No, Theresa, US/Canada border is not good model for Ireland

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 09.03.2018

Theresa May says the US/Canada border could be a model for the Irish border post Brexit. Dublin has rejected the idea. You can see why.  Here’s what the US/Canada border looks like:


There are checkpoints, guards and smuggling. Here, by contrast, is the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic at Killeen:

The only clue that you’re leaving one country for another? The road sign is in kilometres rather than miles. No-one disputes that the US and Canada enjoy what May might refer to as a “deep and special partnership”. So why does their border look so different?

The short answer is that the UK and Ireland are both EU member states. They are both in its customs union and single market. This means goods produced in one country can be sold in the other. Anything coming into Britain from outside the EU pays the same tariff it would pay if it were brought into Ireland.

This is not how the US/Canada relationship works. And it is not how the UK-Ireland relationship is going to work after Brexit if May gets her way and pull us out of the customs union and single market.

Here’s why that’s a problem. Let’s imagine that post-Brexit we sign a trade deal with America that allows in imports of chlorine-washed chicken, which is banned in the EU. Since the UK doesn’t want border checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and there are no customs checks between the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU, the only way of stopping that chicken entering the EU would be to have customs controls on the Irish border.

The moment British standards diverge, or British tariffs are lowered, the Irish border becomes a backdoor into the EU. There would be nothing to stop unscrupulous businesses undercutting competitors by laundering cheap imports through Northern Ireland.

Donald Tusk called on May to produce a “realistic solution” to avoid a hard border on a trip to Dublin yesterday. The European Council president added: “If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first before moving to the Irish issue, my response would be ‘Ireland First.’”

The ball is in our prime minister’s court. Could she secretly be hoping that MPs force her to stay in a customs union with the EU? Though that would amount to a humiliating retreat from one of her red lines, it would go a long way towards stopping the Irish border looking like the Canada/US one.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “No, Theresa, US/Canada border is not good model for Ireland”

  • Quite apart from the Ireland / Northern Ireland land border, there’s the vexed question of controlling movement between the UK and EU through all of our seaports and the Channel Tunnel. How is that going to work? Has the government told us?

  • Anyone who thinks the peace process in N. Ireland is irreversible should have a look at Chapter 3 of Ben Fogle’s book “Land Rover”. (Yes, I know, it seems an unlikely place for an insight into Brexit.) Ben Fogle visited the PSNI in Belfast while researching his book and went out on patrol with them in an armoured Land Rover. The PSNI still relies on upwards of 400 of these specially adapted vehicles to patrol Northern Ireland. Fogle writes:

    “The image of the car is certainly at odds with the ‘peace’ of Northern Ireland. As we wind our way through the peaceful-looking streets of Belfast, the Pangolin [Land Rover] is a reminder that for many this is still a place of conflict…. We are on an active anti-terror patrol. What is sobering is that the would-be terrorists are not fanatical Islamic State thugs but home-grown activists intent on disrupting the peace process.”

    At one point Fogle wants to get out of the Land Rover but is warned against this by one of the police officers. “[H]is voice conveys something different. This is a place where the scars of the Troubles run deep…. Turning up with heavily armed officers in a riot Pangolin…is a raw, visceral reminder that the Troubles may have left the headlines but they are far from over.” He concludes the chapter by saying: “[T]he continued use of the Land Rover remains a troubling reminder that peace is only skin-deep.”

    It is easy to think that the Good Friday agreement has solved everything and that peace is here to stay. But Ben Fogle’s book contains a powerful reminder that peace in Ireland is very fragile, and that is why it is so important that the border there remains invisible. Attempts by Brexiteers to downplay the importance of the Good Friday agreement are irresponsible in the extreme.

  • As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…assuming it is not a fake of course. The use of photos in parliament might bring some of these technophobes down to earth. They can witter all day on how great the US-Canada border is. However, just one photo is all it takes and the whole nonsense is exposed for the sham it is.