This morning, Boris Johnson – who, it never ceases to amaze one to recall, is foreign secretary – said that there would be no need for a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit, on the grounds that
“When I was mayor of London we anaesthetically and invisibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people travelling between those two boroughs without any need for border checks whatever.”
He was, best one can tell, talking about the congestion charge implemented by his predecessor at City Hall, Ken Livingstone. I am, let’s say, unconvinced by this argument, for 27 reasons.
1. There has never been a militarised border between Westminster and Camden.
2. There have never been armed look outs, checking traffic which goes from one borough to another.
3. There was never a faction in Westminster which strongly believed that Soho and Fitzrovia were rightfully part of Camden.
4. Councillors from neither Westminster nor Camden have ever taken up arms in an attempt to move the boundary.
5. There is not a centuries-long history of conflict between the two sides, brought about by Westminster’s attempts to claim Camden as its own.
6. No dissident was ever shot trying to flee across the Tottenham Court Road.
7. There was not a period in which the tube map looked different between the two boroughs; in which Camden’s tube map denied the existence of Westminster, or Central line trains ran through Camden without stopping.
8. David Bowie did not make a trio of albums in the shadow of the Westminster-Camden border (although Low, the first of the Berlin trilogy, is definitely his best album, don’t @ me).
9. Basically, these two boroughs are actually the exact same sodding place, but with different local councillors.
10. Not that Boris Johnson is a bit parochial or anything, but it’s a bit bloody patronising to compare the boundary between two London boroughs to an international boundary at all, let alone one that has been the site of a violent paramilitary conflict.
11. Besides which, there is no point at which driving from Westminster to Camden will mean entering the congestion charge zone.
12. There is no point at which driving from Westminster to Camden will mean leaving the congestion charge zone either, come to that.
13. In fact, other than a brief stretch of Mansell Street E1, which forms the boundary both between the City and Tower Hamlets, and between the congestion charge zone and the world beyond, there is, best I can tell, no section at which the congestion charge boundary is also a borough boundary.
14. To put it bluntly, the congestion charge zone has precisely bugger all to do with borough boundaries.
15. Still, why should Boris Johnson know this, he was only mayor of London for eight years, eh?
16. Even if he was right about where the boundaries ran, the congestion charge is a lot easier to enforce than an international customs boundary.
17. For the congestion charge to work, all the authorities need to do is to identify which vehicles have crossed the boundary. They don’t need to know what’s inside the vehicle.
18. For customs checks to work, you need to know what’s inside a vehicle.
19. The camera system used to enforce the congestion charge is not, to my knowledge, that clever.
20. You also need border posts, so that you can stop the odd vehicle to find out what’s inside it.
21. Border posts of precisely the sort that might become a target for violence if we start putting them up on the Irish border once again.
22. Nobody is trying to smuggle sub-standard electronic equipment into the congestion charge zone, and even if they were it wouldn’t be illegal.
23. Food safety standards are, last I checked, the same in every London borough. They’re are the same on both sides of the congestion charge zone boundary, too.
24. They may well not be the same in Northern Ireland as in the Republic of Ireland, if the Brexiteers get their way, and we’re all forced to stuff our gobs with endless chlorinated American chicken.
25. So waffling on about the congestion charge and London borough is, on the whole, a bit of an inadequate answer to the question of how the government is going to find a solution to the Northern Ireland border question that simultaneously satisfies the EU, the Republic of Ireland, the DUP, the European Research Group and the basic laws of physics.
26. Boris Johnson is still foreign secretary.
27. We are so completely and utterly screwed.