The five myths of “hard borders”

at

The five myths of “hard borders”

The EU’s hyperbole about hard borders is nothing more than a negotiating strategy. The ambiguity caused by the Government’s dithering is allowing opponents of Brexit to fill the vacuum with myths about hard borders, says Bruce Newsome. 

There goes the EU again, back to its tiresome alarmism about “hard borders.”

First of all, the EU’s priority is not to protect your trade or tourism. The EU’s hyperbole about hard borders is a negotiating strategy. The EU is hypocritical: the EU wants soft borders so that it can impose hard borders as punishment for Britain’s intransigence. The EU’s chief negotiator (Michel Barnier) betrayed this underlying motive in his most recent warnings about both a “hard border” and the EU’s capacity to impose a hard border.

Second, nobody faces a binary choice between “hard border” and “soft border.” Borders run the spectrum from genuinely “hardened” against the worst foreign threats (think of South Korea’s border with North Korea) to unmarked and unattended (think of most of Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan). Britain’s current border with the EU lies on a spectrum, and Britain has plenty of choices on that spectrum.

Britain’s border is already “hardened” with border agents, immigration officers, intelligence agents, and relevant technologies – to detect weapons, drugs, and other contraband, and to spot terrorists and other criminals.

Even the most open parts of Britain’s borders (with France at Calais and with Ireland’s country roads) are subject to official processing. The processing is largely unimplemented because Britain favours freedom over intrusion and fulfils its obligations to the EU on free movement, but every traveller is subject to official scrutiny. Indeed, likely the subjects are not even aware of scrutiny, such as when vehicles drive beneath a non-descript arch that is actually an unobtrusive scanner for nuclear radiation.

Britain retains rights to scrutinize and interrupt illegitimate traffic. The trouble begins with Britain’s obligations to facilitate legitimate traffic from the EU: since any scrutiny is easy to criticize as interference with human rights, but is difficult to justify (without betraying intelligence or the sorts of nuances that don’t prove newsworthy or memorable), Britain tends to concede rather than challenge, such as Britain’s recent agreement with France to accept illegal migrants who are not Britain’s responsibility under international law.

Third, the EU’s open borders are neither normal nor desirable. The EU’s internal borders are uniquely open, ridiculously open – the EU puts idealism ahead of the fights against terrorism, human trafficking, wildlife trafficking, weapons trafficking, health tourism, smuggling, evasion of justice, and evasion of professional regulations. Outside of the EU, almost no countries have such open borders, at least not by choice. The EU itself has hard borders – with everyone outside the EU!

Everyone else has harder borders because they want to control transnational crime and other risks while easing legitimate trade and travellers. Open borders are not necessary to free trade and tourism, despite what the EU pretends. The North American Free Trade Area does not have equivalent open borders and is bigger than the EU.

The balance between flows and security is struck by certifying carriers of trade as trustworthy for fast channels, by issuing special visas to vetted frequent travellers, by vetting cargo before it is loaded rather than once it arrives (known as an “Advance Manifest Rule,” which the EU did not implement until 2011!).

People who claim that a state cannot have both free trade and security are ignorant – even though they’ve probably travelled into North America, hopped on and off cruise ships in multiple countries without a passport, or crossed the borders between Spain and Gibraltar, Singapore and Malaysia, or Hong Kong and mainland China.

Fourth, Britain can easily achieve much greater security with little impact on legitimate flows, once Britain escapes the EU principle of free movement. Technologies make this mission ever easier, such as unobtrusive scanners through which vehicles drive at normal speed, technologies to recognize a fingerprint, iris, face, voice, or even gait, technologies to track nefarious activities on personal electronic devices (laptops, phones, etc.), technologies to share these data instantly between governments, technologies to visually represent the data in helpful ways for decision-making. Old-fashioned human intelligence, sniffer dogs, and manual searchers complete the tool set. What Britain needs is not future technologies, but past sovereignty.

Fifth, the EU deserves no credit or say in the British-Irish border. Britain’s border with Ireland has been open since 1923, long before either state joined the EU or its precursors. Even during the peak of the terrorist “troubles” in the 1970s, Britain did not close the border. Britain countered the flows of contraband, cattle rustlers, and terrorists with patrols, observation towers, and checks, sometimes by military personnel – as it was permitted to do, under EU allowance for border changes during crises. Ireland cooperated with Britain in the struggle, but Britain bore most of the costs and burdens. The EU had nothing to do with it.

Yet the EU and left-wing Irish and Northern Irish politicians are scaremongering. The main Irish opposition party (Fianna Fail) jumped on Barnier’s alarmism about “unavoidable” checks at Irish border by warning of “chaos for Irish business…devastating. Widespread job losses…” etc., etc.

The leader of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party now claims that a harder border would undermine counter-terrorism! Huh?! You would struggle to find her argument: “Brexit entails new divisions and borders,” whereas the Good Friday peace agreement (20 years ago) “was about breaking down barriers and allowing people to lead their lives”. Oh, come on: this could not get more tenuous.

Northern Ireland’s police chief does not want to divert police officers to the border, so warns that they would be more exposed to terrorist attack on the border, but terrorists would be more exposed if they tried; he seems to betray his underlying objective when he goes on to ask for more resources.

These myths, deceptions, uncertainties, confusions, and issue-linkages are ultimately the fault of Britain’s current political administration under Theresa May, which remains shamefully indecisive and contradictory on Brexit.

Despite reassuring that “Brexit means Brexit,” she agreed on 8 December 2017 to align the Irish border with all EU principles (such as the free movement of people) and to align the rights of all EU residents within Britain with those without Britain (which also implies free movement). Ireland said Britain had committed to keeping the whole island of Ireland within the EU, but May’s letter to parliamentarians repeated her earlier pronouncements that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. Within days, her chief negotiator (David Davis) said the deal had no legal status. However, both soon conceded to EU demands that the deal should be enacted into British law; otherwise the EU wouldn’t allow further talks. Yet the deal was so badly worded nobody can be certain what might be enacted.

Two months later, May has only just clarified that her policy is not to remain in the customs union, after her ministers made contradictory statements.

The next day, Barnier warned that leaving the customs union means “hard borders.” Days later, May led a rare cabinet meeting on Britain’s objectives for Brexit, but kicked off by reassuring ministers that they don’t need to decide immediately. She scheduled a longer meeting for three weeks later. By then, more than 19 calendar months will have passed since the Brexit referendum.

While Theresa May dithers, the opponents of Brexit fill the vacuum with myths about hard borders.

4.62 avg. rating (91% score) - 13 votes
  • contribute
  • mm
    Bruce Newsome
    Bruce Newsome, Ph.D. is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of California Berkeley
    x
    We’re committed to providing a free platform to host insightful commentary from across the political spectrum. To help us expand our readership, and to show your support, please like our Facebook page: