So much for the repeated claims by Theresa May’s Conservative Party government in the United Kingdom that her nation remains committed to the now decades’ old Irish-British peace process, no matter what difficulties or challenges emerge from the UK’s fractious exit negotiations with the European Union. Draft legislation currently passing through the committee stages in the House of Commons makes it clear that Britain intends to impose new post-Brexit security measures along the formerly militarised frontier around its legacy colony on the island of Ireland. These include the creation of a 1.6 kilometre deep stop-and-search zone north of the disputed border, taking in a number of rural towns and villages.
• The Bill will confer powers on examining officers (the police and designated immigration and customs officers) to stop, question, search and detain individuals at the UK border to determine whether they appear to be a person who is, or has been, engaged in hostile activity
In what circumstances may someone be stopped and questioned at the border?
• An examining officer will be able to stop, question, search and detain a person at the border for the purpose of determining whether he or she appears to be a person who is, or has been, engaged in hostile activity. Hostile activity for these purposes covers the commission, preparation or instigation of a hostile act that is or may be carried out for, or on behalf of, a State other than the UK, or otherwise in the interests of a State other than the UK.
What constitutes a “hostile act”?
• A hostile act for these purposes is one that threatens national security, threatens the economic well-being of the UK, or is an act of serious crime.
• The act must also be linked to a foreign state, as outlined above. Who will be able to exercise this power?
• Only appropriately trained and accredited police, immigration and customs officers will be able to use this power.
Will this measure apply across the United Kingdom?
• This provision will apply across the United Kingdom and could be used at any port or airport, within one mile of the Northern Ireland land border and at the first place at which a train travelling from the Republic of Ireland stops in Northern Ireland where passengers may leave the train.
These measures, the detention and questioning of people crossing or living near the partition line separating the north-eastern Six Counties from the rest of Ireland, would be a drastic reversion to the type of “policing” that London tried – and failed – to enforce in the region during the so-called Irish-British Troubles of 1966 to 2005. In a very real and very tangible sense, it would be a visible repudiation of several key aspects of the complex and multifaceted peace settlement which ended an otherwise stalemated and seemingly unending conflict.
As I pointed out elsewhere, the imposition of a new UK frontier in Ireland would require British customs officers to guard the border. And British police officers to guard the customs officers guarding the border. And British soldiers to guard the police officers guarding the customs officers guarding the border. Then we may forget about a stop-and-search zone and instead contemplate the return of no-go zones.