Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
The EU - quite reasonably - insists on customs controls for trade with third countries. So there has to be a customs border somewhere.

The UK isn't sure what it wants, or what day of the week it is, but in theory it also reserves the right to implement its own customs controls.

So both sides need controls to manage quotas and tariffs/taxes and to make sure regulatory requirements are being met for everything from animal imports to fruit and veg to car parts to electronics to fine art.

But... there can't be a hard border between NI and Ireland for political and historic reasons. Both the EU and UK have said they don't consider border checkpoints an acceptable outcome, and this solution treads perilously close to blowing up the Good Friday Agreement and restarting the Troubles.

There can't be customs checks by UK officials inside Ireland for political and historic reasons. The Irish government considers this option unacceptable.

There can't be a hard border between NI and the UK for political and historic reasons. Although it started implementing this option earlier in the year, the current British government seems to have decided this option is now unacceptable.

There must be a customs border somewhere. There cannot be a customs border anywhere.

Maybe Gibraltar?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Sep 18th, 2020 at 07:26:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The people problem is even more complicated. Ireland and the UK have a Common Travel Area which gives anyone with a UK or Irish passport the right to live in, move around in, and work in the common area. So currently there are no passport checks on the Irish border. In fact there isn't really any border at all.

This was fine when EU Freedom of Movement was a thing. Now that it's not a thing, the UK wants to make sure it can check the passports of people coming into NI from the EU to make sure they're Irish and not some other unacceptable kind of European immigrant.

This is impossible without border checks. See above re: GFA.

Which means checks will either not happen at all, or they'll happen somewhere between NI and the mainland. As before, the UK is very unhappy about this - partly on principle, but also because there's a fair amount of traffic between the two, and no-compromise border controls would be complicated, time-consuming, and expensive.

My spies tell me the UK's solution will be to wave goods and people through for at least the first few years - good news for smugglers, people traffickers, drug dealers, and other undesirables, and a "solution" which will do even more to damage the UK's international reputation.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Sep 18th, 2020 at 07:39:00 PM EST
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As an Italian-American without a single drop of Irish blood (I've had DNA tests), NI as part of the UK makes as much sense as Piedmont being part of Austria or Sicily being part of Libya.
by StillInTheWilderness on Fri Sep 18th, 2020 at 08:51:05 PM EST
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But union of North Ireland and Ireland makes Brexiteer's heads explode. In the end it will likely be the desires of the residents of North Ireland than make the decision that it makes more sense to join Ireland than to remain part of the U.K.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Sep 18th, 2020 at 08:57:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'that make the decision'.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Sep 18th, 2020 at 08:58:16 PM EST
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The last thing the Republic needs is an economic basket case with Protestant terrorist groups added at no extra charge.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Sep 19th, 2020 at 02:09:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Passport control already happens on the NI-GB link, effectively. You can't really travel legally from NI to GB without papers of some kind.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 19th, 2020 at 09:46:21 AM EST
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The obvious solution to the Northern Ireland question is making it a special economic area. But I guess emotional issues are more important.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 19th, 2020 at 10:15:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In practice, this may be how it all turns out, with N. Ireland businesses having relatively unencumbered access to both the Single and United Kingdom Markets. It is about the only thing that could make the place economically viable again.

Given that most North South and east west trade is dominated by a few large retailers and other businesses, "trusted trader" schemes whereby these businesses report their import/exports in the same way as their VAT returns, could work for perhaps 80% of all trade.

The relatively small amounts transported by private individuals/sole traders and small business in cars/vans would be immaterial in an EU context and be made legal by exempting "shipments" under (say) €1,000 for personal use. On-line retailers wouldn't be exempt because they are generally large companies.

Large trucks would be subject to random spot checks near the border, and at ports exiting the island for the rest of the EU. It simply isn't feasible to block 300 road crossings along the 500KM border, and these blockades were regularly blown up during the troubles as they divided farms, towns, and rural communities with intimate ties.

I hear Amazon and other multiples are busy setting up distribution centres in Ireland having previously serviced the Irish market from UK warehouses. Aldi and Lidl and Decathlon are expanding rapidly. Tesco et al used to regard Ireland as "Treasure Island" as they could sustain much higher margins here for lack of competition. This is changing and they will lose market share v. rapidly if they don't adapt from exclusive reliance on British distribution centres.

This is the reality of Brexit, although Brexiteers and many political commentators have been remarkably slow at grasping the significance of the economic changes that will ensue. Who knew that customs controls could be so much hassles? It strikes at the heart of the globalising business and consumer trends of the past 50 years that everyone took for granted.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Sep 20th, 2020 at 10:53:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the Norway-Sweden border you can bring goods for personal use, but not for selling. Exactly how much that is, there are court cases about. In practise the police doesn't bother to check cars that isn't obviously carrying a lot of weight. Trucks are checked, though.

There is smuggling: meat and alcohol to Norway, rice and sugar to Sweden. But it is at the margins and there is a risk at getting caught.

by fjallstrom on Tue Sep 22nd, 2020 at 11:42:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Citizens of the UK and Ireland can travel legally around the Common Travel Area without a passport if they have other ID, which may be checked on boarding. But it's fairly casual.

There are currently no airport-style hard border queues with immigration officials checking passports/ID/visas on entry - which would be the only way to control immigration to the mainland, which is what Brexiters really care about, but is also impossible because etc.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Sep 19th, 2020 at 01:04:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've never had a passport but I've day-tripped to Mexico and Canada. Three days in Canada, entering from Detroit and exiting at Niagra Falls. Mountie asked my business and how long I was staying, cautioned me to exchange money only at banks and government stations and said, "Enjoy your stay in Canada,Sir." US Border patrol pulled me over (Illinois license plates), accused me of being a drug smuggler and/or a Communist agent, rummaged through my daughter's underwear, then left saying "You can go now", leaving the undies strewn about the trunk. Didn't open any other luggage only the sole bag that looked "girly". circa 1986
by StillInTheWilderness on Mon Sep 21st, 2020 at 11:07:53 PM EST
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That's a pretty typical experience. In the 1970s the Canadians didn't even stop your car.
by asdf on Tue Sep 22nd, 2020 at 05:33:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Sep 23rd, 2020 at 08:31:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mexico, in the '70s:
Day trip, san diego to Tiajuana. carefully stepped over Mexican border guard as we walked over the border. Took a cab to downtown Tiajuana, ate at a hotel (much better Mexican food at a little place in San Diego a colleague referred us to) and returned. At the US border, my partner dclared a leather jacket and stated he had not bought anything else for six months. Passed, no duty. I had nothig to declare. "You didn't buy anything in Mexico?" "No, just a restaurant meal." Passed. Then after avbout ten steps: "You! Back here! Empty out your pockets!" I had them half emptied when "Okay, you can go." BTW, both of us were  US Civil servants (Navy Department). Jim was 70, I was late 20's. So border guards do not pick on Latinos. They are just surly a__holes.
by StillInTheWilderness on Fri Sep 25th, 2020 at 03:03:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Brexit is a disaster for Gibraltar because its economic model is based on being in the single market but not in the customs union - so it can be a tax haven and smuggling base - but even Theresa May's best version of Brexit involved being in the customs union but outside the single market (because no freedom of movement). There has been no serious discussion of this in the past 4 years. Gibraltar wants a close economic relation with Spain, but at the same time needs to make noises about its inalienable Britishness. It's going to be a mess.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 19th, 2020 at 10:13:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe the question is how long Gibraltar can hang on with nobody crossing the border. A couple of weeks?
by asdf on Tue Sep 22nd, 2020 at 05:34:51 PM EST
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