The Irish Times view on the Border’s future: Technology is not the solution
How the next UK prime minister approaches the backstop will be critical for Ireland
UK officials working with the Northern Ireland civil service drew up a list of 145 areas of North-South co-operation under the Belfast Agreement. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
The sheer scale of the challenge facing this island in the event of a no-deal Brexit has been itemised in two important documents published recently.
One is a paper prepared by the European Commission on the importance of the backstop for the future of North-South co-operation and the other a report commissioned by the Northern Ireland Department of the Economy.
Both documents detail the threat a hard border would pose not only to trade between the two parts of the island but to the elaborate network of connections that has developed on a whole range of issues in the 21 years since the signing of the Belfast Agreement.
There is no way of avoiding the fact that the backstop is necessary for the continuation of the current arrangements for the Border
The reports could not be more timely as they coincide with the contest for the leadership of the British Conservative Party, with the winner set to become the next UK prime minister.
How the victor attempts to reconcile his party’s objections to the backstop with the professed desire of both candidates, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, to avoid a hard border will be critical for Ireland in the months ahead.
The commission paper rejects the argument made by many Conservative politicians that the Border problem can be solved by technology alone. It points to a range of cross-Border activity that goes beyond the technical and fiscal aspects of customs and single market regulations.
The document points out that during discussions between EU and British officials it was consistently recognised that virtually all areas of North-South co-operation are predicated on the avoidance of a hard border, including customs or regulatory checks and controls.
It points out that during the summer of 2017, UK officials working with the Northern Ireland civil service drew up a list of 145 areas of North-South co-operation under the Belfast Agreement.
That was followed by a mapping exercise involving EU, UK and Irish officials who went through all the areas of co-operation to examine the likely disruption that would follow if EU law no longer applied in Northern Ireland.
That detailed analysis provided the basis for the protocol in the withdrawal agreement which enshrined the backstop as a means of preserving North-South co-operation and of avoiding a hard border. There is no way of avoiding the fact that the backstop is necessary for the continuation of the current arrangements for the Border.
The other report, carried out by two international experts for the North’s Department of the Economy, is unambiguous about the damaging impact of EU tariffs on food exports to the Republic and the ability of small and medium enterprises with no experience in customs procedures to continue exporting across the Border. Taken together the reports leave no room for doubt about the devastating impact a no-deal Brexit will have on both parts of Ireland.