds.

    1. Enquiring Mind

      There have long been rumors of devices planted by (fill in actor here – USSR – remember them, Israel, other?) in London, New York, Washington and elsewhere to be activated upon some state of dissatisfaction. Are there unclassified indications by Homeland Security and similar agencies about any detection, or is that too far into tin-foil hattery?

  4. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    If the pound continues it’s slide, there could possibly be a large increase in South to North cross border shopping. In around 18 months it has gone from about £ 1.44 to it’s present level of just under £ 1.14. Which is something, ( if I remember correctly ) which was a phenomenon that the Irish government has been concerned about in the past.

    1. Terry Flynn

      Already happening. The Guardian reported on it.
      Plus anecdotally (says the guy whose Irish mother has exactly 100 first cousins) it’s going on on a massive scale. It’ll only get worse. One wonders if Sinn Fein’s rise will continue and cause Eire to ultimately follow the UK …. after all, NC (amongst others) has reported on the Banking scandals there and relatives of mine certainly are getting more and more fed up of the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil duopoly on power (with support from parties who were *meant* to challenge them but didn’t in the end, *cough* Labour *cough*).

      1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

        Yes I though it might be – around 7 years ago on planning to visit a relative in Armagh from the South about a week before Christmas, my cousin advised me against the M1 due to traffic jams caused by Christmas shoppers. He mailed me a map which looked quite good until I got into the Border area, where I got hopelessly lost. Easy enough to see why it was called ” Bandit country ” & the roads snake in & out of both countries with dead petrol stations on either side.

        A lot of smuggling goes on according to the bad map maker….. including washed diesel whatever that is.

        1. TheCatSaid

          washed diesel means doing something to the lower-tax agricultural fuel diesel (which is dyed a different color) to remove the dye so it looks like normal diesel.

          This allows people to illegally sell & buy car diesel at a much lower price than if you bought it at a regular petrol station, with big profits for the party doing the washing and selling.

          There are EU-funded research projects underway to allow quicker, easier testing of diesel to determine if it has been illegally “laundered”. The laundering process leaves chemical/optical signatures.

  5. charles 2

    10 times more people cross the border daily between Singapore and Malaysia. Frictionless it isn’t, but only because there is a deliberate friction policy from the Singapore side to safeguard the local job market from Malaysian competition (yes, there are some countries which care about their workers, amazing isn’t it ?). The actual process for clearing the boarder through biometric gates takes no more than 15 seconds on the Singapore side and 5 seconds on the Malaysian side. UK and Ireland can implement this if they want.

    1. I Have Strange Dreams

      Charles, the idea is that Irish people should not have to cross a border in their own country.

      1. a different chris

        Which brings up the simplest, most logical solution: Ireland re-unites and stays in the EU. I can say this since my face is safely 1000 miles away and thus my nose can survive this particular stance.

        Maybe if we just sent all the Irish out into the world, and repopulated the island with more sensible people my idea would be then implementable.

        This is the funny thing about humans… we tend to think racism or religious intolerance* are our worst attributes, but the truth, when they fight, nobody fights as bitterly and inexplicably hard as brothers.

        *yes I totally understand they are separated into Catholics and Protestants, but I swear that’s just a way of putting on colors for the fight.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Chris.

          The labelling is also due to cheap, incompetent and lazy journalism. It’s easier to explain matters in those terms. The hacks and / or their readers would be confused if one mentioned Protestant nationalists, especially the late 18th century movements and the Easter Rising.

          Even Edward Carson, whose statue stands in front of the NI parliament at Stormont, admitted that he had been made a fool and been used by the Tories in their quest for power a century ago.

            1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

              Much of it has been inflamed by the business elites in what amounts to a variant of Identity politics. Unions were making inroads especially in Belfast prior to the Easter Rising, but the threat of Home Rule was used to drive a wedge between the industrial workers which among other things led to Catholics being driven out of the dockyards.
              James Connolly who represented both groups & hard pressed mill girls who were not part of his Union was basically defeated & left for Dublin in which he played a part in the Easter Rising. In my opinion his experiences in Belfast & during the Dublin Lockout, led him to believe that the only option was revolution.
              Protestants & Catholics in Belfast during the 1934 Debt Relief strike worked together from the Falls & Shankhill roads & achieved some improvement in their conditions, which were sadly soon lost & then the normal state of affairs resumed. The above was somewhat mirrored in Liverpool where unions were based on trades which were held by the natives, with the large Irish immigrant population doing the hardest & worst paid work. Not until around 1930 with the arrival of Socialist Union leader Tom Mann did they succeed in improving their conditions by working together. It didn’t go down well with Churchill who sent in the military, who if my memory serves me right shot dead 12.

      2. divadab

        Strange Dreams – interesting take on this – the sad reality is that Irish people are divided into two countries – the Republic and the UK’s six Counties. Joining the EU extended the Schengen zone’s elimination of border checks to the border between Ulster and the Republic.

        Re-implementing border crossings is not trivial but consider this: the US and Canada are the world’s largest trading partners by volume of trade (90% of Canada’s exports are to the USA) – and the border is controlled. It is sometimes an irritation but it is no impediment to trade. Free movement, however, is restricted – and this I wager is the biggest issue for Brexiteers – they think too many immigrants are freely coming to their country and want to reduce this and control who comes. Makes sense to me.

        1. I Have Strange Dreams

          Just to be pedantic, but an important point: Ireland and the UK never joined Schengen. It is possible, afaik, to be a member of Schengen but not the EU. Perhaps Ireland and the UK joining Schengen could be a solution to the border problem?

          1. divadab

            @strange dreams – you are correct – but the practical reality today is that there is free traffic between the Republic and the 6 counties, Schengen or no. My point is that even if border controls are re-established, the disruptive effects are manageable, even trivial, considering the US-Canada border’s efficiency as an example.

            There are a lot of anti-Brexit arguments being made and the “oh border controls are hard and disruptive” argument is particularly weak, IMHO.

            1. M Quinlan

              If there were Tory rebels in the US willing to use the existence of the Canadian border as an opportunity to cause mayhem and death, with the aim of bringing the US back into the fold of the British empire, your analogy might have some merit.

              1. Darn

                The Provisional IRA isn’t gonna come back over this just like they didn’t over benefit cuts. It would wipe out Sinn Féin which today dominates nationalist electoral politics in NI and is making promising opinion poll gains in the Republic.

                As for dissident republicans, they are attempting attacks all the time anyway and hardly manage to kill anyone, and I suppose would end up like the Border Campaign of the 50s if they tried it — lack of public support.

      3. TheCatSaid

        “in their own country”
        This is the difference of opinion between unionists and republicans–it’s currently 2 countries, not 1. The current legal status is that the island of island is divided, with NI being part of a separate country (the UK) and the rest is a separate country, the Republic of Ireland.

        1. Darn

          It would be better to describe NI as two countries then, in that case. One of those countries overlaps with the people of the Republic. If partition had made NI smaller than it did, with a bigger Protestant majority, it might have been more of a fait accompli.

    2. Terry Flynn

      Singapore? Care about its job market? I think, with respect, you need to get out more and talk to lots more people on the ground. Singaporean well-being is a basket case (and their economy is seriously on the skids, given my last trip there and the fact Directors of Marketing of hotels now prowl around asking residents what they can do to put things right) – even the so-called “harder working” ethnic Chinese there that I have had lots of experience talking to think it’s only better than Malaysia in relative terms. Plus it’s amazing how many people in Sydney actively gave up their Singaporean citizenship to become Australian (Sg doesn’t allow dual nationality). Which doesn’t mean Aus is a nirvana either, but Sg is not somewhere to aspire to.

      1. H. Alexander Ivey

        Well…As a PR in Singapore, there is a lot about workers and Singapore’s economy to I could say; but I’ll spare the NC community that. To the point of the posting, the interchange points between Malaysia & Singapore are basically just two: very well controlled and maintained, almost like a turnstyle approach, nothing at all like a “border” stretching miles along farms and fields. In fact, the Malaysia-Singapore crossing looks a lot like the idea of having customs at NI’s airports and shipping ports. That is the only workable solution. (Yes, I know, the best solution is for NI and Ireland to unite and join the EU. At least I’m 10,000 miles away to say that-har,har).

  6. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    Further to Brexit, one, perhaps, unlikely and little known casualty is the Roman Catholic church.

    There’s only one Catholic secondary school in Buckinghamshire, St Bernard’s in High Wycombe. At the beginning of last year, the diocese, Northampton, acquired a disused (secondary) school from the local education authority in Aylesbury and planned to reopen it next year. Demand is, or was, high for such education in mid- and north Buckinghamshire.

    However, Brexit and the hard turn it has taken have spooked many of the east European families into leaving, so the junior schools are losing many pupils after this term. Some Irish families are going, too. Many of the parents work at Stoke Mandeville hospital and care homes, so their departures will add to the pressure on such services.

    The diocese is having to rethink, either not going ahead for September 2018 (and selling the site at a profit for housing), opening the school to a greater number, or majority, of non-Catholics and / or getting permission to educate children from outside the (local education) region.

    The fellow parishioners who told me about it added that other dioceses are having similar concerns.

    1. divadab

      Well maybe they should go to public schools, then. Segregated education creates segregated societies.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Eager Diva.

        Buckinghamshire schooling is segregated along many lines, not just religious. There is selection at 11 / 12 years, so children who don’t pass the exam (the 11 / 12 plus) for a grammar school get chucked on the scrap heap. There are private (aka public in the UK) schools like my alma mater, Stowe. Fees there now exceed the UK average salary by £5-10,000 pa, so the school increasingly houses the children of oligarchs from overseas, vide the boxing and ice hockey clubs for the Russians and the fortified boundary. As Buckinghamshire is in the London commuter region, class / housing also determines who gets educated where and how children get to good schools.

        1. divadab

          @Smithers – I should have been more particular – Education segregated by religion creates societies segregated by religion. Us and them, you know.

          Educational research shows clearly that streaming schoolchildren (top 10%, middle 80%, bottom 10%) improves outcomes in ALL groups. SO yes, some segregation is healthy.

          I have no objection to private schools, so long as they receive no public subsidy. By all means provide an advantage, or religious education, to your children but on your own dime.

  7. EoinW

    30 years ago the DUP would have freaked out over an open border. Today they want it? My how things have changed. This looks like another step towards an independent Northern Ireland. One with an open border – how’s that for an oxymoron! it will not be lost on Unionists if London/Brussels ends up imposing a hard border. These “loyalists” may question if it is really in their best interest to have their province run by London. it’s all part of the process of changing minds and getting Protestants conditioned to the idea of a separate Northern Ireland. So long as they can keep celebrating on July 12th they’ll be happy.

    Regarding a united Ireland: why? Presently the 26 counties pay tribute to the city of Dublin and it’s corrupt politicians and banking cartel. it’s actually worse than having the island run by Vatican City. Why would anyone from the north – Catholic or Protestant – sign up for that?

    As the global economy falters and fails, people will be forced to question the status quo. Why would any sane person from Macosquin or Portavogie want people in London to control their lives when there’s no obvious benefit? For that matter, why would they grant people from Dublin that kind of power?

    1. AC

      Why would people in the 6 counties want to join the Republic? Maybe the fact that the economy in the south (despite corruption and other problems) is vastly better. Might also be some people who want to correct (peacefully) the ongoing crime of having your country stolen by a rapacious imperialist power.

    2. a different chris

      I never thought of it, but here’s my replacement proposal to forcing them all to live together – make NI a separate EU country. As Brussels (or Schauble if given a chance) will effectively run everything, the local politicos can just cash their cheques and blame the EU for all problems and their inability to address them.

      Who would even notice? Solves the Brexit border problem – it’s back on British shores, it solves the NI/I border problem — there effectively would continue to not be any real one– and it still keeps the politician toffs happy, as they can keep moaning about each other across the pretend border until they finally all die off and everybody admits they are actually atheists but just like the community thing the church provides.

      NI voted to Remain pretty darn strongly, let them do so.

      Any other world problems you’d like me to solve? ;)

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Well, in a narrow sense, a minority element of Loyalism has always been in favour of an independent NI as a fall back. But its been made very clear by Republicans that an independent NI, which would of course be controlled fully by the DUP, would lead, quite simply, to open civil war. Remember that NI was to all intents and purposes an independent country from the 1920’s to 1969, when direct rule was put in place. It was a statelet with open apartheid where catholics simply didn’t have the same legal rights, there was open discrimination in everything from jobs to housing. It was this, not an abstract call for a united Ireland, which set off the Troubles.

        But in another sense, one possible ‘solution’ to the Brexit issue, as suggested in the article, is that NI becomes ‘independent’ in a trade sense – i.e. the customs union shifts to the Irish Sea. I suspect this would be almost impossible to implement as produce standards are set by the EU and enforced by the ECJ, so it would in reality mean that a part of Britain would not be ruled by Parliament. It would be a very peculiar, and probably unsustainable solution.

        1. Darn

          Housing discrimination has been exaggerated — in the 1960s the shares of public housing that each community had were roughly in proportion to their numbers. The Catholic share should simply have been larger due to their relative poverty and there was no points system for allocating them like today. When Austin Currie occupied that house where a Protestant woman lived instead of a Catholic woman with 5 kids he said he’d never find a better example in 100 yrs; he may have been right.

          It was police brutality in response to the civil rights protests, and loyalist attacks on Catholics, that sparked the Troubles.

        2. EoinW

          Very correct on what led to the troubles in 1969. It was the Protestant majority hogging all the economic pie and the 40% Catholic minority having to settle for what crumbs fell their way. Ordinary people don’t take to the streets protesting unless they have very real grievances because they are usually too busy trying to live their lives. People also don’t embrace nor sympathize with violence unless they feel they have no choice. Bloody Sunday drove the nationalist community into this corner where they felt they had no choice but to support the IRA.

          What happened 25 years later was a pleasant surprise. It’s not clear to me why it happened. It’d be nice to think the society has opened up and Catholics are now getting a slightly better deal. Hard to believe as it is a very tribal society and 30 years of conflict will only increase the hatred and distrust. Maybe with another generation or two of peace that dynamic might finally change. Nevertheless the ceasefire succeeded in marginalising the violent elements on both sides of the conflict. That’s why it has held.

          I have to conclude that the ceasefire came about due to exhaustion in the nationalist community. They were desperate for any concession from the loyalist and finally got it. Thanks, I believe, to the IRA targeting the Conservative party in Brighton and frightening Thatcher into signing on to the Anglo-Irish Accord. That was viewed as a huge sell out by Unionists – allowing a foreign government(Dublin) a say in running the province. A decade later and more war weariness, plus a Labour government(the only decent thing Blair did in his life!) and you had a ceasefire, which miraculously held.

          Therefore I do not think an independent NI will lead to civil war. It serves no one’s purpose. And really, with an open border you basically have a united Ireland in all but name. After 20 years it seems to me both sides are willing to live with that arrangement. Of course all this has occurred during an economic boom time. A distressed economy would create stresses and pressures and who knows what that might lead to. However, with the collapse of the global economy people will be more pre-occupied with the civil war raging in America to care much about six counties in Ulster.

          1. Darn

            The “nationalist community” didn’t feel they had no choice but to support the IRA; the vast majority of nationalists have never supported the IRA. You’re right in so far as Bloody Sunday increased IRA recruitment, and earlier, internment had also done so. In partial defence of the majority, they provided free university education (gone now), far more council housing than today, and manufacturing jobs from inward investment.

            “Exhaustion in the nationalist community”, again, the vast majority of nationalists are not republicans and are not in the IRA and had no say in the ceasefire. A large majority of Catholics voted SDLP and not Sinn Féin at the time.

            “Labour government” — the first ceasefire was in 1994, the second in 1996, both of these were before Labour were elected.

            “a united Ireland in all but name” — the south doesn’t provide 38% of our public spending, GB does. Might as well say an “open border” somehow means that the Republic is part of the UK.

            “during an economic boom time” — the Republic’s boom ended ten years ago with the Great Recession. Unemployment peaked at 15% compared to 9% in the UK, and half a million ppl emigrated.

  8. Susan the other

    Pirate Island? So now the Tories might get what they wish for. It is interesting that the EU has recently established a new Interpol for finance/fraud. An organization that is authorized with interstate enforcement. They’ve got their work cut out for them.

  9. Synoia

    The Brexit negotiations are going well, calm is assured and there is harmony and agreement on all sides for a simple (as yet undefined) solution.

    Nothing can go wrong. After all, the negotiators are professionals, and have no emotions caught up in the discussions.

    One has to trust the leadership on both sides to do what is right for all people.

  10. jfleni

    The DUP and their dimwitted POPE-HATING fellow travelers are completely Irish no matter what they say or think; what they want is to be neither fish nor fowl, which after BREXIT is impossible.

    Get over it, put a picture of their favorite devil in the toilet bowel and agree to disagree.

  11. PlutoniumKun

    I’m late to this discussion (was out enjoying the glorious sunshine today), but here are just a few fairly random thoughts:

    1. The real sticking point with the Irish border will be the issue of product standards, in particular food standards. There is a huge cross border trade in agricultural products – Ireland is essentially one market for milk and beef. For this to continue, UK (or at least NI) agriculture will have to follow EU standards for these products as so much trade in milk and beef products is done under agreements between the EU and China, India, etc. Adopting EU standards also means being subject to EU Directives and the ECJ. This is an enormous issue, and I don’t see how it can be addressed in just 2 years unless the UK was to completely concede on this, which I don’t see happening.
    2. Related to the above, the border issue is often seen as one of controlling flows of people and products into the UK, but the big issue may well become preventing the opposite, if there are fears in the European agriculture sector of EU products being ‘contaminated’ by non standard products from the UK, or even the UK becoming a conduit for cheap South American beef and other products via the Republic. There may well be pressure from France and other countries on the Republic to do its best to prevent cross-border trade.
    3. Putting up customs at the border would be very expensive, but it is not impossible – it was the case up to the 1980’s, although there was plenty of leakage. The big logistical problem is that the border has no logic on the ground (it does not follow natural geographic features), which means a ‘deep’ border is needed, with monitoring of movement for several miles deep either side. If nothing else, it will generate a hell of a lot of jobs in a very poor area.
    4. The big issue for the Republic is less the costs of customs checks but the drop in sterling relative to the euro which is already having a huge impact on cross border trade and tourism. I suspect that if sterling keeps on dropping the Irish government may see putting up customs barriers as a blessing in disguise, a way to stop the bleeding of money over the border.
    4. I wonder if the Irish government would consider trying to persuade Corbyn to announce that he will not seek to outvote the government with DUP help – in other words, if the DUP vote against the government, Labour will withdraw 10 MP’s from the vote. This would greatly weaken the DUP’s negotiating power and in effect, permit a minority Tory government, which may well be in everyones interest except the DUP.

    1. vlade

      3) well, then we can have “loyalist” half of NI being employed as the border guards, and the “republicans” as the smugglers (wouldn’t that be ironic?). Solves NI unemployment problem..
      4) don’t see what political gain would be in that for Corbyn on the wider UK basis?

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I would see the ‘gain’ for Corbyn in that unilaterally declaring this would make him look statesmanlike and the Tories look weak (and foolish, if they turn down the offer). In the longer term, I think its better for Labour to face a minority Tory government than a coalition, as the Tories might learn from Cameron and pin the blame for bad policy on the DUP as he did with the LibDems. Anyway, in the longer term having a big deal with the DUP will inject yet more toxins into NI politics (which doesn’t need any more), which will be a poisoned chalice for any future Labour government. Setting the principle that NI parties will not be able to leverage power in Westminster is good for British politics and good for NI politics.

        1. Darn

          “NI parties will not be able to leverage power in Westminster” is to disenfranchise us at UK level. What is the point in NI having MPs at all, then? Not everything is devolved, so we must still be represented; if one side feels they are getting a raw deal then so be it.

          I suspect no one other than the UUP and DUP would be making such complaints if the SDLP were propping up a minority UK govt, and everyone else would ask to see evidence of one-sided policies first.

    2. Darn

      4. The thing about Labour getting in the Tories’ way is, why would the DUP make the Brexit situation any worse than it already is, given the DUP would prefer not to have a disruptive border? And Labour can’t stop Brexit in the Commons since Article 50 takes effect in 2 years’ time.

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