Further to my last blog on ‘Much ado about nothing’ what are we to make of the Irish Taoiseach’s comment on the sale of fireworks? He is reported as saying that the rules do not have to be all the same by giving the example of fireworks. It is illegal to sell fireworks in the Republic of Ireland but they are sold legally in Northern Ireland. He thus makes my point for me. It is entirely up to the Irish authorities to root out any activity which is illegal including the sale of goods that are not authorised in the EU. Brexit will make no difference to this principle. If Ireland can control the sale of fireworks it can control the sale of chlorinated chickens if the UK decides these are fit for sale.
On the day after Brexit (if it is ever to come) all the regulations will be in full alignment. What happens after that date is what is matters. If the UK changes its regulations – relaxing some rules on animal health for example then the Republic of Ireland will have to take steps to ensure that non compliant animals are not offered for sale in their territory. They already seem to be able to do this with respect to fireworks so why not everything else?
The UK has repeatedly stated that it is not going to impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. If nasty things from the EU turn up in Northern Ireland its authorities will pursue and punish those who have imported them. Same for the Republic. That principle is the way the EU works anyway. All the laws and rules of the EU are enforced within each separate member state. Some of them are good at this, some are not. The debate thus far seems to indicate that the Irish Republic wants a hard border unless all regulations are for ever the same. If Ireland feels that its administrative structure is too weak to cope with the new arrangements for trade then it clearly needs to strengthen its capacity to prove its fidelity to EU norms. If it does not it will be pursued in the European Court of Justice for infringements of EU rules.
In some exceptional circumstances a ‘hard’ border may have to be introduced around a particular area – foot and mouth disease is an example. But that border may not be contiguous with the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. And, perhaps no one has noticed that several EU member states have erected razor wire fences to stop migrants getting in and out of their countries.
The whole border issue can easily be solved. It does, however, require politicians to learn how trade actually works within the EU and between the EU and third countries. Mr Varadkar’s fireworks are the first sign of connection with the reality of economic life.