Unlike the south of Ireland which broke away from Great Britain in a gradual process that began in 1921 and completed in 1949, the 6 northern counties of Ireland remained loyal to the United Kingdom over the past 477 years and they continue to play an integral role in shaping the future of the UK and The Commonwealth.
Now that Brexit decisions must be made, the UK is blessed by Northern Ireland wanting to remain a part of the United Kingdom. (See how many more days until Brexit here)
EU Designs on Northern Ireland
It’s completely understandable that the EU might attempt to pry Northern Ireland from the UK during Brexit negotiations — which is quite a different thing than the UK agreeing that they should be allowed to get away with it! Yet, if British politicians are clumsy and treat Northern Ireland poorly, it isn’t out of the question that Northern Ireland could leave the United Kingdom.
For now, the EU is making noises about how much easier trade could be in the post-Brexit timeframe if the UK and Northern Ireland would simply give up and allow the EU to annex Northern Ireland. And to uninformed people it could pass as a plan to streamline Brexit negotiations and was probably designed to appeal to low-ambition politicians and uninformed UK citizens who might be tempted to agree to such a (treasonous) plan.
Were the situation reversed, of course the UK would try the same stunt. But the people of Northern Ireland have 477 years of history with the United Kingdom and (thankfully!) it appears they want to continue as an important part of the country.
Therefore, whatever it takes to rebuff the EU position on Northern Ireland, and whatever it takes to rebuff the Republic of Ireland’s position on Northern Ireland — it must be done, with no shirking nor excuses.
A Modest Proposal
Perhaps, instead of skillful EU negotiators maneuvering the UK into a situation contrived to make the UK the bad guy in all of this (keeping in mind it is unseemly to suggest Northern Ireland should leave the UK for the sake of EU convenience in the first place!) a helpful proposal could steer both sides towards a mutually beneficial agreement, thereby avoiding any unpleasant diplomatic scenes. Which would only serve to poison relations between the two blocs for decades.
As Erwin Rommel said; “Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning.” Fighting over Northern Ireland would cost both sides plenty, therefore, it’s silly to fight when the losses would counter the gains.
Rather than UK Prime Minister Theresa May being maneuvered into a situation loaded with bad optics, she should offer a plan that respects Rommel’s brilliant thinking and create an agreement that works for both blocs.
A One-Sided Border
On the UK side of the border
- The UK side of the Irish border should be free of manned border crossings.
- Signposts should inform travelers they are crossing into the United Kingdom and are expected to abide by the country’s laws and regulations for as long as they remain in Northern Ireland or any other part of the UK.
- Cameras and other technology could be deployed throughout Northern Ireland — especially near border areas — near roads, rail lines, airports, seaports, and in agricultural areas far from normal transportation corridors.
- A 1000 ft wide strip of land (on the UK side of the Irish border) should be cleared of trees, homes, buildings, large boulders and other landmarks along the entire 310 mile border, and be planted with low height crops to make it easier to catch (potentially) hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants crossing into Northern Ireland for whatever purpose, whether innocent or malign. Sophisticated audio-visual and thermal equipment — complete with face-recognition technology to identify everyone crossing the pastoral land between the two blocs — should be mounted atop wind turbines or other large poles at half mile intervals within that 1000 ft wide strip to see everything and everyone who crosses.
On the EU side of the Irish border
- Normal border stations on all road, railway, airports and seaports.
Information Sharing and Infrastructure Notes
Information sharing between the two sides would help both sides alleviate concerns about illegal crossers from either side, while helping to defray surveillance costs for both blocs.
The UK should build robust border crossing infrastructure (complete with the gate left in the ‘open’ position) but leave the buildings unmanned — except during extreme weather events or in the case of civil emergencies in either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.
Also, if tens of thousands of migrants or refugees began streaming into Northern Ireland every week, those pre-built (and ready to use within minutes) border stations could be put to good use, offering an official location to verify the identity of new arrivals and to issue instant and legal UK documentation of some sort (that could be time-limited or have other conditions assigned to it) to help speed the migrants on their way.
It’s in the interests of all sides to agree a ‘Soft/Hard Border’ plan where one side has an open but heavily monitored 1000 ft wide buffer zone complete with border stations that could be put into service whenever required — and the other side to have regular border crossings that feature typical border crossing infrastructure.
It’s a way to protect citizens of both countries and helps to share the burdens of operating the only common land border between the two blocs. It’s a way that both the UK and the EU can move past the present awkward moment towards an ever-improving diplomatic and trade relationship.
Every remaining issue between the two blocs is less important than a silky smooth and useful (to both sides!) border arrangement between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
Written by John Brian Shannon