Peter Foster @pmdfoster Europe Editor of the Daily Telegraph. Formerly based in Washington DC, Beijing and New Delhi. Opinions my own. Jul. 03, 2019 4 min read

It is now clear that Brexiteers and both Johnson/Hunt accept that for technology to deliver on Irish border they will need to dilute commitment to 'no hard border' in Ireland - where does this lead? My latest. 1/thread 

At the hustings in Belfast yesterday @BorisJohnson chose his words carefully there “will be no physical checks or infrastructure at the border in Northern Ireland”.

A lot riding on that word "at"... /2

The promise is not 'no' checks/infrastructure, just none 'at' the border...

This chimes with recent @ShankerSingham1 Alternative Arrangements Report and @Policy_Exchange paper by Lord Bew, with foreword by Sir Graham Brady, of Brady Amendment fame /3

In that Lord Bew paper, he argues that the economic freedoms that 'no hard border' is supposed to protect "evolved" as a result of the Single European Act of 1992, NOT the Good Friday Agreement - and is "not central" to its terms. /4 

But this seems contradictory to me - because if those economic freedoms were created by joining the EU Single Market, why will they not be constrained by leaving it? /5

Clearly they will. Which means accepting that Brexit - or a version of it that involves leaving the EU single market and customs union - will materially pare back the experiences of those that live, work, trade across that border. /6

In his foreword to the Bew Paper, Sir Graham Brady makes no apology for this - citing existing border differences, saying on the "scale and functioning" of checks is at issue. /6

But for the Irish government and I suspect the vast majority of those affected, that is precisely the issue.

Their lives being sacrificed upon the altar of an "English" Brexit they didn't vote for. Not hard to see, given the history, how that goes down. /7

In many ways the Brexiteers are unapologetic about this.

They argue that 'things change' and that 'nothing ever stays the same'.

True. But don't expect that to be accepted in Dublin or Derry. /8

Indeed the unapologetic nature of the discussion can be shocking - @Policy_Exchange is the same think-tank that produce a paper on the border arguing that a certain amount of violence was "inevitable" but would fade soon enough./9 

(Note also that it would be the media's fault, apparently, for drawing attention to the issue).

Anway...the point is that this is MILES from the Irish government's understanding of the commitment given in the 2017 Joint Report /10

That committed to no return to a "hard border" and no "physical infrastructure or related checks and controls”.

No doubt others will argue different, bt I'm not sure that "at" is a get-out clause here.

Infrastructure = a border even if it's set back a few miles. /11

The IRA bombed the customs park in Newry, and that is not on the border.

Anyway, the point is, if we're leaving SM/CU, then Ireland is getting a border, just a 'light touch' or 'technological' one. /12

Karen Wheeler, the HMRC border chief was very clear about this today when talking to @instituteforgov

Technology won't solve the issue. /13 ?

Where does that leave us?

If technology can't deliver an invisible border, the Irish govt can't sign up for it.

But if 'no deal' delivers a border anway, they're trapped? /14

Viewed from this perspective, talk of 'time-limits' to the Irish backstop to massage the deal over the line in Westminster, don't change the hard realites.

It's a political fix, not a technical one. /15

It merely starts a hunt for 'alternative arrangements' that - best case scenario, deliver a border of sorts in an area that is, to put it kindly, politically indisposed to co-operating in such matters. /16

That doesn't mean that such a fix isn't the best worst alternative when set against a 'no deal' and the return of a border.

It creates space for new arithmetic to emerge in Westminster.

It also gives time for Nothern Ireland devolved institutions to be stood up. /17

Which - as the @ShankerSingham1 Alternative Arrangements Commmission reports hints at - creates time for Northern Ireland to voluntarily align with the parts of the EU single market and customs needed to create an 'invisible' border. /18

In a less charged world, where the DUP are not holding the balance of power in Westminster, that may well be the long road to the same 'de-dramatised' Irish Sea border that the EU proposed last year/19

The problem was that the EU had already 'dramatised' the backstop issue with the publication of its original text, so there was no way it could fly in the UK.

That's the argument for creating negotiating space, however hazy the logic.

To let gravity take hold.


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