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Brexit: Ireland comes first

Preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland the Republic should be the peace movement's priority, argues Milan Rai

On 13 July, the new police chief in Northern Ireland, Simon Byrne, warned that a hard Brexit could 'create a vacuum which becomes a rally call and recruiting ground for dissident [Irish] republicans and clearly any rise in their popularity or their capability would be very serious'.

PN has been arguing for some time that the overriding priority for the peace movement in the Brexit debate is Ireland.

Preserving the rather shaky peace process in Ireland means preventing a hard border reappearing between a member of the European Union, the Republic of Ireland, and the British-controlled statelet, Northern Ireland.

Preventing a hard border with cameras or border posts can be achieved in one of two ways.

Either the UK remains in the EU (no Brexit) or it allows Northern Ireland to remain in the EU customs union and parts of the EU single market until some other solution is found (the famous 'backstop').

In order to satisfy unionists, then British prime minister, Theresa May, enlarged the backstop to include the whole of the UK staying inside the EU customs union – this would still require some checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain (England, Scotland, Wales).

Borders mean guns

Currently, goods and services cross an invisible border over 300 official crossings between the two parts of Ireland.

Hard Brexiters have argued that border checks between the UK and the EU could be carried out by technological means not requiring actual border posts and customs officials.

However, the EU and the Irish government point out that even a light-touch system (which they don't believe could cope with the complexities of the border) would require CCTV cameras and some humans carrying out spot checks.

Back in October 2017, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, admitted: 'The challenge in Ireland is that those who don't recognise the border will see any physical manifestation of a border as a legitimate target and that infrastructure will need protecting.'

An Irish official told the Daily Telegraph: 'What happens when one of those cameras gets taken down? Do you send a man [sic] to put it back up? Does that man needed to be protected by another man carrying a gun? And if that camera gets taken down again, do you send a man with a gun to protect it? The reality is that any border is a hard border.'