The Irish Border is not a Political Bargaining Chip

Irish border political bargaining chip
Irish border political bargaining chip

The Irish Border is not and should never be used as a political bargaining chip

But everyone should be very clear, whether they are in London, Dublin, Brussels or Belfast. Northern Ireland’s constitutional position cannot and should not be used as a bargaining chip.

Customs experts have been ignored. Only last Monday, speaking to the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, the previous head of the World Customs Association, Lars Karlsson, clarified and reinforced his frequently expressed view that modern technology can do the job (here). Hans Maessen, a Dutch customs specialist, also testified that technical solutions could work to ensure no hardening of the Irish border in ways that damage the 1998 Belfast Agreement and Peace Process. The heads of UK and Irish customs have both asserted that invisible borders are now possible. This can all be achieved with existing technical solutions, and in compliance with the EU’s Union Customs Code.

The Irish Border needs to go beyond trade deals and politics.

Issues with the Irish border have not just come about, they were not resolved after the GFA. There has been many discussions and debates long before the referendum became a realised method of exiting the European Union.

In or out the Irish border needs resolving. It was not so long ago that the communities came together and showed the world they would not be defined by the troubles of the past that no matter who they faced they had common ground and could work together for the common good of all communities.

The Irish border issue is not a result of Brexit

Customs controls were introduced on the frontier on 1 April 1923, shortly after the establishment of the Irish Free State. These controls were maintained, with varying degrees of severity, until 1 January 1993, when systematic customs checks were abolished between European Community member states as part of the single market. There are no longer any operational customs posts along either side of the border. Except during a brief period during World War II, it has never been necessary for Irish or British citizens to produce a passport to cross the border. However, during the 1970s troubles, security forces regularly asked travellers for identification.

Military checkpoints Edit
During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, there were British military checkpoints on main border crossings and UK security forces made the remaining crossings impassable.

By about 2005, in phase with implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, remaining controls were definitively removed.

Dropped proposals to reinstate border controls

In October 2007, details began to emerge of a British Government plan that might end the Common Travel Area encompassing the United Kingdom and Ireland (and also the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands) in 2009, possibly creating an anomalous position for Northern Ireland in the process. In a statement to Dáil Éireann, the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern assured the House that “British authorities have no plans whatsoever to introduce any controls on the land border between North and South. I want to make that clear. All they are looking at is increased cross-border cooperation, targeting illegal immigrants.”

This immediately raised concerns north of the border. Jim Allister, a former member of the Democratic Unionist Party and then a Member of the European Parliament, told The Times that it would be “intolerable and preposterous if citizens of the UK had to present a passport to enter another part of the UK”.

In July 2008, the UK and Irish governments announced their intent to resume controls over their common border and the Common Travel Area in general. Each proposed to introduce detailed passport control over travellers from the other state, where travel is by air or sea. However, the land border will be ‘lightly controlled’. In a joint statement, Jacqui Smith, the British Home Secretary, and Dermot Ahern, the Irish Justice Minister, said:

It is crucial that our two countries work closely together to ensure our borders are stronger than ever. Both governments fully recognise the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. Both governments reaffirm that they have no plans to introduce fixed controls on either side of the Irish land border.

The Times reported that another consultation paper was to be published in the autumn of 2008 on whether people travelling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom should be subject to further checks.

One proposal is expected to suggest extending the electronic borders scheme, requiring travellers from Northern Ireland to provide their personal details in advance. This would mean residents of one part of the UK being treated differently from others when travelling within the country, something to which Unionists would object.

However, in 2011, the governments renewed the ‘de facto’ agreement.

The 2011 inter-government agreement

2011 marked the first public agreement between the UK and Irish governments concerning the maintenance of the Common Travel Area. Officially entitled the “Joint Statement Regarding Co-Operation on Measures to Secure the External Common Travel Area Border”, it was signed in Dublin on 20 December 2011 by the UK’s immigration minister, Damian Green and Ireland’s Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter


The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) will not affect the rights of Irish citizens and UK citizens within the Common Travel Area. The right to live, work and access public services in the Common Travel Area will be protected, regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. You can read more about the UK leaving the EU in our Guide to Brexit.

We can clearly see that the Irish border is cynical being used as a political football over Brexit. It is disingenuous to all the people that struggled but came to the conclusion that only through dialogue and a unified will could Ireland leave its dark days behind. To see politicians now using the threat of a renewed violence or to suggest borders need to be placed leaves me nauseated at the measures they will goto to maintain the status quo of remaining in the EU.

The GFA needs extending not just between Stormont, the UK and the Irish Government but I would suggest a UN resolution making special dispensation that no border should ever exist separating Northern Ireland from Ireland. After all, it’s just taxes we are talking and no amount of money raised is worth the cost.

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