‘There will be a hard border, the only question is where’

Notions of a high-tech unseen border are a pipe dream, promises of a soft border almost worthless. This is the forthright view of Professor James Anderson, a founder-member of the Centre for International Borders Research at Queen’s University Belfast, writing in the Irish Times.

“There will be a hard border. The only question is where?The land Border between North and South leaks like a sieve … Even during the Troubles, when highly militarised and with 200 cross-Border roads closed, it was leaky. It is virtually useless for stopping an inflow of immigrants, the main reason behind Brexit. So the real or hard border will actually be the sea around the island of Britain and the ports and airports connecting with the island of Ireland.”

Infrastructure already exists at airports and sea ports for separating people from goods. Replicating that on the land border would be costly and ineffective, clogging up the roads and costing businesses (the Irish Road Haulage Association says it costs €32 per hour to keep a lorry parked on the side of the road waiting for customs clearance). “And it would still be leaky for goods as well as people with the South getting smuggled food and other commodities not up to EU standards.” Border communities, which are already organised, would fight back. “Any attempt to re-impose a hard Border would be highly disruptive and extremely unpopular …  There would inevitably be widespread popular resistance and civil disobedience.”

Apart from the smugglers, the other big winners would be the dissidents. (Anderson doesn’t mention the great danger that these two groups may end up being one and the same). “Building Border installations would be an open invitation for the Republican dissidents to copy the IRA’s 1950s Border campaign of attacking Border posts. That could increase their support and in turn increase loyalist paramilitarism, conceivably reigniting at least a mini-version of the Troubles.”

The author reckons some form of hybrid resolution for the north is in the deep interest of the EU itself and points out that the EU has lived with membership anomalies for a long time, from Greenland’s position to non-members being parts of its customs union or Schengen free travel zone.