Bordering on the ridiculous - and it's no laughing matter
IN the new BBC Northern Ireland comedy Soft Border Patrol, which is actually funny, comedian Neil Delamere, Faolan Morgan and Julie Maxwell McCann play members of a fictional border patrol, in the context of an implemented Brexit.
Delamare's character says they can tell the origin of owls and cows based on the way they make their traditional animal noises. If a cow moos with the emphasis on the consonant, it is a ‘nordie'. It's all good knockabout stuff and the scary thing is that this mock documentary TV programme is thinly working example we have seen of a soft border in action. You've got to laugh, right? Wrong.
Ever since the UK referendum, when it is worth re-stating that 56 per cent of the population in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the UK, the UK Government has been crashing headlong into an undefined ‘hard Brexit' purely as means of preventing further dissension in the ranks of the Tory party. Unfortunately the DUP - yes, they represent the largest section of the voting public here - have been aiding and abetting this imminent car crash.
On December 8, on the back of the deal struck between the EU27 and the UK, the CBI locally welcomed the opportunities contained therein and said “while we remain some way from a comprehensive solution to the Irish border issue, companies will be pleased to see both sides make explicit commitments to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement and to the seamless, frictionless trade both north/south and east/west that the CBI has called for.”
The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce said: “Business will particularly welcome the commitment made towards no hard border on the island of Ireland, and they will also be relieved that the UK market, as well as the all island market, will be protected.”
Similar sentiments came from the other business representative bodies including Manufacturing NI, the Freight Association and Retail NI.
It was obvious that what was agreed in principle and described as a ‘significant breakthrough' was welcomed across the board by the business community. Indeed some of us saw the opportunity for this region to have the best of all worlds - retaining our position within an All-Ireland economy and the structures of a single market.
So where are the pragmatists among our politicians who could sieze this opportunity? Unfortunately the approach of the hard Brexiteers is driven by ideology over political pragmatism and even fear over hope.
The latest set of proposals being championed by both the UK Government and the DUP Brexiteers are those outlined in the Smart Border 2 report, which first appeared last November but has only now gained some momentum. That report reads in part like a fantasy document; it specifically states that the border will consist of physical as well as digital infrastructure. It provides for people giving advance notice of their intention to cross the border so as to avoid checks. Clearly the author has rarely, if ever, travelled the border between Derry and Donegal, Fermanagh and Leitrim or any other of our porous so called border crossings which are marked by little more than hedgerows or signs on a roundabout.
However Theresa May has welcomed the report and the DUP regard it as containing the answer to the vexed issue of the pledge there would be ‘no hard border.' The Irish Government has already dismissed the proposals with the backing of the EU negotiating team.
Theresa May's other great wheeze is to copy the USA/Canadian border. Anyone who has made that journey can't have failed to notice the border checkpoints, the armed guards, the queues of tourists never mind locals. A soft border it certainly isn't.
Even at this late stage though is there any hope that the political commitment to hard border could be re-visited? Even in the name of self preservation the UK Government and by extension the DUP must know that no credible plan equals an effective customs union. Might political pragmatism win out over ideology, in a region which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU?
It appears not and since the local political parties cannot agree on the most basic of political tenants - to serve in Government on agreed basis which involved compromise on all sides, it appears the opportunity opened up by the December deal and subsequent translation of that into legal proposals, will be squandered.
All of this matters, to the business community, to our immigrant population and the employers dependent on them, to our young people who want to travel freely across the European Union, and it matters to those of us with childhood memories of showing identification on the Belfast to Dublin border, having our cars searched and such journeys taking hours longer than necessary.
It should not so dismissively thrown back in our faces as the views of ‘Remoaners' or the new phrase that has crept into local politics, ‘hard remainers.'
Commitment to ideology above everything else is holding Northern Ireland back, and unlike the TV programme Soft Border Patrol, that's no joke.
:: Brendan Mulgrew (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing partner at MW Advocate (www.mwadvocate.com). Follow on Twitter @brendanbelfast
:: Next week: Conor Lambe