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Maybe a realistic scenario is Hard Brexit, with no wall, and lots of "smuggling" across a permeable border, but economic distress because of overall Brexit disruption not specifically tied to Ireland, then a unification vote in NI, and a subsequent Irish Sea border. ???
No Deal is unconscionable for political and humanitarian reasons. It goes far past trade agreements or border control technology.
UK exporters into Ireland coming in via N. Ireland (a very small proportion of total) will be required to become registered "trusted traders" and submit paperwork and any tariffs due in advance. Trucks coming in from N. Ireland will be stopped at random check-points and searched, and any non-compliance punished with maximum fines and publicity to deter others.
As most of such exports are by large firms such as Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Musgraves, Guinness etc. they will have well established traceability, paperwork and tax compliance procedures in place (for VAT liability), and some, like Guinness, already have customs officials on site to ensure compliance with excise duties.
Exports of UK goods by small traders or private individuals in small vans or private cars, although formally required to adhere to above procedures will, in practice, be largely ignored by customs unless a scandal - e.g. chlorinated chickens - comes to light in which case customs enforcement resources will be focused on that sector.
Therefore some smuggling, immaterial in terms of volume in an EU 27 context, will occur, although formally, Ireland will be in compliance with Customs Union and Single Market rules. Any imperfections in the system will be explained by:
No Deal UK would see systemic shortages of essential items, including medical supplies, and price gouging. The implications for border traffic aren't hard to work out.
The implications for sectarianism - black market near-monopolies enforced by violence and linked to arms purchases - are only slightly less obvious.
As for "the UK" - I'm not sure the UK exists as a political entity any more. If you mean the Tories, they're primarily interested in staying in power, and appear completely disinterested in the consequences for anyone else.
If that means appeasing the DUP and (e.g.) making many common prescription drugs unavailable, I expect they can live with that.
The UK government will not want to limit the importing of medical supplies, it will be the EU wanting to limit the exporting. So that is a border control problem for the EU, driven by commercial and philosophical goals related to trade.
But the lack of import barriers on the UK side will allow open season for fake drugs and any other goods from factories in the third world. That is a problem for the UK, but it is more than a commercial or philosophical goal, it is a practical matter of people dying from fake insulin or whatever.
So, maybe answering my own question, maybe it will be the UK that will find itself in the position of needing border management.
I don't know why any country would want to limit its exports, as that helps its own industry. So the problems relate to import controls and concerns about quality controls or tariff evasion.
The Brits keep saying they will keep their borders open, and expect the EU to reciprocate. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.
So the problem for the UK will not be shortages of medicines etc., but shortages of cash to pay for them as UK exports experience increasing difficulty accessing the Single Market.
Ireland will be expected to act as a gatekeeper for any UK goods trying to enter the EU26 via Ireland, and that it will do via controls at all Irish air/sea ports.
There remains the problem of UK goods accessing the Irish Market. The UK had its only significant trading surplus with Ireland, so restrictions there could be very damaging for both. Both are also promising to keep the border open, so the only alternative is controls at the Irish sea and/or trusted trader schemes within Ireland.
The administrative burdens (and or tariffs) involved could see Irish businesses seek alternate EU26 sources of supply. Equally Irish exporters to the UK (chiefly pharma and agri-food) will seek alternate markets in EU 26. Think Irish Cheddar replacing UK Cheddar on EU supermarket shelves.
Overall Ireland/UK trade has declined from 70% of total Irish Trade at EU accession in 1973 to 14% now. That trend will continue, probably sharply accelerated by Brexit and Sterling devaluation.
The problems for the Irish economy will be largely internal, with already booming Dublin's economy boosted by UK financial services companies relocation to Dublin, but already struggling rural areas suffering even more because of loss of food exports to the UK. Political dynamite for the government. Expect intra-EU talks to facilitate substitution of UK exports by Irish Exports.
I don't expect the DUP veto to survive for long in this scenario.
Index of Frank's Diaries
Then you have the global supply chains. Some things made in Britain needs other things made in the EU and vice versa. With just in time supply chains spanning the globe, it is hard to know where there will be absence of goods, but it's likely to appear.
And then comes balance of payment when the center of global money laundering moves away.
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