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No Legal Status for the Backstop! Neither Necessary nor in Ireland’s Interests

In their desperate attempts to find excuses as to why the UK should stay within the EU despite the clear wishes of the population to leave, the remainers have targeted NI and the border with the Irish Republic as a major problem which can only be dealt with if we stay in the single market and the EU customs union.

MPs who couldn’t have told where Northern Ireland was, let alone the content of the Belfast Agreement, have suddenly become experts on the Irish border, the views of the people of Northern Ireland and the nuances of the Belfast Agreement. The Irish Government which previously had sought to work with Unionists in the Executive at Stormont and the UK Government at Westminster to normalise relationships and deal with the issues arising from the referendum result, are now prepared to risk all that investment. Indeed the Irish Prime Minister has recklessly jeopardised political and security stability in Northern Ireland with what appears to be belligerence and Brit bashing tactics as he seeks to become Michel Barnier’s EU pin up boy.

Instead of being allies with the UK in ensuring a sensible trading policy between the EU and the UK the Irish have become a major impediment to such an objective. Ironically the country which will suffer most if the UK leaves the EU with massive barriers to trade is, Ireland.  Ireland’s main trading partner is not the remaining EU countries, it is Great Britain. Furthermore Great Britain is the land bridge which carries most of Ireland’s trade with the EU so any disruption of trade with Great Britain would be catastrophic for Ireland. By contrast the amount of trade across the land boundary with Northern Ireland is minuscule. Yet all of the attention on post Brexit arrangements are directed towards the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border.

Even if we leave the EU with trade restrictions which involve the collection of tariffs and checking of goods the border should present no problem because most of the arrangements needed for a frictionless border are in place. Both administrations currently collect taxes on cross border trade without lorries having to be stopped at the border. There are intelligence led checks on some cross border trade and these present no problems for the relevant Authorities on both sides of the border. Regulatory checks take place, especially on agricultural products at the point of departure and for non EU trade only 1% of goods entering the EU through Ireland are even looked at and there is no reason why this percentage should increase when the UK becomes an non EU country.

Therefore the question needs to be asked why is there so much concern about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?

The answer is obvious. This is a manufactured problem designed only to make leaving the EU more difficult. Ireland have willingly become Michel Barnier’s useful idiots in selling the EU arguments even though if there is a messy Brexit which sees barriers imposed to UK/EU trade, Ireland will be the biggest loser. Given the solutions which the Government has put forward it is clear that our own Government knows that the EU is “at its work” but has foolishly given credence to the case by agreeing to an unworkable and damaging backstop arrangement which thankfully has no legal standing as of yet and should not be given such status.

It is evidence of the weakness of the remainers, EU and Irish case that they have shamelessly employed the argument that a hard border would risk peace in Northern Ireland.

Firstly one has defined what is meant by a hard border but it is clear to even the most casual observer that no amount of border infrastructure would stop cross border trade. During the “troubles” 50,000 troops, border watchtowers, blocked roads, checkpoints, and constant security patrols couldn’t seal the border, how much harder than that could you get. So talk of a hard border to control trade is total nonsense.

Secondly all the rights which Irish nationalists want are already secured. They can automatically hold Irish citizenship. They will be able to travel freely throughout Ireland. They can still vote in elections and have access to health and welfare benefits, so Brexit does not affect their Nationalist aspirations in any way.

Thirdly as far as trade is concerned  using trusted trader status, prior notification, local arrangements for day to day trade, intelligence led checks and electronic surveillance which already happens, trade could still take place frictionless even if we did not get a good future trade arrangement with the EU.

The Irish border should not be the issue it is and between now and October the Prime Minister should make it clear she will not allow Varadkar, Barnier and the remainers in the House of Commons to play the Irish card.

 

Sammy Wilson MP

Sammy Wilson has been the DUP Member of Parliament for Antrim East since 2005 and sat in the Northern Ireland Assembly between 1998 and 2015, representing Belfast East and later Antrim East. Between 2008 and 2013 he served on the Northern Ireland Executive as Minister for the Environment then Minister for Finance and Personnel and twice served as Lord Mayor of Belfast. He is currently the DUP spokesman on Treasury matters and Brexit.

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