in Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, when Alice told her that she can’t believe something clearly impossible, the White Queen remarked, “I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
This exchange comes to mind when I hear Theresa May or David Davis commenting on the progress of the Brexit negotiations or the “wonderful” future that lies ahead for the UK if they succeed in dragging us out of the EU.
Let’s look at the impossible things that our current Tory non-Government (and the Labour non-Opposition for that matter) seem to believe about what will become the only land border between the EU and the UK if Brexit happens, the long and tortuous border between the Republic of Ireland & the Province of Northern Ireland (NI).
Currently, as both the UK (& therefore NI) and the Republic are in the EU, there is little or no border controls, citizens of both the Republic & NI (indeed all people living or visiting either) can pass to and fro across the border without let or hindrance. The only difference is that in the Republic speed limits are in Kilometres per hour while in NI, they are in miles per hour.
Many people live on one side of the border but work or shop on the other side, business have supply chains that cross the border, farms cultivate land that crosses the border and families have members on both sides of the border.
The Republic is staying in the EU (and therefore the Customs Union) regardless. The people of NI are rightly scared that if the UK does leave the Customs Union, then there will be a return of Immigration and Customs Controls along the border disrupting their lives and businesses. Yet, as the UK will not be in the Customs Union (or the common travel area for non-Irish citizens) a border there must be. Indeed, no-one wants a return to such border controls.
The alternatives to them are:
- Northern Ireland stay in the EU Customs Union and the effective border in at the Northern Irish ports and airports. This is rejected by NI Unionists (who support Brexit) as it will be cutting them off (in their mind) from the rest of the UK
- The Republic impose all the border controls needed at their ports & airports so that, in effect, the Republic leaves the EU Customs Union and join a UK Customs Union. This is rejected by all Republic politicians and they want to remain in the EU Customs Union.
- Some form of electronic border controls will be implemented to check goods traded across the border and passports of people crossing the border. No one can yet tell us how this will work or show an example of where such a system us up & running but this is the preferred option of the UK Government.
Now it is important to remember that progress on this issue (at least in outline) is one of the pre-conditions the EU has imposed before starting to talk about a future Trade Deal with the UK, which the UK want to start next month.
You would think that some in our non-Government might be working hard on the issue and coming up with details of how their preferred option would work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the impossibility of the system they are proposing being developed from scratch, tested & installed in the 16 months until the date they say we are going to leave the EU, all they say on the issue is, they believe it will happen.
Clearly, May is channelling the White Queen (with Johnson & Davis as Tweedledee & Tweedledum?) in her faith in the impossible!