Little things mean a lot
I have used this column in the past to rail against the delay in addressing crucial trade negotiations in the Brexit discussions. I’m still railing against it but, in the last week, there appears to have been some progress made, albeit progress which might not find much favour with the hard-line Brexiteers in the British government. The House of Lords voted last week to remain in a European customs union, something which flies in the face of Prime Minister Theresa May’s declaration that the UK will leave the common tariff area in order to pursue free trade deals outside the European Union.
Some negotiators have been pushing for continued membership of the customs union as a way of preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I have been critical in this column of what I saw as the overfocus on the border issue rather than the much more important issue of trade. The automotive industry in the UK and farther afield is waiting with growing impatience to find out how it will be impacted by whatever trade deals the Brexit negotiators come up with. Now, perhaps, the Irish issue may prove to be a telling factor.
As an Irishman, I can tell you that a return to a hard border between north and south makes no sense at all. That border is one of the most porous in Europe, criss-crossed as it is by countless country lanes and farm tracks. There are houses in Ireland where the front door is in the UK and the back door in the Republic or vice versa. There is a town in County Fermanagh where the border runs down the main street so that by crossing the road, effectively you move from one country to another. To attempt to seal such a border is, frankly, ludicrous. It couldn’t be done during the height of the IRA bombing campaign in the seventies and it is even more unlikely to happen today as a new generation of Irish business people ply their trade every day on both sides of the divide.
If this issue, which is of little consequence to the vast majority of the UK’s population, does indeed pave the way to continued membership of the customs union it will be a blessing for the automotive industry and many others. Three cheers for the little guy say I.
Simon Duval Smith
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