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Borders and Brexit

Here is a good, succinct demolition of the argument that if the UK leaves the European Union on World Trade Organisation-based terms, rather by some “Brexit-in-name-only” fiasco, there will need to be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. From the very start, I have suspected this issue was being exaggerated considerably by those trying to derail UK independence from the European Union, and the detail here proves it.

This is all contextual: where there are amicable relations, technology, goodwill and a certain degree of co-operation, it means border posts and the rest are not needed, or not used all the time. A case in point is Switzerland: it has access, via scores of bilateral treaties, to Europe’s Single Market, but also has the freedom to do its own trade deals with nations far beyond Europe. When I have driven from France to Switzerland, or over to Germany, there were no border controls I was aware of. Switzerland is in the Schengen Agreement area, which removes the need for passports. Now there’s no theoretical reason why the UK could not also come to a specific agreement on such a basis with Ireland (although it might still reserve the right to require passports to be produced where necessary).

Sometimes situations can change: a few years ago, after the 2015 November mass murders in Paris, border controls were enforced on the Swiss-French border. Also, there are customs checks but these don’t all require “stop at the border and let a bloke search the truck” sort of process. This Q&A guide is an example of what happens.

Now, this being a classical liberal/libertarian blog, some people are going to complain that there are any kind of borders, requirements of passports, period. As a minarchist (minimal state, not anarchist) I take the view that one cannot have a jurisdiction of law without knowing what the boundaries of that legal network are, and so there is a border, even if only expressed as a squiggly line on a map, rather than a wall, fence or something more technically snazzy. England has its Common Law, while the continent has a Civil Code (Napoleon and the Roman legal heritage) and there is therefore a boundary between them, even though in many ways mutual recognition/equivalence agreements can and do take quite a lot of the friction out of where these codes come into contact. (There are some parts of the world with both legal traditions at the same time (such as Malta, which was once run by the French before the Brits kicked the buggers out). And these boundaries may also require people to prove where they reside as citizens, if only to know that they cannot run away from certain legal agreements they have entered into by fleeing to another jurisdiction.

11 comments to Borders and Brexit

  • TomJ

    …which removes the need for passports. Now there’s no theoretical reason why the UK could not also come to a specific agreement on such a basis with Ireland…

    It seems you’re not aware of the Common Travel Area, which is coming up to its Centenary.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Doh! My oversight. Which adds to my point!

  • James Hargrave

    I seem to remember some proposals from the 2000s for reforms to the Common Travel Area, in a way that would have massively undermined it. Of course, this was emitted by the razor blunt brains of the Home Office and, in the consultation, could never quite get the correct historical terminology for the Dublin-based polity, instantly annoying, I imagine, plenty of folk in both parts of the island of Ireland as well as odd balls like me. But earlier the said dept managed to name a Caribbean island as though it were and Manchester television contractor on one piece of paper regarding naturalisation. I suppose it really is the Home Office – don’t go abroad, its a horrid place, etc.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Now there’s no theoretical reason why the UK could not also come to a specific agreement on such a basis with Ireland”

    Of course not, and the backstop only applies until it has. That’s what May and the EU have been saying about it. The plan, so they say, always was to negotiate a comprehensive and legally binding deal that would allow trade across Ireland without hard borders. The backstop was just there to answer Ireland’s question “But what if they don’t?”

  • morsjon

    Border controls will be required, but there is no reason why they need to be heavy handed – no doubt passenger vehicles could simply be waived through for example – and checks can be done away from the border.

    It would have been better if Theresa May had gone with a minimal withdrawal agreement plus a special status for Northern Ireland, than come up with the beast of an agreement that the WA turned into.

    Trying to keep the DUP happy is just postponing (or potentially accelerating – by making the cost of remaining in the UK higher) the almost inevitable. It was of course her bungling of the election that made her reliant on DUP votes.

    No, the problem with the WA is that it locks us into a ‘Norway +’ arrangement indefinitely. Whilst in theory the UK governing class could work with the EU to develop a ‘Canada +++’ agreement, I do not trust them to make an effort with such a comfortable fallback already in place. That is why it is foolish to accept the WA even if it did have an Article 50 equivalent, and I’m also suspicious about time limiting it since it will be very easy to extend indefinitely.

  • morsjon

    The reason why Switzerland and Norway have such light touch borders with the EU is that they are closely aligned in the regulation of goods (Norway almost perfectly, since they are in the single market; Switzerland has a patchwork equivalent to single market participation). Whilst, no doubt, such an arrangement would be possible for the UK as well, the EU only extends this degree of alignment to countries that agree to the four pillars – there is free movement of sorts between the EU and Switzerland. Whilst the WA does allow the UK to restrict free movement, this has come at the cost of us not (effectively) being in the single market for services (which we are good at) but in it for goods (which we are less good at).

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    morsjon, yes, there is a lot of alignment between Switzerland and the EU, and on a lot of rules and practices, there’s no reason why the UK and EU would not continue to do so on matters relevant to cross-border trade. Just as, for example, there are a lot of common features between the rules that operate here in Britain and those in the US.

  • Y. Knott

    Richard North has been banging-on the whole time about how common-sense Britain’s remaining in the Single Market would be; the impression I get is that only incompetent politicians, too used to having all their important decisions made in Brussels, caused the current snarl. But it must be waved-around that tht EU has NO INTEREST, and NO DESIRE, to do anything other than cause Britain the gnarliest, messiest and most expensive separation they possibly can – they’re not above ladling even more new messes on Britain’s shoulders – “pour decourager les autres”.

  • morsjon

    Agreed, whilst it is easy to accept Richard North’s argument on paper I have come to the view that the EU will do their level best to make it hard for us to escape. Start with Norway end up with Norway+, start with Canada and maybe get Switzerland-. Better off starting far away and negotiating closer.

    I’ve also become skeptical of the ‘global Britain’ meme that is popular on certain libertarian blogs. If we are to be truly sovereign then this will have to limit our international engagement. Whilst no organisation is as bad as the EU in terms of imposing non-commercial conditions, whether it be workers rights or global warming related rules, as part and parcel of trading arrangements, this is also present in other international agreements to a lesser (but potentially ever increasing) degree.

    An amount of self-reliance is not a bad thing. Kent makes excellent champagne. Goes well with Scotch to follow.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post.

    However, the Civil Service and much of “Big Business” (putting “liberal” ideology, “Radical Chic” as Tom Wolfe put it, ahead of the interests of the business) will do all they can to sabotage independence.

    Then they will point at the problems they have DELIBERATELY CREATED and say “see – we told you that “No Deal” would not work”.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I have to disagree. The benefits of a division of labour and wide trading links are self evident. And British champagne can’t match Tattinger.

    Global trade and interaction isn’t the same as going all gooey about transnational organisations, of course. The UK can very international and an open place while alao fiercely independent. So much of today’s class of so-called intelligent people seem determined not to accept that proposition.