Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Another chat about borders

If you're reading today's post hoping for more uninformed chit-chat about post-Brexit EU workers' rights then this post probably isn't for you.  Today, I'm going to carry on with yesterday's uninformed chit-chat about borders.  It turns out that borders are chimeric cyphers of societal truths places of limited interest where you sometimes have to pay tax and wait in a short queue.

Yesterday, I said that I fully expected there to be a customs border between an independent Scotland and a post-Brexit England.  Likewise, in time I fully expect there to be a customs border between Ireland and a post-Brexit Northern Ireland.  I also described the Swiss/German border to illustrate what might happen.  Here is a picture of the exciting border at Koblenz just in case you missed it first time.

It doesn't get any more exicitng second time round.
Why might something akin to the Swiss/German be replicated just north of Carlisle?  If you're interested to learn the answer then read on because there is a small chance that I will provide a satisfactory explanation. There may also be a not-hilarious anecdote and a link to a pop video with a semi-appropriate song title.  Then again, there might not. Enjoy.

Imagine the year 2018.  It is an amazing time with sex robots to attend to our every desire;  Drake is still Nr 1 in the Hit Parade with "One Dance"; and there is a new gangster character in Eastenders exactly like all the old ones.  Also, the UK has finally left the EU, while Scotland has declared independence  and joined the EU as a continuing member.  The bit about sex robots has no real bearing on the rest of this post so if you are into that you might want to look at the rest of the internet for your kicks.

One of the slogans of the EU referendum was "Taking back control".  Many people took that to mean taking back control of the borders.  Given that, it would be kind of weird if the UK Prime Minister didn't try to leverage some of that extra border control for political advantage.  How might that happen?  Let's imagine Theresa May decides to help Welsh steel workers by imposing a whopping tariff on all imported steel.  This is the sort of freedom open to the new government after they leave the EU - the freedom to follow isolationist and mercantile economic policy.  As a consequence, the price of steel in rUK (remaining UK) increases.  This is bad news if you live in Sunderland and manufacture the steel hulls of those amazing sex robots.  Congratulations, the unit price of your main component just went up and you're already having a hard enough time exporting to the EU due to all that sex robot red tape.  What to do?  Ha, just get your steel shipped through Scotland.  Scotland, remember, will still be in the EU and subject to much lower import tariffs that are applied uniformly across all EU member states.  As a consequence, it will still be possible to import cheap Chinese steel through Edinburgh.  It adds to your costs a little bit but not nearly as much as paying the true cost of Welsh steel.  How many companies in rUK would switch their steel supplies to Welsh manufacturers if they could just import it at a fraction of the price from Scotland?  Not many.  Those Welsh steel workers won't see any difference at all.  Another government policy will have dismally failed, almost as badly as the cones hotline or hug-a-hoodie.  The obvious solution is a customs border that adds a levy to all steel crossing from Scotland to England.  Steel transiting from Scotland to England will need to be treated just like steel transiting from Calais to England. 

Wait a minute, you're thinking, I pulled a fast one there.  You're not going to let me get away with that kind of cheap trick : the rUK government and the Scottish government can surely come to an agreement about imported steel.  Two countries with a long trading history can't come to a simple deal? Absolutely not.  In fact, if the Scottish government were to come to a deal about imported steel that would result in the invocation of Article 7 of the Lisbon treaty.  The key point here is that commercial agreements with nations outside the EU can only be agreed and adopted EU-wide.  Just ask the Swiss government if you want to know the details.  If Theresa May wishes to help Welsh steel workers through tariffs she will either need a tariff agreement with the EU or a customs border somewhere just north of Carlisle.  There is simply no point in the rUK Prime Minister making a phone call to Holyrood, unless she wants to find out if it is still raining up there.

I hope by now you get the idea.  The customs border might be brought about by steel tariffs, alcohol taxation, discrepancies in VAT or sex robot regulations.  Sooner or later there will be calls to implement economic policy at the border.  Those calls might come from within the EU, from an independent Scotland or they might come from rUK.  Who do you think will be first to blink? It doesn't really matter because the exact mechanism that led to the customs border will be long forgotten by the time a border guard is poking around a multi-pack of toilet roll in the boot of your car and demanding to see the receipt.

No not-hilarious anecdote today.  Hah, I tricked you but I think that sex robot chatter was quite enough to be getting on with.  I am not a complete liar so here is a link to a pop video with a semi-appropriate song title. Filmed in Carlisle, I believe.  Take it away, M.I.A. 

Update: The FT are talking about the Anglo/Irish border today.  Bloody heck, what a mess.

Over and out,


PS That is probably enough about borders for the moment. My next post might be about German work visas. Thrilling stuff if you are a UK worker in the EU.


  1. Hmmm, we need to know more about the sex robots. German work visa may be of limited interest. I counsel a more in-depth analysis on the robots.

    Seriously,it is a mess. Like you say, I simply can't imagine how they can do without borders, border posts and customs.

    They really didn't think this through.

  2. Why is everyone wasting time debating Brexit when robot "friends" are still to be invented?

    This is indeed a mess. Switzerland has spent the last 2.5 years trying to change a single treaty agreement, with no end in sight. Just imagine trying to tear down 43 years of European integration. Then imagine you have Liam Fox and chums at the helm. Bloody heck, what a mess.

  3. Fortunately...or otherwise... Foxy will have the guiding hand of Mr Werrity in everything he does. I'm sure it will all work out splendidly, erm, for someone.

    1. Disgraced former Minister Liam Fox becomes disgraced Minister Liam Fox and no one blinks an eye. It's as though John Profumo came from another planet.

    2. LOL, true.

      Have you sussed the robot yet?

    3. Despite my constant emails and personal approaches to their PR department, Google are remaining very tight-lipped about their research on autonomous "helpers". The cease and desist order they sent me suggests they have something to hide. Not long now!

    4. OK. I fell about laughing at that!


Bark, lark or snark