Time to get cracking on Brexit NI border deal
2018-04-15 10:45:33 -



Northern Ireland will be leaving the EU with the rest of the UK on 29 March 2019. If at that stage an agreement is not reached on the border with the Republic of Ireland, custom officials on both sides of the border will set up their stations. There will have to be physical inspections of goods vehicles to and from Northern Ireland, no matter what else is agreed or not. 
The Nordic-Swedish solution seems to be the only viable alternative, with a very high level of co-operation between two sets of custom officials operation two systems. Yet time is marching on and still there is no sign of a breakthrough, just dithering on what must be done.
The notion of a frictionless border is simply not tenable without Northern Ireland staying in the Customs Union to which the Republic belongs as an EU member state. As many as 18 EU countries have borders with various non-EU countries, and they manage various customs systems — but not without a border of some kind. 
Sir Ivor Roberts, before he resigned, made it clear to Downing Street that there was “delusion” in the British government and said it could take as long as 10 years to sort out the border situation.
Ready or not, Brexit Day is coming in less than a year, and the Republic will have to put contingency measures in place if there is no deal by then. 
Proposals such as number plate recognition technology are not going to cut it without physical checks. In the area of food safety, there can be little doubt of the imperative for such checks and sourcing.
The notion of associate membership won’t fly with the EU, either, unless Britain agrees to the free movement of people — which is the last thing in world it is going to do. 
The options are indeed limited and it is about time all the nonsense ended over having a frictionless border. It is purely aspirational, and rather than waste time on it, both sides should be planning for the reality, without a deal, of potentially thousands of trucks lined up at the border awaiting clearance, and a litany of officials from various departments demanding paperwork.
The talking and dithering about what to do cannot go on. There will be a border. It is there already, however invisible, and there is no getting away from the fact that Northern Ireland will be outside the European Union this time next year. Time to get cracking.
Maurice Fitzgerald 
Shanbally, Co Cork


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