One has to wonder if Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom’s tone-deaf Foreign Secretary, realised what he was implying when he compared the journey from one London borough to another with the possible future of “cross-border” travel between the UK legacy colony in the north-east of Ireland and the rest of the island? The former experience obviously requires no need for passport controls or customs checks, so why, he claimed during a radio interveiw, should it be different for the Six and Twenty-Six Counties following the British withdrawal from the European Union? The answer, of course, is because London’s metropolitan districts are in the same city and country, ruled by the same laws and regulations. On the 29th of March 2019, Britain will cease to be a member of the continental bloc, including its anachronistic outpost on this side of the Irish Sea. When that happens a formal and very visible partition line will be reimposed between north and south for the first time in over a decade. And through the wilful and harmful actions of the UK.
According to an article published earlier this morning by RTÉ:
Mr Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We think that we can have very efficient facilitation systems to make sure that there’s no need for a hard border, excessive checks at the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“There’s no border between Islington or Camden and Westminster, there’s no border between Camden and Westminster, but when I was mayor of London we anaesthetically and invisibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people travelling between those two boroughs without any need for border checks whatever.”
The unintended implication of the argument put forward by the Conservative Party politician is that any worries over the calamitous impact of Brexit on Ireland could be ameliorated if the entire island was recognised or began to function as a single territorial unit. As happens with the city of London as a whole. And which could happen if regulatory alignment and an invisible frontier under the auspices of the EU was maintained between both parts of the island. Or, more simply, in a reunited Thirty-Two County Republic.
It seems that the senior British minister and aspirant Tory leader is not the only one with that thought, as this exclusive evening report by RTÉ suggests:
The territory of Northern Ireland may be considered part of European Union customs territory post-Brexit, according to a draft legal text to be adopted by the European Commission tomorrow, RTÉ News understands.
The carefully worded text will allude to a single regulatory space on the island of Ireland with no internal barriers.
This scenario would reflect the so-called “default” or “backstop” option contained in the December agreement between the EU and the UK on how to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The draft text will also state that, under the backstop option, joint EU-UK customs teams will be required to apply checks on goods coming from the UK into the new regulatory space, but will not specify where those checks will take place.
If the new “regulatory space” is intended to be the entire island of Ireland, then the only obvious place the customs checks can take place is on either side of the Irish Sea. Which may explain this sudden and rather confrontational intervention by Boris Johnson leaked to Sky News in Britain, where he appears to have told:
….the Prime Minister “it is wrong to see the task as maintaining ‘no border'” on the island of Ireland after Brexit – and that the Government’s task will be to “stop this border becoming significantly harder”.
Writing to the Prime Minister, Mr Johnson also seeks to play down the “exaggerated impression” of “how important checks are” at EU external borders.
He also goes as far as contemplating a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, writing: “Even if a hard border is reintroduced, we would expect to see 95% + of goods pass the border [without] checks.”
With the sniff of a backbench revolt by hard-right Europhobic Tories in the air, and with the possibility of the UK crashing out of the European Union rising day-by-day, it seems that Boris Jonson fancies himself as the great white hope of British revanchist nationalism. With peace and stability in Ireland serving as the price he and his Brexiteer colleagues are willing to pay for their near-future control of Downing Street.