Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Miliband needs Balls the pragmatist (Financial Times)

The shadow chancellor is a useful corrective to the Labour leader, says Janan Ganesh.

2. Why this year's freshers are just part of a failed experiment (Guardian)

Higher education is pumping out people with degrees into a jobs market that doesn't need them. It's blighting lives – and undermining the university system itself, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

3. The west must act judiciously over Somalia if these horrors are to end (Independent)

Somalia’s problems have been worsened by bungled intervention from outside, writes Ian Birrell.

4. It was Iron Balls' best shot, but will Tory scare tactics win the day? (Guardian)

Cameron's economic policies are in disarray, but his team's supreme skill is in sticking the stiletto into Labour, says Polly Toynbee.

5. Merkel the visionary is misunderstood (Financial Times)

The chancellor sees that German voters’ interests do not conflict with keeping the euro alive, writes Gideon Rachman.

6. RBS's mad rise and catastrophic fall can't all be blamed on Fred Goodwin (City AM)

The rise of RBS is a very simple one about hype and the human tendency to manias, says Iain Martin.

7. Ed is haunted by the ghosts of politics past (Times)

The Labour leader’s heart lies with old socialism, but his head knows he must appeal to the centre, writes Rachel Sylvester.

8. Angela Merkel’s triumph is good news for Britain (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron must seize his moment to reverse the drive towards closer union, says Mats Persson.

9. Why is Apple so shifty about how it makes the iPhone? (Guardian)

The paragon of modern tech risks losing its shine by dodging queries about Indonesia, and an orgy of unregulated tin mining, writes George Monbiot.

10. Now I know why I hate the nasties of UKIP (Times)

It’s because it starts from a belief that Britain is under siege from enemies, then goes looking for them, says Hugo Rifkind.

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An Irish Sea border – and 3 other tricky options for Northern Ireland after Brexit

There is no easy option for Northern Ireland after Brexit. 

Deciding on post-Brexit border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is becoming an issue for which the phrase "the devil is in the detail" could have been coined. Finding a satisfactory solution that delivers a border flexible enough not to damage international trade and commerce and doesn’t undermine the spirit, or the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement settlement is foxing Whitehall’s brightest.

The dial seemed to have settled on David Davis’s suggestion that there could be a "digital border" with security cameras and pre-registered cargo as a preferred alternative to a "hard border" replete with checkpoints and watchtowers.

However the Brexit secretary’s suggestion has been scotched by the new Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, who says electronic solutions are "not going to work". Today’s Times quotes him saying that "any barrier or border on the island of Ireland in my view risks undermining a very hard-won peace process" and that there is a need to ensure the "free movement of people and goods and services and livelihoods".

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has made dealing with the Irish border question one of his top three priorities before discussions on trade deals can begin. British ministers are going to have to make-up their minds which one of four unpalatable options they are going to choose:

1. Hard border

The first is to ignore Dublin (and just about everybody in Northern Ireland for that matter) and institute a hard border along the 310-mile demarcation between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Given it takes in fields, rivers and forests it’s pretty unenforceable without a Trump-style wall. More practically, it would devastate trade and free movement. Metaphorically, it would be a powerful symbol of division and entirely contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. The Police Federation in Northern Ireland has also warned it would make police officers "sitting ducks for terrorists". Moreover, the Irish government will never agree to this course. With the EU in their corner, there is effectively zero chance of this happening.

2. Northern EU-land

The second option is to actually keep Northern Ireland inside the EU: offering it so-called "special status". This would avoid the difficulty of enforcing the border and even accord with the wishes of 56 per cent of the Northern Irish electorate who voted to Remain in the EU. Crucially, it would see Northern Ireland able to retain the £600m a year it currently receives from the EU. This is pushed by Sinn Fein and does have a powerful logic, but it would be a massive embarrassment for the British Government and lead to Scotland (and possibly London?) demanding similar treatment.

3. Natural assets

The third option is that suggested by the Irish government in the Times story today, namely a soft border with customs and passport controls at embarkation points on the island of Ireland, using the Irish Sea as a hard border (or certainly a wet one). This option is in play, if for no other reason than the Irish government is suggesting it. Again, unionists will be unhappy as it requires Britain to treat the island of Ireland as a single entity with border and possibly customs checks at ports and airports. There is a neat administrate logic to it, but it means people travelling from Northern Ireland to "mainland" Britain would need to show their passports, which will enrage unionists as it effectively makes them foreigners.

4. Irish reunification

Unpalatable as that would be for unionists, the fourth option is simply to recognise that Northern Ireland is now utterly anomalous and start a proper conversation about Irish reunification as a means to address the border issue once and for all. This would see both governments acting as persuaders to try and build consent and accelerate trends to reunify the island constitutionally. This would involve twin referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic (a measure allowed for in the Good Friday Agreement). Given Philip Hammond is warning that transitional arrangements could last three years, this might occur after Brexit in 2019, perhaps as late as the early 2020s, with interim arrangements in the meantime. Demographic trends pointing to a Catholic-nationalist majority in Northern Ireland would, in all likelihood require a referendum by then anyway. The opportunity here is to make necessity the mother of invention, using Brexit to bring Northern Ireland’s constitutional status to a head and deal decisively with the matter once and for all.

In short, ministers have no easy options, however time is now a factor and they will soon have to draw the line on, well, drawing the line.

Kevin Meagher is a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland Office and author of "A United Ireland: Why unification is inevitable and how it will come about"

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office.