Peter Foster @pmdfoster Europe Editor of the Daily Telegraph. Formerly based in Washington DC, Beijing and New Delhi. Opinions my own. Feb. 05, 2019 3 min read

I can scarcely believe this - we are not into a 'the backstop' v 'a backstop' semantics debate.

Downing St once again dancing on the head of a pin.

So let's be clear...1

In her speech, May recommits to

a) December Joint Report and NO infrastructure and related checks

b) no customs border in Irish Sea /2

That effectively rules out technology to *create* a border, even if May doesn't rule out some applications of technology to help with de-dramatising downstream consequences of Brexit.

But the ERG/Shanker Singham ideas of tech (and drones) to fix border dies. /3

I've spent day talking to NI businessmen.

So. Imagine. We've diverged and done trade deals with US, NZ, AUS etc... and have different tariffs, different standards (hormone-treated beef) leading to meat at different prices in UK. /3

Declan Billington who sits on NI's Agrifood Strategy Board estimates that a truck load of cheap beef, taken to a smuggers barn on the border, repackaged as EU-compliant beef is instantly worth €50,000 more.

So massive incentive to smuggle./4

We know this because cigs (one in four cigs in IE is estimated to be bootlegged) and petrol/diesel smuggling costs some €300m in lost revenues.

Add food, agri and industrial products to that in a diverged economy and you'll have a smugglers boomtime. /5

And to be clear here, it's ILLEGAL traffic that's the problem - they won't be looking to comply with the rules.

Recall the 2008 Dioxin scandal where dodgy interests used bootleg oil to heat pig barns, soaking the meet in Dioxin levels 80-100 time EU limits. /6

That led to recalls in 23 countries and cost Irish pork industry a €100m according to Stephen Kelly at @ManufacturingNI

And then guess what? The smuggling is still linked to paramilitary groups. /7

So you still need to police 300 miles of border with 200 crossing.

No good having 'light touch' regulation, voluntary registration back from the border. That NOT THE PROBLEM. It's the crooks.

So then maybe you use @ShankerASingham drones, right? /8

Genius idea that, since helicopter-like machines hovering over the badlands outside Crossmaglen, Derry or Newry surely aren't going to cause any flashbacks to The Troubles.

Of course not. And if you identify a dodgy lorry, then what? Well, you got to send a man to intercept it/9

What kind of man? Does he have gun as well as a peaked cap?

Does he need a woman in combat fatigues to protect him?

How hard is it to see how quickly the downward spiral begins? /10

Because with that much money at stake, you are surely naive if you don't think that mafia gangs with para military roots don't start running the kind of intimidation and suppression operations that will also bring banks brutal memories? /11

How long before things get nasty for anyone found co-operating with the authorities?

Remember the foul and savage practice of kneecapping? In those parts, strange to relate, they do.

All of which is to say... /12

The backstop needs to actually deliver on those December 2017 promises Mrs May re-iterated today, and it needs to deliver in the real world.

I understand that NI biz leaders offered Mrs May that they would go and talk to Malthouse types - or have them to NI. /13

I hope they take up the offer, and I hope they listen.

Because if you don't want the checks done between GB and NI, then its pretty much a customs union with sufficient regulatory alignment not to leave NI in special measures.

Same as its always been. 14/ENDS

Addendum: been pointed out to me that gang/smuggling issue does not have exclusively Republican paramilitary roots, as the Dublin gang wars testify 

You can follow @pmdfoster.


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