Brian Feeney: Ireland will be partitioned more thoroughly than ever before
THE British government intends to partition the island of Ireland more thoroughly than ever before. Make no mistake about it, that is the inevitable reckless consequence of the Conservative government's decision to leave the EU Customs Union.
The current phrase trotted out, including in the Brexit White Paper making the resultant border "as seamless and frictionless as possible" is meaningless and Theresa May and her ministers know that.
The next phrase in the white paper, "so that we can continue to see the trade and everyday movements we have seen up to now" is just nonsense. It can't happen and that is slowly beginning to dawn on ministers in Dublin after the depressing meeting they had with May fresh from her desperate grovelling to Trump and Erdogan.
In a rare serious response to a question in the Dáil from the Sinn Féin leader about the visit, Enda Kenny admitted, "Deputy Adams asked me about having a situation where there is no land border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. I am not sure that we are going to achieve that". Former TD for Louth, Dermot Ahern predicted, "there will be checks, particularly on the southern side", he added, "it will be a disaster for us".
The waffle about the Common Travel Area (CTA) in the white paper is just that - waffle. It has nothing to do with trade or commerce or duties and the British know that full well. Besides, the CTA operated all through the Troubles and didn't stop queues at times stretching miles on both sides of the border, nor people being stopped and held at airports in Britain on the whim of some dopey zealot.
Two experts on EU customs and trade rules, Michael Lux and Eric Pickett, have provided chapter and verse of what must happen at any new border between the EU Customs Union and the UK. "In Ireland, the customs legislation of the EU will apply to movements of goods (between north and south). The EU rules on VAT and excise duties (e.g. on alcohol and tobacco) on importation will also apply when goods are brought" from north to south. They went on in language deliberately rubbishing the white paper. This means that it will not be possible "to see the trade and everyday movements we have seen up to now".
Lux and Pickett went into the details including a €300 maximum value of goods taken across the border and the need for red and green channels and so on. It's not necessary to labour the point. Can anything be done to avoid it all? Unfortunately we're stuck with Enda Kenny who in his person gives a new definition of the word ineffectual. Looks as if he's going to try to hang on until the Pope's visit in 2018.
In the short term, as Michelle O'Neill has already said, Brexit must become part of any negotiations on a future executive here. Negotiations will be jointly chaired by Charlie Flanagan and our proconsul, Theresa May's local mouth-piece, so we'll know exactly what May thinks since so far he has never dared utter an original sentence of his own. Sinn Féin must use their clout in the Dáil to ensure that the interests of the north are high on the agenda of the Republic's negotiations with the EU's other 27 states for it is they, not Britain, who will decide the ultimate arrangements.
Last week our proconsul, in response to a question from his pal the DUP's conference clown, Wilson, rubbished special status for the north. The media here took that as if his position on anything mattered. The UK hasn't even triggered Article 50. Negotiations haven't begun and when they do our proconsul won't be involved. That will be between Ireland and the UK and the EU and UK.
Meanwhile, interesting parts of the white paper apart from its fantasies. Gibraltar is mentioned eight times. For example, "Gibraltar will have particular interests given that the EU Treaties apply to a large extent in Gibraltar, with some exceptions (for example, Gibraltar is not part of the Customs Union)". Then again Gibraltar voted 96 per cent Remain. Special status beckons. Will Spain agree? Scope for imaginative negotiations. It's all to play for.