The answer to the Irish "hard-border" already exists, but EU ignores it for reasons of political expediency

The EU is well aware that the necessary means for frictionless trade to continue between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, even given the two entirely different regulatory regimes, currently exist.

In 2017 the EU Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) published a report “Smart Border 2.0: Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland for Customs control and the free movement of persons,” detailing how this could be done.

Technologies such as automatic number plate recognition, enhanced drivers licenses, barcode scanning and the use of smartphone apps can also have a significant impact by reducing paperwork and allowing pre- or on-arrival release, which can reduce or even eliminate the need to stop or undergo checks. Many of these measures have been introduced at borders across the world. At both the Norway-Sweden border and the Canada-US border, low friction borders have been created through a focus on sharing of both data and facilities, the creation of electronic environments for trade and travel and the use of modern technologies. Both Australia and New Zealand have also focused on utilising technology, in particular bio-metrics, to speed-up the movement of citizens between their respective countries. In developing a solution for the Irish border, there is an opportunity to develop a friction free border building on international standards and best practices, technology and insights from other jurisdictions.

AFCO report

However, the report has been sidelined, and the issue of the hard-border has been used, one might even say "weaponised", as it repeatedly raises the spectre of a return to the The Troubles by the European Commission.

The Commission's aggressive stance in this issue has less to do with concerns about trade than it is about making the UK pay a heavy price for withdrawal: that price is Northern Ireland.

EU officials have little, if any, awareness of the events that began in the 1960s and led up to the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998, and which resulted in the deaths of over 3,500 people - more than half of them civilians.

There were certainly swirling dark forces in the commission, which you would hear rumbling that Northern Ireland was the price the United Kingdom must pay for leaving the EU . . . That’s totally irresponsible and reckless and not something we should give in to. The EU has become incredibly controlling and I think that’s a sign of their insecurity as an organisation.

Dominic Raab, speaking to The Sunday Times in 2018

Boris Johnson's mistake in signing the Withdrawal Agreement has been magnified by his recently unveiled Internal Market Bill, which has left him, and the UK, as the guilty party in what may lead to the country breaking international law.

The possible repercussions to this may well be further magnified as the UK seeks to strike post-Brexit deals throughout the world.

  • Across the Atlantic, Democrat presidential hopeful Joe Biden has cynically jumped on the hard-border bandwagon as he seeks to secure votes from the country's considerable Irish-American community. In following the Commission's lead in politically exploiting the the issue, and the threat of a return to violence, Biden ignores the fact that the Provisional IRA was largely funded by that same community, a practice that only ceased after the horrific events of 9/11, when Americans discovered for themselves what terrorism means.

Boris Johnson, reportedly physically and mentally tired, possibly not yet fully recovered from his bout of COVID-19, and struggling with personal issues, has painted himself and the people of Northern Ireland into a corner.

The European Commission, itself dealing with numerous existential crises, will be grateful to him for this latest error of judgement.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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