The week before last, Enda Kenny was completely unambiguous when he ruled out a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland post-BREXIT. Last week Theresa May came to Dublin and said exactly the same thing. Both leaders were in unison on the issue and London and Dublin were singing off the same hymn sheet. Nobody with skin in the game wants to see an Irish border put back up.
Then this morning, regarding the border area, we read that, "If the member state systematically disregards the rules, as a consequence duties will be evaded, the European Commission will calculate the duties, and make the member state pay any evaded duties." As things currently stand then, we are entitled as a sovereign state to decide for ourselves whether we erect a border or not. However, if we don't we will be fined an amount equivalent to some EU estimate of revenues lost.
This is according to a bloke called Michael Lux, a German who is styling himself as some kind of "Customs Expert." Neither the article nor his own website sheds any light on his relationship, (if any), with the EU. But the bold Michael lists his "Focus Areas," as, Foreign trade and customs Law, Antidumping, Anti-subsidy law and other trade defence measures, embargoes, Customs protection against goods infringing intellectual property rights, VAT and Excise duties, Trade Facilitation and free movement of goods in the EU. So let me ask you, if you were a self-styled expert in customs law and you had your business to run and profits to make, would it be in your interests to see borders springing up all over the place? Would you be a happy bunny to see potentially new clients come into existence? Indeed, would you help to make it happen if you had the opportunity?
Of course, I don't blame this Lux lad for trying to drum up business. He was in Belfast yesterday to tell the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, "This is very serious." I'll bet it is, for the lad Lux at any rate. He knows he can do fuck all about the Brits because if he approached them they'd tell him to take a hike. So his sales pitch is aimed at Dublin and Belfast. He's telling our hapless morons that even if the UK decides not to erect a border, we have to do it on our side. Well. I suppose from the view of Lux Towers, a half a border is better than no border at all. But, as of yesterday, the official declarations are clear, there will not be a hard border in Ireland. Sadly though, the same Examiner gives this European salesman some footage also today.
I have no doubt that the changed status between the islands will throw up all manner of unforeseen difficulties. Though the average Irish or Englishman wouldn't see it this way, it will be the technical equivalent of removing the border between Spain and North Africa, (without the stream of refugees naturally). But as time progresses, some items in the North will be cheaper than in the South and vice versa. If price disparities were wide enough it could see a stampede in either or both directions across the nonexistent border. This would be called smuggling if a border post were in place but without that, it's a case of "Buyer beware."
But I refer back to the 1970's and 80's to the height of the madness in Northern Ireland. Bombs were going off in Britain also and London was accusing Dublin of harboring IRA men south of the border in those days. But even during the worst of it, there was free travel between the two islands and I was not required by law to have a passport on the Cork-London flight. It was advisable to have it in order to avoid delays but not a legal requirement. The same was, (and is), true in the opposite direction. For all our Republican rhetoric and our desire to beat the old enemy at anything, we know under it all that British visitors are always most welcome here, whether from England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. They don't need a passport to get into Ireland and I don't believe they ever should.
On an aside, but still on topic, I spoke with an old hand from the entry desk at Dublin Airport and I asked him under what circumstances he stopped people from the UK for a passport. This was an off-the-record conversation so I won't name him, but he had a loose rule of thumb. He used to listen for UK accents but he added that he kept a sharper ear for non-white lads talking. A coloured lad with a strong cockney or Liverpool accent was fine but any of them with broken english were interrupted with a smile and asked for a passport. His reasoning was that if they had an English accent then they'd been living there long enough to have been vetted by the UK authorities and that was good enough for us. If however the lad sounded as if he'd come straight from the Middle East via London, then we wanted to know who he was and why he was here. It struck me as an example of sound common sense, the kind of thing you'd never find in a rulebook.
You'd have to suppose the nonexistent border will throw up challenges as we progress and some people will try to take advantage of this unique freedom between two states. But I believe that people like the above sensible man on both sides would be more than capable of dealing with those challenges on a case by case basis and little Michael Lux will be so disappointed with that.
But what the hell are the Indo and the Examiner doing giving that German salesman free advertising this morning. The pertinent Governments have spoken and trying to undermine it and placing doubt in our minds based on a chancer trying to get new business for himself is bordering on stupidity.