Any deal is better than No Deal
Our remit at BBB is to provide the best practical information available on Brexit to affected companies and communities in Ireland north and south, There has been no significant forward movement in UK-EU negotiations since December 2017. That was when the infamous Backstop took centre stage. Since then, the debate has been largely within the Tory Party and emitted a great deal more heat than light, but there was little point in us reporting on it.
No Deal really is the edge of a bottomless abyss.
- Last week the CEO of Translink, Chris Conway, told a House of Lords committee he could not say whether buses would run cross-border in the event of No Deal. That’s no express service from Belfast to Dublin Airport, no bus from Dublin to Letterkenny.
- In 2016, Freight NI recorded 4.6 million freight vehicles crossing the border, but it admitted those figures are for just 12 of 204 possible crossing points. “This equates to an average of 13,000 goods vehicles crossing the border daily, which is 541 per hour – or to illustrate it in comparison to cross channel movements, it’s a large freight ferry fully laden every 15 minutes, 24/7, 365 days a year.
- No Deal would technically mean that none of the northern or British trucks – or their drivers – would be licensed to enter the Republic. You might say – who would want to stop them? Well, perhaps their own insurance companies would, pretty soon.
- A ground-breaking bit of research over the summer by the NI Assembly tracked mobile phones beeping at the border. It shows that the number of people crossing is 105 million a year – that is not a typo.
- Earlier in the year we reported that 31,000 milk tankers cross the border every year.
The point of all that cross-border activity is that it is adding value, otherwise it would not be happening. The all-island economy is not a pious aspiration, it is out there, happening every day, and it is worth a great deal of money.
If we were just producing milk for our own cornflakes, a few hundred tankers a year could balance supply and demand between north and south. In fact, we are producing 10 billion litres of milk this year, many times our own consumption, mainly for export as milk powder to Asia, West Africa and Latin America/Caribbean countries. We have a massively efficient milk machine servicing a global market, and cross-border trade makes it possible. Now imagine what a WTO tariff of 15-45% would do. The tankers would simply stop.
Northern Ireland’s trade with Britain is worth more than three times its trade with the Republic. However, supply chains on the island of Ireland are so integrated that there are few high-value products heading for the English market that do not contain components or ingredients from the south. If we pull this value chain apart, we really will all suffer.
So we need a deal, pretty much any deal rather than No Deal. We wasted most of the last century on sterile border politics and we must not allow it to dominate the next century. Anyone with eyes to see knows that there has always been a regulatory boundary in the Irish Sea, put there and operated by the UK authorities both before and after Partition. The only deal on the table involves a clear, legally binding Backstop. Let’s get on with it.