Whether we voted leave or stay, we’re all being failed by this Brexit mess

© PA
The UK Government is proposing an invisible border between the north and south of Ireland with checks but no border posts.

In a bid to escape the bureaucratic tyranny of the EU, the UK Government finds itself tied up in knots over borders. It is a self-inflicted mess set to create new layers of bureaucracy and confusion – and a betrayal of the promises made to Brexit voters.

Half a million Scots answered the question “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” with the word Leave. Perhaps if they had seen how incompetent, deceitful and lazy the politicians asking the question were, they might have answered differently.

During the referendum there was discussion about what kind of model Britain would follow post-Brexit – would we be Norway or Switzerland? To which the pompous answer was: “we are the UK, we shall be the UK”. For a year now being the “UK” has been embarrassing for Remainers. Increasingly, it is shameful for those who voted for Brexit.

It’s as if we are playing catch-up on Trump’s America over how to look the most stupid – thankfully, the racist States still have the lead on us.

During the referendum, nobody painted across the side of the bus – what about Northern Ireland? Instead we got a slogan of £350 million going to the NHS. The UK doesn’t really think that Northern Ireland is its problem – it exists in a category of political debate which would be known as ‘special’ if it were a child. The issue is the land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – 300 miles of bramble, whin and burn.

For a Customs Union to work it needs to have border checks. Within those borders there are no taxes levied on goods moving between states, such as Britain and Ireland currently. Outwith the borders you pay customs to enter the union – known as tariffs. There is nothing unusual about this, as it’s the basis of global trade. All the big economies have used tariffs to varying degrees over time to protect their own industries (a tariff makes an import more expensive than a home-grown product).

Until the 1950s, the USA was the most protectionist of all the major trading nations, and historically Britain the least (a small island with a big appetite doesn’t want to discourage importers).

The ambition of the European Community was to remove tariffs as a source of irritation between the countries on the continent, thus reducing conflict and boosting the economy (the more people trade, the more people make money). Tariffs remained on countries outwith the EU, as it became. A trade across the EU border was noted and a tariff levied. No border and it’s impossible to note the trade, and therefore no tariffs are charged.

The UK Government is proposing an invisible border between the north and south of the island of Ireland – there will be checks but no border posts. This will be achieved by an unspecified technological gizmo that has yet to be built. Cameras could record the licence plates of lorries crossing the invisible border, but how could any camera know what is in the lorry? If the UK Government knows how to get around this problem, it isn’t telling us.

Thus the UK’s proposals would mean Northern Ireland was in the EU customs union by accident, because there would be no border. Which would, in effect, mean any goods from the UK, if entering the EU from Northern Ireland, would also be getting access to the customs union without note. In short, there would be a 300-mile back door into the EU. Any trader using this route would avoid tariffs.

London proposes this with a straight face – offering no reason why the EU, a customs union, would voluntarily allow people outwith the union to access the market without tariffs. As a proposal it is, as the First Minister noted, “daft”.

Nicola Sturgeon has been burnt by talking too much of the democratic rights of Scots who voted to stay, but no politician seems competent enough to talk sensibly for those who want to quit. Scotland’s Brexiteers are witnessing a political and diplomatic car crash unfold in their name.

According to another bizarre policy reversal, the London government is also proposing a transitional deal from in to out of three years, during which time the UK will not be able to strike free trade deals with other countries. In effect, it delays Brexit to 2022.

Thus far the Brexit voters of Scotland have been told the £350 million per week to the NHS was a lie, that our fisheries will still be the playground of foreign boats, that there is no mechanism for reproducing EU farm payments. They now learn that the transitional proposals and the border questions are crack-pot.

Theresa May promised no deal was better than a bad deal. It is looking increasingly likely that the UK will simply fail to articulate any deal at all. That is unfair on Remainers and Brexiteers. This is becoming more than a crisis of national direction, but one of the very fabric of our democratic society. Why should anyone trust voting or the Government if this is what happens?