A hard border at Holyhead would be a disaster for Wales

MV Stena Superfast X leaving Holyhead. Picture by Reading Tom (CC BY 2.0)

Matthew Hexter

With the news that the Irish Government will veto any deal that includes a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, a long ignored (by the UK government and media) issue has finally exploded onto the front pages.

It is a substantial problem not only in terms of Brexit negotiations but also in terms of historical and religious sensitivities.

It would undo the great work of the Good Friday Agreement, dividing communities, families, businesses and friends.

The solution now seems to be that Northern Ireland will retain regulatory convergence with the Republic in a number of areas, such as agriculture, and as such remain a de-facto member of the EU Customs Union.

The DUP who seems deeply annoyed by the suggestion, which could spell trouble for the UK Government.

However, it seems likely that the UK Government will agree to this, and that Wales will become the customs border between the island of Ireland and the UK mainland.

Wales will be damaged economically if this occurs, as there is no way that Holyhead could be ready to shoulder such a burden.

The port is ill-prepared for the intense customs checks that would be necessary to ensure regulatory compliance between goods produced on the island of Ireland and mainland Britain.

The National Assembly’s External Affairs Committee found that should such a change as this occur lengthy delays and tailbacks on roads in north Wales would become the norm.

Goods could be waiting for days at the port as presumably, it would operate as the gateway for goods both leaving and entering the UK.

Irish ferries predict a ‘Hard Border’ in Wales would drastically cut the number of sailings per day between Holyhead and Ireland. 1000 people work at the Holyhead port.

This would be disastrous for them and their families. The economic shock of such a move could be catastrophic. If Dover couldn’t cope with such a move, how can Holyhead?

Already, ships are using Liverpool docks instead of Welsh ports. What happens when more complex regulatory regimes are in place?

Even if the port could be prepared, the time is running out to ensure the customs infrastructure is in place for exit day.

When David Davis said that Holyhead may have ‘an extra layer of complexity’ post-Brexit this is what he meant.

This third-way position provides no clarity and is destined to fail and hurt people in the process.

The rest of the UK will struggle to survive the economic shock, let alone Wales, let alone the port community of Holyhead.

Single market

Also, if Northern Ireland remains part of the EU’s customs union, what happens to the sanctity of the UK’s internal single market?

Whilst regulatory divergence is not necessarily an immediate consequence of the UK leaving the EU, it is inevitable.

This is the reason that the UK Government refuses to devolve large swathes of powers back to the devolved administrations in areas that would otherwise be devolved, such as agriculture, fisheries, etc.

There is a desire on behalf of the UK Government to ensure there is a common regulatory framework between the constituent parts of the UK to ensure that the UK Single Market remains whole.

So that there is not a different regulatory arrangement for goods in Wales as there is in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland and that future trade deals can be negotiated on that basis.

Whether these frameworks are created by Westminster or by the devolved administrations is important, but it does appear that they will exist.

There will be a common regulatory arrangement between UK Nations.

How can this be reconciled with the proposed situation in Northern Ireland? What happens to the Single Market of the UK when there is a regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain?

Northern Irish goods could be outside of our regulatory arrangements and vice-versa. If this were to occur the UK Single Market would collapse, potentially the UK with it.

Or, in order to preserve the sanctity of the UK Single Market, the UK would be forced to legislate in-line with the EU and then you rightly question, what would have been the point of leaving in the first place?

It’s unclear if this will even be possible once trade deals are signed and different regulatory regimes embarked upon.

Staying in

So, what is the answer? The only acceptable way forward should be that the UK remains part of the EU customs union.

It ensures that there is no regulatory divergence between Ireland and Northern Ireland and as such ends the need for a border between the North and South if the common travel arrangement remains in place.

Fortunately, there is already much agreement on that being the case.

Unfortunately, as it is the obvious answer, in the eyes of the UK Government, it is wrong.

Remaining in the EU’s customs union would prevent us from creating trade deals with our other ‘Global Partners’.

Meaning that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy all that chlorinated chicken the Americans keep raving about. As such, we’re out. Any dissent on that matter will not be countenanced.

It’s difficult to come to any conclusion based on the above other than that the UK Government must eventually change its mind and remain part of the EU Customs Union.

Northern Ireland saying in the EU single market is a middle of the road idea at a time we must be decisive.

We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down.

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  1. Completely agree.

    However…Wales voted leave and the bulk of that leave vote was fueled due to immigration and the openness of our borders. So good luck selling that to the wider population.

  2. Holyhead will be getting what Wales voted for. Reality bites!

  3. I earned a living , for a while, on EU Interreg grants. The intention being that borders would be economically disadvantaged when Customs Union came into force and thus needed some economic support. Business that depended on borders would vanish and we would need to rethink borderlands’ economies. Are we now saying that the reverse was in fact true?

  4. Eos Pengwern

    The Irish government are cutting off their nose to spite their face; since we’re leaving the EU anyway, “vetoing a deal” means “no deal” and the hardest of hard borders.

    Personally I’m fine with that, and convinced that it’s actually the best long-term outcome for the UK as a whole and Wales too, but I can’t for the life of me see how Ireland would benefit from it unless and until they leave the EU as well.

  5. Gordon Murray

    Suck it up!
    You voted for Brexit and to close your border to foreigners.
    Doesn’t look to me like you guys thought this through.
    What tf did you think was going to happen?

  6. “The port is ill-prepared for the intense customs checks”

    Heaven forbid the UK actually is forced to invest in Wales then. Caergybi (England’s name: Holyhead) might actually have a future with more jobs (semi serious point)

  7. A hard border will mean a lot more security, Counter Terrorism, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement, who pays?

    Personally I don’t think a Common Travel Area will be easily dismantled. You can’t have a CAT between Eire and the North and not with Wales!

    This is back of a fag packet diplomacy especially as the DUP are involved.

  8. Clearly the EU with its closed shop ‘single market’ and ‘customs union’ is the cause of this problem. The thrust of this article seems to argue for more of this problem, rather than less of it, or none at all.

    I spend a fair bit of my time in the Cork area having friends and business there. My sense is that if the Irish were given a chance to leave the EU and Eurozone they would grab it with both hands.

    Ireland is currently run by a despicable Elite (both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael) who are in bed with the EU kleptocracy. They have jointly locked away Ireland’s future generations into unrepayable, grinding, soul-destroying debt. Their grandfathers who fought and died to win independence for Ireland must be turning in their graves.

    The same is true for our UK Elites, in bed with the EU and Big Finance – although they were short-sighted enough to give us a chance to escape from the EU. Now the best they can do is drag the whole concept of democracy into the dirt by spreading aspersions of stupidity and racism on We the People.

    If the Irish Elite want to suck up to their masters in Brussels and play awkward over borders and trade, let them. They will suffer the wrath of the Irish people sooner or later.

    As for the EU, I would give it another 5 to 10 years at best, although it might disappear in a flash, like that other Union, the Soviet one.

  9. Geoff Horton-Jones

    Have you all forgotten Pembroke Dock. We are seven hours to the Channel Tunnel and Ferries for all HGV.’s or is all traffic to come in and outvia Holyheads super customs point

    • I would suspect that only Caergybi figures in this article because it’s a Remoaner’s wail right out of the Plaid Cymru NW heartlands. Sir Benfro, or ‘Little England beyond Wales’ as it’s known, is not even on their radar.

      This is not about protecting Ireland or Wales. This is about protecting the EU.

      As one Irishman wrote today about this issue:

      ” The EU has no shame. It is a completely shame-free zone. How else do we explain the grotesque spectacle of EC President Donald Tusk cosying up to Ireland this weekend, and claiming to respect Irish sovereignty, as if the past 15 years of Brussels treating Ireland as a colonial plaything had never happened? As if the EU hadn’t time and again overridden the Irish people’s democratic wishes? As if the EU didn’t just a few years ago send financial experts to run the Irish economy above the heads of the apparently dim Irish demos? Tusk claiming to be a friend of the Irish takes EU chutzpah to dizzying new heights.

      Read the full article here: https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2017/12/ireland-the-eu-is-playing-you-like-a-fiddle/

  10. So Eos Pengwern. It is ok to put the armed Border back between the two Irelands. Great thinking that. How old are you. Do you remember the last time they were there at all.

  11. From Britain’s point of view there’ll be no need to put a border there at all, even in the event of no deal; Bertie Ahern (from the Irish side) and Owen Paterson (from the British) have laid out a perfectly sensible plan which would leave the border completely open for everyday commerce, just as it was before the UK and Ireland joined the EU.

    The likelihood is, however, that in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit it will be the EU that insists on there being a hard border, and the Irish who will be leaned on to enforce it. The same EU that overturned the will of the Irish people in two referenda, and that took control of the Irish economy after the financial crisis and inflicted on them one of the biggest drops in GDP of any nation in Europe, will then be forcing Irish troops to stop Irish milk vans from collecting Irish milk from Irish farms. If the Irish electorate continue to support the EU after that then it will be the biggest case of Stockholm syndrome since, oh I don’t know… probably since the Welsh electorate continued to support Labour after the 1970s (which, for your information, I remember extremely well).

    • I should just add that the Ahern / Paterson plan would work just as well for a future state border between England and Wales, something I care about very much since I cross that border at least a dozen times every week. When Welsh independence is discussed you often hear a lot of nonsense about customs posts on the M4 and the A55, and no doubt in some people’s minds this is an argument against independence; in practice there’s no reason for it to cause any disruption at all.

  12. A hard border is not a problem that faces, Catalonia, now.

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