Please help me understand this. Some brexiteer colleagues say it won't be a border, because of the Good Friday Agreement but WTO rules mean there must be a border. Will the UK then decide to break WTO rules consistently and prefer to upset the WTO instead of the Irish?

So, is this a matter of illegality versus practicality?

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    This area has been covered extensively, although an answer for this question would probably require drawing together a couple of different posts. politics.stackexchange.com/questions/28233/… is probably the best starting point. – Jontia Dec 21 '18 at 10:21
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    According to my map, yes. "Will there be a [hard] border?" – Mazura Dec 21 '18 at 20:40
  • You guys talk about this enough you started leaving off the hard? ... Yikes. – Mazura Dec 21 '18 at 20:42
  • The WTO rules are so complex that after reading them for half an hour I could not find anything that discusses customs controls explicitly. All I saw was mention of tariffs without anything discussing inspections or other means of enforcement. But the Good Friday Agreement is much easier to get through, and it certainly says nothing about border controls. – phoog Dec 22 '18 at 10:47

It is not WTO rules which require a hard border, it is regulatory divergence.

There will be a border in any scenario short of Irish unification. The Good Friday agreement says that it will be a soft border without intrusive limits and controls on cross-border traffic and commerce.

Such a soft border is only practical if the rules on both sides of the border are compatible.

  • There must be no taxes or tariffs if one shops at the grocer on the other side of the border.
  • An electric appliance that is deemed safe on one side of the border must be deemed safe on the other side.
  • If significantly different visa rules apply on both sides of the border, there must be controls to enforce them.

Part of the promise of the Brexiteers was that the UK would be free from EU regulations and requirements. Once they use that freedom to make a divergence, then both the EU and the UK will have to police the border to make that happen.

  • The EU plans to regulate some disposable plastic gadgets (like drinking straws) to help the environment. Imagine the UK does not agree. There would have to be EU inspectors at the border to make sure that consumers and businesses don't bring banned plastics over the border.
  • The UK plans to limit the entry of EU citizens. EU citizens can travel to Ireland without limit. If the UK wants to stop them from crossing the border without paper trail, they have to send UK immigration officials to all border crossings so that EU citizens can get their documents stamped.
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    Can you elaberate on "There must be no taxes or tariffs if one shops at the grocer on the other side of the border"? Because even as EU members there are different taxes on each side of the RoI/NI border. Fuel taxes is the most obvious one, causing a nearly 20p a litre difference in Diesel prices. – Jontia Dec 21 '18 at 11:35
  • AFAIK the GFA mandates that any Irish citizen can travel to NI and England without limit and control. – Martin Schröder Dec 21 '18 at 14:42
  • @JonathanReez, seems I had misremembered the Irish visa waiver for UK visa holders. I'll edit. – o.m. Dec 21 '18 at 17:24
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    @MartinSchröder it says nothing of the sort. You should read it sometime. It also says nothing about a soft border, which is why I have downvoted this answer. The word "border" in fact appears nowhere in the Good Friday Agreement. – phoog Dec 22 '18 at 4:46
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    @phoog, consider Strand II 5 and the appendix. And "cross-border" appears quite a lot unless I found another text than you did. – o.m. Dec 22 '18 at 5:33

The whole situation is just a mess.

I have been assured on this site that two years ago, people both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland expected this to cause major problems, only to be laughed off by Brexiteers. (I didn't give this particular situation not that much attention back then).

Your colleagues can say what they like, but if the UK leaves without a deal, then there will be no "backstop" (the only solution to the problem that is not totally unacceptable to anyone), so there will have to be some kind of border. On the other hand, a border will lead to all kinds of trouble, so we can't have a border. All in all, a total shambles if the UK leaves the EU with no deal.


WTO rules do not require a hard border. It’s conviently ignored there is a border between Ireland and the UK as there are different rates of excise duty ( for example alcohol & fuel ) different rates of VAT, different rates of car tax, different livestock regulations and different currency etc.etc. These are currently dealt with by pre-notification and electronic clearance. Examinations and challenges of imports / exports are intelligence based.

  • None of the things you mention require a border. However things like tariffs, people movement, and product standards do. The thing about VAT is that the output element is paid to the government of the supplier party, and audited against invoiced sales. However tariffs are payable to the importer's government - who has to be able, in the final instance, to check what comes in. It is all very well having pre-notification systems - they are fine. But at the end of the day the importing government has to be able to verify such declarations by examining and counting physical entries. – WS2 Dec 22 '18 at 0:09
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    @WS2 there have never been immigration controls on the land border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK. They're unlikely to arise because of Brexit. Customs controls are another matter. – phoog Dec 22 '18 at 4:51
  • @phoog Quite so. And that was because British and Irish citizens had the right of residence in one another's countries. However if Ireland is in the EU's free-movement, and Britain isn't, how will e.g Polish, Czech, Portuguese be prevented from flying into Dublin, taking the train to Belfast and hopping on the ferry to Liverpool. How would the Brexiteer's mantra about 'control of our borders' be achieved? – WS2 Dec 23 '18 at 8:27
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    @WS2 Also, Irish citizens have always had right of abode in the UK, since decades before the EU came into into being, and they will continue to have it after Brexit. – phoog Dec 23 '18 at 16:26
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    @WS2 The open border will not entitle these people to free-movement benefits in the UK. They will still need authorization to live or work there. They will be in the same boat as the nearly 1 billion people who can already enter the UK without a visa, and the even larger number of people who can evade UK immigration control by first entering Ireland. You seem to understand my point and just disagree with it, so there's no need for continued discussion. (I got Namibia backwards earlier. There are 6 countries I could have used instead: Bolivia, Fiji, Guyana, Lesotho, South Africa, and Eswatini.) – phoog Dec 27 '18 at 17:42

There is a border today between Eire and Northern Ireland. That is a fact.

No matter how the Brexit ends there will still be a border between Eire and Northern Ireland. That is a fact.

Unless there is a unification of Eire and Nothern Ireland there will be a border between Eire and Northern Ireland.

How that border is administered is a problem the current, and any future, government of GB & NI has. They, the government of GB & NI, have made a promise, The Good Friday Agreement, to the people in Eire and Northern Ireland that they can pass the border without any restrictions. That might be a promise that they cannot keep as the EU is not bound by that agreement.

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    The agreement does not say that people in Eire and Northern Ireland "can pass the border without any restrictions." In fact, it says nothing about the border. – phoog Dec 22 '18 at 10:43

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