David Davis has a new plan to solve the problem of the Irish border – if you use a very generous definition of the words “solve” and “plan”.
According to the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn, the new scheme is as follows: a bespoke arrangement for Northern Ireland in which it has joint EU/UK status and a 10-mile “buffer zone” along the border, where traders frequently crossing between the North and the Republic do not have to go through checks.
There is some good news in that Davis has apparently realised that technological solutions will not fix the border issue. The bad news is that he has moved on from offering solutions better left to science fiction writers to solutions more commonly found in fantasy novels.
There are a lot of problems to unpick here. The first is that the problem of the Irish border is that it is politically contested and that border infrastructure will be a target for political violence – simply moving the location of the border checks ten miles further into Northern Ireland doesn’t fix this. It is difficult to see how, even if it were possible, creating a ten-mile strip of legally and politically murky land with border infrastructure on either side is going to be a positive development as far as the political settlement in Northern Ireland goes. And we’re not talking about ten miles of empty countryside, but ten miles that includes the island’s fourth-largest city.
The second is that the DUP, without whom the Conservatives cannot remain in power, will not accept a Brexit deal that creates a bespoke arrangement for Northern Ireland. Underlining the ridiculousness of the proposal, the “buffer zone” contains the home of Arlene Foster, the DUP’s leader. The idea also falls short of what Sinn Féin are asking for.
It also falls short of the United Kingdom’s strategic priority to avoid a hard border. One of the few things that the government has successfully done since the referendum result is winning the propaganda war that suggests the border question is something forced on the United Kingdom by Ireland and the EU, as opposed to a vital interest of the United Kingdom to maintain one of the most significant diplomatic achievements of the last two decades anywhere in the world.
But because it falls short of the requirements of Ireland, and by extension the rest of the European Union, the deal is dead on arrival at the EU27’s negotiating table.
Still, you have to hand it to Davis, who has managed to come up with a solution to the border problem that unites the DUP, Sinn Féin, the Irish government and the European Union in opposition.