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Bojo Goes Bonkers: Two Borders Will Divide Ireland From Northern Ireland

Photograph Source: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

BoJo is nothing if not inventive. The Irish backstop problem had derailed the premiership of his predecessor the Maybot, and he was making no headway in dealing with it up to now.

The Good Friday peace agreement between the north and the south of Ireland requires a flexible border to exist between the two.

But Brexit would have (the non-EU) UK share a border with (the EU-member) Ireland, and the EU does not countenance a flexible border (tariff-free, free movement of peoples, etc.) between itself and non-EU countries– unless the UK strikes an agreement with the EU similar to the one Norway has. But that would amount to a soft Brexit, which of course is absolutely unacceptable to hardline Brexiters.

A hard border would therefore scupper the prospect of a Brexit deal between the UK and the EU, leaving an economically-catastrophic No Deal Brexit as the only option.

So BoJo, or someone in his team, came up with a jolly wheeze.

Why not have 2 borders, with the soft one existing where the Ireland-Northern Ireland border currently exists, and have a second border perhaps a few miles down the road, fully in Northern Ireland itself, where all the hard stuff (customs checks, immigration controls, and so forth) could be done?

When BoJo presented his 2-border proposal to the EU president Jean-Claude Juncker in a phone call, BoJo described his plan was a “fair and reasonable compromise”, saying that if the two sides could not reach agreement it would amount to “a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible”.

While the EU is expected to take a few days to respond officially to this hare-brained proposal, the head of the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group Guy Verhofstadt said immediately it was “absolutely not positive” since it did not provide the required safeguards for Ireland. Donald Tusk, the EU Council President, informed BoJo the EU is “still unconvinced” by his 2-borders proposal while telling Ireland “we stand fully behind you”.

Ireland’s agreement is therefore essential if the 2-borders plan is to go through, but its prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said in response that “I don’t fully understand how we can have Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in a separate customs unions [sic] and somehow avoid there being tariffs and checks and customs posts between north and south”.

Varadkar is right: the presumed 2-borders notwithstanding, there would still be tariffs on north-south trade, which would undermine the crucial farming and agri-food sector in both parts of Ireland, while businesses adjacent to the border would have to contend with barriers separating them from their customers and supply chains.

A key concern in the north of Ireland (as is the case elsewhere in the UK), is the Tory Brexiter plans to replace the EU’s regulatory framework prevailing in the UK up to now.

A key element in the ending of the Troubles in Northern Ireland has been the relative prosperity brought about by the peace agreement. A cessation of this prosperity would probably contribute to the undoing of the peace agreement.

It’s clear the Tories want a very different regulatory environment, one approximating more to the US than the EU— that is, much more “flexibility” on wages, lower taxes for the rich, and an across-the-board relaxation of environmental standards currently imposed by the EU.

The suspicion in some quarters is that BoJo advanced his absurd 2-borders proposal to gull his followers into thinking that he is serious about negotiating with the EU in a “spirit of compromise”, when of course anyone adequately informed (a description alas not applicable to most of his Brexiter followers) will know that putting forward such proposals for an “agreement” that are belly-up the moment they are mooted is exactly BoJo’s well-planned road to a No Deal Brexit.

He can then say to these followers that he tried ever so hard to secure a “compromise” with the EU, but those bastard eurocrats simply refused to meet him halfway.

A leaked memo from Johnson’s office to Tory MPs confirms this suspicion by saying that “This [rejection of the 2-border proposal] will be seen by everybody as a crazy policy. We have offered a compromise to avoid this situation”.

BoJo’s blaming of the EU for the failure to reach a Brexit agreement will of course be amplified in the rightwing tabloids supporting him to the hilt.

Also supporting BoJo’s 2-border plan is the predecessor, Dodgy Dave Cameron, who got this shambles on the road by calling for the referendum in 2016, and who resigned rather than clear-up the mess he created.

Getting an endorsement from Dodgy Dave is like having your newly-purchased shares endorsed by Bernie Madoff, so this one will probably not be talked-up by BoJo.

BoJo, though, as always, speaks with a forked tongue.

He told the right-wing Brexiter loons in his party that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than seek an extension, and that the UK will leave on 31 October “do or die”.

At the same time government documents submitted to the Court of Session said BoJo will send a letter asking for an extension to Article 50 – despite his repeated assertions that he will never delay Brexit.

So which BoJo are we to believe?

As I write the French president Emmanuel Macron has given BoJo until the end of the week to revise his Brexit plan to be accordant with EU requirements, something BoJo can’t do without causing his party to meltdown.

All escape tunnels are now being sealed-off for the ferret-like British prime minister.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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