Brexit Britain’s border issues may be about more than Northern Ireland, experts warn amid potential divisions over US and EU food standards.
There is an idea that once we “get Brexit done”, to quote the Conservatives, or “get Brexit sorted”, to quote Labour, that, whatever either actually slogan means, life will go back to a semblance of normality.
The fractious, torturous debates of the past three years will finally be put behind us. Even if our economy starts to slide into a recession and people start to lose their jobs, this will be an experience we have been through before and, eventually, better times have always returned.
However, regrettably, even this rather bleak vision of the future may be overly optimistic because, as ever, so much of the devil is in the detail.
The Leave campaign dismissed the Northern Ireland border question ahead of the 2016 referendum, but Boris Johnson’s deal would put an effective border down the Irish Sea, a move that, until recently, was a resignation issue for horrified unionists.
Almighty row brews
Now a new report by the UK Trade Policy Observatory suggests the creation of new borders within Brexit Britain may not stop there with customs checkpoints set up between England and Scotland in the event that American food safety standards are adopted south of the border to facilitate the all-important trade deal with the US, while Holyrood preserves what many regard as the higher standards of the EU.
Whether this scenario comes to pass may be based on a few ifs, buts and maybes, but it sounds like an almighty border row is brewing. The Scottish Tories’ Adam Tomkins said that continuing to trade with the EU would mean that “our high standards will remain in place, protecting food regulation”. Many will hope this is true, given some accounts of US quality control.
A source of hope is the EU is a much more important trading partner for the UK than the US. In 2018, the EU accounted for 45 per cent of UK exports and 53 per cent of imports, compared to the US, which was the destination for just under a fifth of UK exports and the source of just over 10 per cent of imports.
But both are vital to our economy, so it would be unsurprising, with politicians lining up on the US and EU sides of the argument, if it did lead to a bit of a stooshie. But throw in border checks within the UK and this suddenly becomes an argument about much more than food, chlorinated or otherwise. It becomes about sovereignty, nationality, restrictions on our current Europe-wide freedom of movement and the shrinking of our horizons.