There was a telling outbreak of mass hysteria among the audience of this week’s Any Questions. Asked whether a ‘hard border’ (checkpoints, physical barriers, peaked-capped officials) in Ireland could be avoided in the absence of a customs union, Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, answered that it could, provided there was sufficient goodwill between the two negotiating sides. But when he attempted to draw the analogy with the border between the United States and Canada (no customs union, no hard border), and explain the use of electronic tagging, customs pre-clearance and drones, the London audience inexplicably started to jeer and boo.
It was probably unwise to mention drones in this context but what do these EU enthusiasts not understand? Do they think there is a wall between the United States and Canada? Do they think that the United States and Canada are in a customs union? Do they think that the WTO Agreement on trade facilitation, whereby non-tariff barriers to trade are minimised through electronic customs procedures, and which the EU is already in the process of implementing, is a figment of our imagination? Do they think that army checkpoints and watchtowers were introduced on the Irish border at the behest of anguished customs officials to prevent local traders from not properly declaring their consignments of livestock and dairy products – and that the absence of a customs union would necessitate their reintroduction?
Or, as seems more likely, is it that their belief in the EU is an article of faith, a dogma, on which human progress depends. Democracy (perhaps ‘populism’ or ‘fascism’ would be better terms) can be dispensed with and all power entrusted to a band of enlightened international bureaucrats – to enlightened liberals just like them. Borders, national institutions and national cultures can be dispensed with in similar fashion. From the secure vantage point of their gated communities, country hideaways and continental villas, it feels good to proclaim themselves citizens of the world.
There is no more need for a ‘hard’ border in Ireland than there is for a hard border between the United States and Canada, or France and Switzerland. Mrs May’s proposals in her (unexpectedly impressive) speech on Friday for a customs partnership, ‘streamlined’ customs arrangements and ‘trusted traders’ schemes – in effect, for an automated border – were eminently sensible and practical. But if the EU refuses to play ball and cooperate over an electronic border, and instead utilises the border issue for its own political ends, there is a simple solution. The Republic of Ireland, which is now a net contributor to the EU budget, should threaten to join Britain in leaving the EU. The EU bureaucrats would soon return to the negotiating table. And if the Republic refuses to play ball, then there is a simple solution to that too. Threaten the Republic with a united Ireland. Now, that would be a recipe for civil war.
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