What Actually Is The Irish Border Problem?

Repeatedly we are told that leaving the EU without a deal will cause disastrous problems for the Irish border that are insurmountable.  With childish naivety I would like to investigate exactly what that problem really is.

People?

It’s hardly a sensible route for extra smuggling of illegal immigrants into the UK. with Calais – Dover as porous as it is, why would anyone go Calais – Dublin – Belfast – Liverpool? The reverse route wont be particularly attractive either especially as Ireland isn’t in Shengen, which makes Dublin – Calais a bit tricky (so too that Calais – Dublin inward leg).

Import Duties?

This is more like it. If you move goods from Ireland to NI or vice versa import duties would (maybe, if no trade deal) be collected and paid, as with VAT at the moment.  Ergo some system needs to be there to collect and check, as with VAT at the moment.

For stuff coming from the rest of the world, when you bring a shipment in you declare what sort of things are in it and pay duty and VAT. If you use a shipping company like Fedex it’s all done through them, and they bill you. We are talking about 2 extra pieces of information on the paperwork there – goods category and value. So anything shipped this way is really not a problem.  Solution already there globally, very minor extra admin, a few small local couriers might need some help getting systems in place.
Anything on one of our own lorries might be.  At the moment if a business brings in a lot of stuff from another EU country they have to tell HMRC once a quarter, through an Intrastat submission that collects the goods category and value. That seems to pretty much solve that “Own Lorry” problem with existing documentation. Maybe we need to drop the minimum import value before declaration, maybe change a couple of the questions, or the frequency of declaration, maybe just not actually too bothered.

Smuggling?

But what about people smuggling stuff across the border to dodge import duty? In this definition smuggling is stuff brought across and not declared as an import using one of the easy techniques above.

At present there is smuggling of the usual suspects – booze and fags – and the border force does exist and do actually stop the odd van load and arrest people and stuff.

Pretty much anything bought in Eire will incur Eire VAT at 23%. Businesses can claim back VAT on legal imports, so as a business, unless you are dodging more than 23% duty, it’s better to declare it.

So it’s actually not worth smuggling unless you are an individual, still paying that 23% VAT though.  At which point who cares any more than they do now?  Really it will still be far easier to bring a carload of plonk in from Calais than going the long way round. Maybe we increase the size of the current border force a bit, that’s all, depends how the relative price of fags works out.

Product Standards?

In the UK we trust anything that is CE marked, that means it’s supposed to meet EU standards. Unless we significantly up our standards, there is no UK problem.

Going the other way, if we were to drop standards the EU might get fussy. But even then that’s only cross border retail sales.  Business to business is still fine because the business would then sell it on and hence it would still need to meet EU requirements.  Same as if they imported stuff from elsewhere.

At which point consider just what percentage of knock off iphone chargers and other similar electronic tat currently on sale actually meet the safety requirements of the CE marks they carry?

Food and Animal Standards?

Different rules means different testing requirements. Which is what there is at the moment. Once again there doesn’t seem to be a need to change anything on the UK side provided we think EU food is safe.

If the UK rules change, or we allow US imports that wouldn’t be accepted into the EU then there might be a problem for the EU. But then again that’s more of a “I grew it to EU standards not US ones” declaration. Someone has to take responsibility for ensuring that, usually the importer. That is business credibility and it’s not like we are suddenly going to be putting horse meat in our “beef” lasagne again unless, like last time, someone fibs.

Any Infrastructure at all?

It’s a big land border, so there is no way anyone could police it all even if we could be bothered. 300 miles of Trumpian wall and fence is daft and all it would result in is increased sales of long ladders for the persistent.  Although there are 200 road crossings there are only a dozen major ones.  So even if some sort of occasional inspection was considered required, a few sites somewhere near those where it can happen are pretty much it. Once again, if we could be bothered. But a quick effort to reward equation says, based on all the above, don’t bother. Cost of doing it would be considerably higher than revenue collected from the odd bit of extra smuggling uncovered.

It’s an External EU Border?

That’s it, this is the one. The Irish border problem is that it becomes an external EU border.

The EU being a protectionist bloc with a defensive wall around it. So the big issue with the Irish border, the huge problem, is the EU side of it. Gap in the protective wall. Entry point into the EU for forin invaders with their low regulations and fast product innovation. But that’s not actually the UK’s problem is it?  In fact rather the reason many voted to leave. It is hardly the UK’s responsibility to solve the fundamental flaws in the EU, especially since we already tried and couldn’t, hence the vote.

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Bloke in Kent
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Bloke in Kent

The Calais – Dublin route is particularly problematic for people smuggling – it’s a bloody long way to swim and there are no ferries. The small number of routes from the continent into Ireland are either mostly freight on regular accounts, or face similar levels of border control as coming direct to the UK. You could try getting a small number of dubious individuals into the UK by flying into Ireland first, however there is much shared intelligence and anyone of interest would likely be picked up upon landing.

The Mole
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The Mole

That’s pretty much the conclusion I’d reached. We should declare that there are no tarriffs for goods crossing oIrish border on national security terms (allowing us to get round WTO rules). We could do it here even if we (foolishly) don’t want to do it on all borders. An interesting side effect here is that it would boost both the Northern Ireland and Iriish economies as companies reroute goods through those two countries If goods are coming through Europe than we can assume they comply with EU safety rules (as much as we are sure of that now) so we… Read more »

Leo Savantt
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Leo Savantt

Spot on, the problem is the EU’s.

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

There has been free movement to and from Eire since it left the UK. The only place that sent us terrorists was the only place whence they could freely enter. They can vote here too, we can’t vote there. That was a reasonable thing back in the years after WW1. It no longer is now. Time, after 100 years, when all those who lost their UK citizen rights and didn’t want to are dead, to make our relationship with Ireland the same as any friendly country. I know several Irish people who had a vote in the referendum. They all… Read more »

Reader
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Reader

“They can vote here too, we can’t vote there.”
Yes we can. The differences in Local / EU / National / Referendum reciprocal rights are tiny.

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

I stand corrected.

Q46
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Q46

‘There has been free movement to and from Eire since it left the UK. ’

Actually, since the Romans left.

Q46
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Q46

There is no Irish border ‘problem’, it is a political obstacle erected to try to stop Brexit. What seems not to be understood is that cross border trade is between companies, the exporter and importer both of whom share as a common interest selling as much as possible. As far as ‘standards’ (mostly there to protect some domestic producers) are concerned, either the exporter or importer can ensure compliance. For example, the US electrical standard (220V or 110V, 60Hz) is incompatible with UK or European standard (230V, 50Hz), so electrical goods are either modified by the US exporter or the… Read more »

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

The electrical standards thing is particularly pertinant. In the Single Market, any electrical appliance that complies with any SM country’s electrical regs is saleable anywhere in the Single Market. Which means I get numpties calling me to install some sh*t t*t c**p non-UK light fitting that doesn’t take UK lights and doesn’t have normal mechanical fixtures required by UK standards. I complain to the customer that they’ve bought a piece of sh*t and they whine, but the lady in the shop said it would be ok, surely they wouldn’t be allowed to sell them if they were unsuitable to use… Read more »

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

Specific examples: Common sense and UK electrical regs require fittings to be mechanically attached to what they are attached to to be completely seperate to the electrical connection. Example: you screw a ceiling rose to the ceiling, and then attach the wires with all the weight being taken by the mechanical fittings, not by the wires. With all the recent chandeliers I’ve had to fit it is impossible to fix it to the ceiling, then let go so you can do the wiring. The *ONLY* way to fit them is to let the chandelier dangle from the wiring while you… Read more »