As every week goes by, the case for “Brexit” weakens despite the referendum result. Sterling has declined markedly; the cost of administering Brexit alone is ridiculous; “Leave” Ministers are at war with each other. The only thing they agree upon is that UK passports should be blue – something which could happen anyway while remaining an EU member state (the EU has no law on passport colours).
Another issue they are divided on is the EU Customs Union, and this is crucial for the island of Ireland. If the UK were to remain within the EU Customs Union (something which is quite possible outside the EU and would be very wise, given that it maintains the UK’s current international Trade Deals and no other Trade Deals would be available at time of withdrawal from the EU), then there would be no “hard border”. The only necessity would be the occasional spot check (easily done between Northern Ireland and Great Britain); very little else would need to change and the border could remain more or less as is.
Should the UK leave the EU Customs Union, it would not be impossible for Northern Ireland to remain effectively within it. It could be agreed that customs checkpoints would be applied only to goods travelling between Great Britain and the EU and vice-versa – but any arriving in Northern Ireland or going from Northern Ireland to either would not be subject to customs. Northern Ireland may have to offer something for this special status – for example, it could offer to maintain (as it is perfectly entitled to do at devolved level) all EU trading and employment standards.
There would be certain quirks to this. For example, this somewhat nerdy post from two years ago would suddenly become relevant – it would probably be necessary to distinguish clearly Northern Irish vehicles from those elsewhere in the UK, best done by adopting the system I proposed then (with the initial letter “I” in all cases) in order to avoid confusion around personalised plates – all vehicles moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain or vice-versa would now be re-registered obligatorily, not just optionally.
These are the types of things we have to consider to maximise our opportunities over the coming years and months.