The Guardian, on 7 August, ran an interesting article on the “border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The hard border is not currently there because of the terms of the Good Friday agreement, underpinned by the fact that both the UK and Ireland are EU states. If Britain leaves the EU with no deal, there will be an international border between two entities with disparate health regulations, tax schemes and immigration policies, meaning it will need to be fortified once more.
The writer, Séamas O’Reilly, points out that, after the Good Friday agreement, the old customs checkpoint at the end of his garden was sold so that a large family home could be built in its place. The couple who live there might object to having a customs outpost erected in their bedroom. The building immediately next door is in the Republic of Ireland, and was formerly the Irish customs post. It’s now a kickboxing gym.
There are 300 miles (482km) of border like this, built on and now privately owned, with family homes, petrol stations, cow sheds and kickboxing gyms. To re-erect a hard border across Northern Ireland would be the most expensive and logistically arduous engineering, staffing and planning job in UK or Irish history. It would take a great deal more than 85 days and £2.1 billion. And even if it were undertaken it would still be a bad idea, even if it promised a massively improved economy and huge social improvements. In other words, a hard border in Ireland is simply unworkable.
But for Brexiteers there has to be a barrier between the two parts of Ireland, otherwise the much- resented East Europeans and others can get unimpeded access to Britain via Ireland, making the whole idea of Brexit and “control of our own borders” moot.
The only intelligent option for the extremist Brexiteers is to throw up their hands, abandon the Protestant majority in the North (rapidly becoming a minority anyway), and do what should have been done decades ago – declare a united Ireland. This is about as likely as the Republicans in the US agreeing to civilised gun laws. Which illustrates the fact that the Brexiteers never paused to think about the detail of what they were doing. I dare say none of them have ever been and looked at the old border between the Republic and Ulster (P.S: I have).