The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Solving the Irish border question

Like a broken clock, remainers are occasionally right. One example of this is the Irish border question which many leavers have ignored or dismissed for too long.

While we don't believe this issue is as impossible to solve as remainers insist, it does require an appropriate amount of attention.

So far, different proposals have been suggested to avoid a hard border in Ireland.Broadly speaking, they come under the headings of 'Max Fac' and 'Customs Partnership'.[1]

'Max Fac' is the name given to technological solutions to the border issue, involving ANPR, new computer systems and databases, combined with AEO (Authorised Economic Operator) and Trusted Trader schemes.

The 'Customs Partnership' idea would involve the UK collecting tariffs on the EU's behalf for goods. This concept has been widely criticised for its likely complexity.

In all honesty, neither of these is likely to be a solution in and of themselves. We need a hybrid solution that combines elements of different proposals and pre-existing international agreements.

A Hybrid solution?

This would combine several elements:

  • Commitment to maintain the CTA (Common Travel Area), which both the UK and EU have already said they wish to maintain.
  • A regulatory co-operation agreement (we outlined recently how this could work[2]) to ensure products crossing the border meet necessary standards.
  • An EU-UK MRA (Mutual Recognition Agreement) like the ones the EU has with Canada, USA, Switzerland etc.[3]
  • Implementation of some of the proposals from the European Parliament report 'Smart border 2.0 - Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland for customs control and the free movement of persons'.[4]
  • Full compliance by both the EU and UK with the World Trade Organisation's new[5] Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).[6]
  • A 'channels' system whereby goods arriving on the island of Ireland are clearly marked and separated into channels[7] – one for goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, another for goods intended for the ROI.
  • Compliance by the EU with Article 8 of the Treaty of Lisbon.[8]

For those unfamiliar with some of these elements, we will expand on just three.

The Common Travel Area is a pre-existing agreement. The House of Commons Library[9] says of the CTA:

"The Common Travel Area (CTA) is a special travel zone between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, Isle of Man and Channel Islands. It dates back to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922.

Nationals of CTA countries can travel freely within the CTA without being subject to passport controls. Although both the Republic of Ireland and the UK maintain their own visa and immigration policies, there is a significant degree of practical cooperation and policy coordination in order to ensure the security of the CTA. Controls on the Irish border are also generally regarded as impractical and undesirable.

Irish nationals have a special status in UK law which is separate to and pre-dates the rights they have as EU citizens.

In short, the Republic of Ireland is not considered to be a 'foreign country' for the purpose of UK laws, and Irish citizens are not considered to be 'aliens'."

The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) states:

"ARTICLE 8: BORDER AGENCY COOPERATION

1. Each Member shall ensure that its authorities and agencies responsible for border controls and procedures dealing with the importation, exportation, and transit of goods cooperate with one another and coordinate their activities in order to facilitate trade.

2. Each Member shall, to the extent possible and practicable, cooperate on mutually agreed terms with other Members with whom it shares a common border with a view to coordinating procedures at border crossings to facilitate cross-border trade. Such cooperation and coordination may include:

(a) alignment of working days and hours;

(b) alignment of procedures and formalities;

(c) development and sharing of common facilities;

(d) joint controls;

(e) establishment of one stop border post control.

ARTICLE 9: MOVEMENT OF GOODS INTENDED FOR IMPORT UNDER CUSTOMS CONTROL

Each Member shall, to the extent practicable, and provided all regulatory requirements are met, allow goods intended for import to be moved within its territory under customs control from a customs office of entry to another customs office in its territory from where the goods would be released or cleared."

Article 8 of the EU's Treaty of Lisbon states:

"1. The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness, founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation.

2. For the purposes of paragraph 1, the Union may conclude specific agreements with the countries concerned. These agreements may contain reciprocal rights and obligations as well as the possibility of undertaking activities jointly. Their implementation shall be the subject of periodic consultation."

Already then, we can see the framework of the hybrid solution taking shape. By combining these separate elements, the UK and EU can create a new post-Brexit partnership which would remove the need for a hard border and ensure free trade.

There will no doubt be some remainers who will say that we are being too optimistic.

If they believe that, perhaps they should take it up with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar; who, only today, said that Ireland will not put in any border infrastructure even if there is no deal:

"Europe needs a deal. Britain needs a deal. We're not going to be preparing for a hard border - we're not preparing for any sort of land border between N Ireland and Ireland"[10]

The UK doesn't want a hard border.The EU doesn't want a hard border. And we have outlined how we can avoid one. Let's get to it!


[1] https://fullfact.org/europe/post-brexit-customs-max-fac-and-customs-partnership-explained/

[2] https://www.brugesgroup.com/blog/brexit-same-goals-different-paths-managing-divergence

[3] http://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/goods/international-aspects/mutual-recognition-agreements_en

[4] https://publications.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/a9c80272-fcca-11e7-b8f5-01aa75ed71a1/language-en

[5] https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tradfa_e/tradfa_e.htm#II

[6] https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tradfa_e/tradfatheagreement_e.htm

[7] https://www.politico.eu/article/irish-border-uk-officials-float-third-way-brexit-customs-compromise/

[8] http://www.lisbon-treaty.org/wcm/the-lisbon-treaty/treaty-on-european-union-and-comments/title-1-common-provisions/6-article-8.html

[9] http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7661

[10] https://twitter.com/lisaocarroll/status/1012320032670568448

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Monday, 23 July 2018

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