As the UK and EU continue to discuss how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, I’ve compiled a number of articles from different viewpoints dealing with the subject. I’m not saying this covers everything but may be a useful starting point. If anyone is aware of any other informative reports, please let me know or add them to the comments.
Update (12 Feb 18) — I should, of course, have had a section specifically for Irish Govt documents originally so apologies for that. It now has a dedicated Brexit website which has now gone live today, I’ve added the link.
Update (16 Feb 18). I’ve added a section under Brexiters (Section 4) with some articles on Sweden-Norway and possible tech solutions to the hard border. Since the start of 2018, many Brexiters in print and online have been promoting this and quoting sections from “Smart Border 2.0” (see Section 1)in support.
Update (19 Feb 18). The last couple of days have seen some senior Conservatives questioning the Good Friday Agreement. See Section 7. Labour MP Kate Hoey did the same (Section 5).
Update (28 Feb 18). House of Lords EU committee write letter (27 Feb 18) to NI Secretary regarding worries about the Irish border. Letter from Boris Johnson (Foreign Secretary) contemplating a return to a hard border leaked to Sky News (27 Feb 18). Both in Section 1 under UK Govt.
Update (28 Feb 18). @EU_Commission publish “Draft Withdrawal Agreement” which gives more detail regarding proposals to avoid a hard border (Section 1 EU Parl.).
Table of Contents.
- UK, EU and Irish Govt.
- Trade Unions.
- Brexiters (including Sweden-Norway and technological solutions).
- Northern Ireland Political Parties.
- England, Scotland and Wales Political Parties.
- Miscellaneous (eg blogs, think tanks, newspaper articles, opinion pieces etc.)
1. UK, EU and Irish Govt.
The most important document so far regarding Brexit, the hard border and the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is the Phase One Joint Report from the UK and the EU (8 Dec 17). Here the UK Govt remained committed to “the avoidance of a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls” and, in “the absence of agreed solutions”, it would “maintain full alignment with the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement”.
Despite any “guarantee” here to avoid a hard border, physical infrastructure etc, the following statement in the Remarks section should not be forgotten — “Under the caveat that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, the joint commitments set out in this joint report shall be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement in full detail.”
Previous to this, the UK Govt published a Northern Ireland and Ireland position paper (August 2017).
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee “Future of Irish land border examined with academics and policy experts” including Dr Katy Hayward. (11 Oct 17). (Added 7 Feb 18)
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee “The land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland inquiry — publications” including Michel Barnier interview from 22 Jan 18. (31 Jan 18) (Added 7 Feb 18).
House of Lords EU Committee write a letter (27 Feb 18) to “Karen Bradley MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to raise concerns about the lack of clarity on how the Government will resolve the tensions between its aspirations to leave the customs union, avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and ensure no new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK”. (Added 28 Feb 18).
Sky News publishes story (27 Feb 18) on leaked Boris Johnson (Foreign Secretary) letter where he contemplates the return of a hard border — “Even if a hard border is reintroduced, we would expect to see 95% + of goods pass the border [without] checks.” (Added 28 Feb 18).
Michel Barnier speech (9 Feb 18)- EU Commission Press Release.(Added 9 Feb 18).
Katy Hayward and David Phinnemore published “UK Withdrawal (‘Brexit’) and the Good Friday Agreement” (Nov 17)
Dr Hayward tweeted this on 27 Nov 18 and was retweeted by Stefaan De Rynck (Michel Barnier’s advisor).
After the publication of the “Joint Report Phase 1”, Mr De Rynck tweeted Dr Hayward’s article “Brexit deal allows for three different types of Irish border” (re Article 49 of Joint Report) for the Irish Times on 10 Dec 17.
As the UK Govt said (Feb 18) it would not be in a Customs Union with the EU, Dr Hayward published “‘Categorically clear’: What being outside a customs union with the EU will mean for post-Brexit UK” (6 Feb 18)
Also by Dr Hayward — “Bordering on Brexit: Views from Local Communities in the Central Border Region of Ireland / Northern Ireland” (Nov 17). (Added 16 Feb 18).
Katy Hayward and David Phinnemore have published “The Northern Ireland/Ireland Border, Regulatory Alignment and Brexit” (Added 26 Feb 18).
Dr John Temple Lang published “Brexit and Ireland- Legal, Political and Economic Considerations” (Nov 17). The highlighted point is important to remember when we are still in a situation that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
Lars Karlsson wrote “Smart Border 2.0: Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland for Customs control and the free movement of persons” (Nov 17). It contained proposals which can be seen below. On the face of it, it would appear to go against Section 43 of the Joint Report Phase 1 where there would be no “physical infrastructure or related checks and controls”. However, it is worthwhile noting as we keep hearing about technological solutions from the UK Govt and others to the ‘hard border’ problem. The solution also bases itself on an “upgraded version of the Sweden-Norway customs concept” (pg 39). As I’ll show later, the chief researcher for the European Research Group also believes Sweden-Norway is worth looking at.
Mr Karlsson also wrote another piece on his blog, “Brexit — the change of a life time” (Nov 17). He wrote the following passage regarding leaving a Customs territory.
@EU_Commission publish “Draft Withdrawal Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community”. (228 Feb18). In the event of the UK not coming up with suitable proposals to avoid a hard border, the EU27 say that Northern Ireland should (effectively) remain with in the Customs Union. An east/west border between mainland UK and the island of Ireland is seen as something the UK alone has to decide. (Added 28 Feb 18).
The Irish Government Brexit website (“for up to date information”)went live (12 Feb 18)which included two key documents “Ireland and the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union” (May 17)and “Brexit Ireland’s Priorites” (Mar 17)which included the avoidence of a hard border. (Added 12 Feb 18).
2. Trade Unions.
Trade Union Congress (TUC)
The TUC published five Brexit tests on 30 Nov 17 (including protecting the GFA). It believes the Government is “profoundly wrong to rule out continuing membership of the single market and customs union”.
Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Northern Ireland Committee (NIC-ICTU) and the Northern Ireland Police Federation.
The response of the ICTU (including the NIC) to the Joint Report was “the best and most logical way to avoid a hard border is for the UK as a whole to remain in both the single market and customs union”.
Owen Reidy (Assistant General Secretary) gave one reason for this in Aug 17 — “Clearly any type of border east/west within the UK is unacceptable and creates problems for unionism. Equally any hard border north/south is also unacceptable as it creates problems for nationalism. Therefore, the Irish government must use its strategic influence on this matter to ensure that the EU and the UK seek neither option”
Jimmy Kelly (Unite the Union Ireland Secretary) said this (16 Mar 17).
Unite Brexit Check report (14 Feb 18) “Campaign to stop hard border heats up at Unite’s Ireland region Brexit conference” (Added 17 Feb 18).
Mark Lindsay (Northern Ireland Police Federation) spoke about his concerns regading a hard border (23 Jan17). It becomes “incumbent on the police to provide that protection for those agencies [i.e. Customs and Excise, the Border Agency]. That puts our officers into the firing line”.
(Update 7 Feb 18).
In a Guardian interview, Chief Constable George Hamilton of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said, regarding the border, “The last thing we would want is any infrastructure around the border because there is something symbolic about it and it becomes a target for violent dissident republicans”.
Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
CBI (Northern Ireland) issused a press release (7 Dec 17) regarding their frustration about progress towards future UK/EU trade relationships.
The CBI issued “Customs Union:The Facts” (6 Feb 18) which said this regarding the Irish border.
Manufacturing Northern Ireland.(MNI)
MNI is a “campaigning organisation” whose members include Bombardier UK and Harland and Wolff industries.
MNI published “Brexit Progress?” (13 Dec 17) commenting on the Joint Report Phase 1. It reported that there was “increasing alarm in business” according to a survey they had carried out the previous week.
Ulster Farmers Union were among 37 organisations who put out the following statement calling for the UK Govt “to maintain free and frictionless trade with our major trading partner, the EU and secure the benefits of existing EU preferential trade arrangements, at least until government can replace them with acceptable alternative arrangements” (12 Feb 18)— “UK food & farming sector unites to highlight impact on home-grown production” (Added 15 Feb 18).
European Research Group (ERG).
The ERG (Chair — Jabob Rees-Mogg MP) is a group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs who are strong supporters of a ‘clean Brexit’ i.e. for the UK to be out of the Single Market and Customs Union (which is the official UK Govt position). They do not have a website where they publish policy papers.
Their chief researcher is Christopher Howarth (who Nadine Dorriss MP was recently asking about Customs Unions). As Mr Howarth is asked for advice on matters like this from strong eurosceptics such as Ms Dorries, I think it would be fair to say that his views would be considered “sound” by other members of the ERG. As such, his article “How to manage the Northern Irish border after we leave the EU” (13 Dec 16) is worthwhile looking at for guidence their views on the “hard border”. Here, he looked towards the Sweden/Norway border for lessons in having “controls with as light a touch as possible”. At the conclusion, Mr Howarth finished in an optimistic note where he said that “Irish/UK relations [had] weathered many storms. Brexit need not be another, even if the EU refuses to agree free trade with the UK and reintroduces tariffs”
Mr Howarth was also involved in a twitter discussion (3 Oct 17) where any danger to peace was dismissed as a “silly argument”.
The ERG’s Jacob Rees-Mogg MP has also put forward the idea of unilateral free trade and an open border with Ireland as the solution.
Alan Beattie dealt with the consequences of the zero-tarriff idea here- “More delusions on the Irish border” (Financial Times 27 Nov 17).
The Legatum Institute published “Mutual Interest: How the UK and EU can resolve the Irish border issue after Brexit” (11 Sept 2017).
Katy Hayward and Maurice Campbell wrote Legatum Institute’s ‘solution’ for the Brexit border is highly problematic (18 Sept 2017) in reply to this.
Policy Exchange describe themselves as “the UK’s leading think tank”. It has published a number of articles on the Irish border question written by former Irish Ambassador Ray Bassett (Senior Fellow on EU Affairs) and Graham Gudgin (Chief Economic Adviser). I’ve only linked a couple of their articles. More can be found by clicking on the name links.
“Perspectives on the Irish Border and Brexit negotiations.” (Dec 10, 2017)Graham Gudgin and Ray Bassett.
“The Irish border issue must be kept in perspective.” (5 Feb 17) Graham Gudgin (Prospect magazine)
Sweden-Norway and technological solutions. (Added 16 Feb 18)
There have been many articles (and tweets) by Brexiters since the start of 2018 highlighting “Smart Border 2.0" and Sweden-Norway as pointers towards a solution to the hard border problem. Of course, Smart Border 2.0 came out in Nov 17 and many of its ideas could be seen to contradict the UK Govt’s “guarantee” to avoid “a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls” (Section 43 Joint Report Phase 1 Dec18). Nevertheless, here are some articles which discuss the Sweden-Norway option along with possible tech solutions.
This Politico.eu piece “Lessons from Norway-Sweden border for post-Brexit Britain” (Sept 17) points out that “ there were 229,286 checks on vehicles crossing in 2016” and that “a report [from early 2017] based on a survey of 2,000 Swedish companies, … identified customs as the main problem hampering trade with Norway” as the “rules are seen as bureaucratic and the demand for documentation creates a lot of paperwork”.
Roger Nilsson (30 years with Sweden’s border force) was quoted as saying, “My advice to the U.K. when they leave the EU is: Don’t build the border station too small, you need plenty of space”. Of course, Phase 1 commits the UK Govt to no “physical infrastructure” at the border.
This Times article “Norway ‘is not a good example’ on border checks” (18 Nov 17) quotes Ann Linde (Sweden’s EU and Trade Minister) — ‘Swedish businesses [found] it “easier to land on the moon” than trade with Norway; the Sweden-Norway border was “as good as it gets”, but businesses still found it harder to trade with Norway than with Russia and China and “you have to go through all the customs administration. It’s so much bureaucracy. It takes like four minutes for each truck to go between Sweden and Norway.”’
E & T (Engineering and Technology) published “Brexit and the EU borders: can technology help solve the problem?” (15 Feb 18). This article discusses the new IT system the UK wishes to implement as it leaves the EU — the Customs Declaration Service (CDS)which “will operate in all the UK’s sea ports and airports and on the Irish border”.
There were some difficulties highlighted with the scheme (with an observation by Tony Smith, former deputy director, UK Border Force).
In the end, the author concludes, what type of border exists is a political one.
I’ve included the two main “Leave” groupings which sought to build support within the Labour and Trade Union movement and also various far-left groups. The latter may have not much significance electorally but do have some influence within the Unions especially the Morning Star.
“Labour Leave” is the organisation which worked with the Leave campaign to secure Brexit. Its most prominent supporter is Kate Hoey MP.
The Labour Leave website has no proposals for how to deal with the hard border issue. Kate Hoey MP proposed on 27 Nov 17 that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Ireland would have to pay for a hard border infrastructure (Alan Beattie’s FT article above was in answer to her suggestion).
Kate Hoey speech ((19 Feb 18) “Good Friday Agreement ‘Not Sustainable,’ Says Brexiteer Kate Hoey” (Added 20 Feb 18).
Trade Unionists against the EU (TUAEU).
“Trade Unionists against the EU” organised within the British trade union movement for Brexit. Its National Organiser is Paul Embury of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). (It should be noted that Arron Banks donated to Trade Unionists Against the EU which is being investigated by the Electoral Commission (Added 15 Feb 18)).
There is an article on the Phase 1 Joint Report where TUAEU outline their solution to the hard border and the GFA — Ireland has to leave the EU.
Communist Party of Britain (CPB)/Morning Star.
For the Morning Star(CPB), the real villain who wants a hard border is the EU Commission — “Brussels wants an Irish border” (18 Nov 17). Its view, as stated here, is in agreement with their co-thinkers (CPI, see below). Namely, that Ireland should be united and out of the EU. Similar to TUAEU, “Irexit” is the solution.
Communist Party of Ireland (CPI)/Socialist Voice.
“No united Ireland under imperialism” appeared in Oct 17 issue of “Socialist Voice”. This issue also carried a report on a meeting “Peadar O’Donnel Socialist Republican Forum” about Brexit including speakers from the CPI, People before Profit and the Green Party.
Other copies of “Socialist Voice” can be found here.
5. Northern Ireland Political Parties.
The BBC gives a summary of their General Election Manifestos (including Brexit) here (6 June 17).
The main point to note is that the DUP oppose Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK being in the Single Market and Customs Union.
6. England, Scotland and Wales Political Parties.
A guide to their Manifesto policies on Brexit can be found here (also includes NI Parties).
A reassuring tweet was sent out by the Conservative Party on 10 Jan 18. (Added 10 Feb 18)
On 15 Feb 18, the Telegraph published a piece by Ruth Dudley Evans, “The collapse of power-sharing in Northern Ireland shows the Good Friday Agreement has outlived its use”. A former NI Secretary tweeted it.
Then on 17 Feb 18, Dan Hannan MEP wrote “If Jeremy Corbyn dislikes his country so much, he isn’t fit to lead it” and tweeted this -
As a background to (some) Conservative attitutes to the Good Friday Agreement, Michael Gove wrote “The Price of Peace” (2000) where he criticised it as a capitulation to the IRA. (17 Jan 19. I discovered the original link has now gone dead so I had to find it via the Wayback Machine)
(a) Keir Starmer (Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union)(Belfast Telegraph, 29 Jan18): “Brexit a challenge for Northern Ireland, but with real cooperation we can find a way forward”. Here Mr Starmer makes the Labour case for solving all Brexit difficulties (including the border) — “a final deal that retains the benefits of the Single Market, with no diminution of standards, rights and protections [and]a Customs Union with the European Union [that] should be kept as a viable option for the long term”.
Michel Barnier has, of course, said repeatedly that the UK cannot leave the Single Market and keep all its benefits. Labour’s present policy is to oppose being in the Single Market. Mr Starmer also says that Labour wants the option to be in “a” Customs Union rather than “the” (actually existing) Customs Union. (Added 10 Feb18)
(b) Peter Hain (30 Jan 18) : Speech in the House of Lords on the European Withdrawal Bill. — “No one who really understands the complexities and dangers of politics on the island of Ireland seriously believes that keeping the border open can be achieved without Northern Ireland staying in the same single market and customs union as the Irish Republic.” As can be seen Lord Hain is in agreement with the ICTU view (see above) that “the best and most logical way to avoid a hard border is for the UK as a whole to remain in both the single market and customs union”. (Added 10 Feb18).
Owen Smith MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) put out the following tweet (10 Feb 18). As far as I’m aware, this is not (yet) official Labour policy. (Added 15 Feb 18).
7. Miscellaneous (eg blogs, think tanks, newspaper articles, opinion pieces etc.)
I’ll add pieces when I find them/someone tells me about them/have time.
Blogs and think tanks.
Slugger O’Toole — “Conversations, Politics and stray insights” Many posts, links and discussions here around Brexit and how it will affect Northern Ireland/Ireland. For example, one from 25 Jan 18 — “Implications of Brexit for Northern Ireland: Have your Say…”
UK Trade Policy Observatory published “Hard Brexit, soft Border. Some trade implications of the intra-Irish border options” (7 Dec 18) and “Softer Brexit, Softer Irish border?” (8 Dec 18). (Added 7 Feb 18).
Paul Mac Flynn (Senior Economist with Nevin Economic Research Institute) wrote “Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the EU Customs Union” (Aug 17). (Added 7 Feb 18)
BBC General Election 2017: “Reality Check: Where do parties stand on Irish border?” Info on NI trade and the NI Parties’ views on the border.
Rafael Behr — “As the Tory Brexit fight club slugs it out, do they even care about Ireland?” (14 Nov 17). Many useful links.
“The Times” editorial (7 Feb 18) — Dublin Down.“The government’s failure to explain how it will avoid a hard border in Ireland may yet derail Brexit talks. A customs arrangement could be part of the solution.” (Added 8 Feb 18).
Brexit Central (7 Feb 18)— “It’s time to stop doom-mongering over the Irish border — the solutions are already out there.” (Added 8 Feb 18). This article looks to the “Smart Border 2.0" (see under UK and EU section) ideas for a solution.(Added 8 Feb 18).
Polly Toybee (Guardian 11 Feb 18) — “The roadblock hard Brexiteers can’t drive around: Ireland” (Added 13 Feb 18).
Belfast Telegraph (12 Feb 18) — “Brexit concerns for Welsh ports as Carwyn Jones makes maritime border call”. — “Every effort needs to be made to ensure there is no hardening of the maritime border between Ireland and Wales post-Brexit, the Welsh First Minister has said.”(Added 13 Feb 18).
Belfast Telegraph (12 Feb 18)- “UK-EU trade deal best way to avoid hard Irish border — Varadkar.” (Added 13 Feb 18).
Changes to the piece — I’ll highlight any major changes to the post here.
Michel Barnier speech (9 Feb 18) was added regarding the hard border. It’s Under the UK and EU section.