The extreme wing of the Conservative party which is currently ascendant in Britain, argues that there will never be a hard border in Ireland, because no one would build one, Britain, Ireland nor the EU. (Peter Bone MP, BBC Newsnight 11 September 2020).

How then, if there is no trade agreement, and both parties imposed a duty on - for example - beef, would the UK authorities prevent Irish farmers simply marching cattle across the border to the north and putting them on a ferry to Holyhead?

Are people like Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, (following comments to BBC Today 12 September 2020) perfectly happy to allow that to happen, while the EU are charging a 40% duty on British beef into the community?

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    Britain ironically finds itself in a situation it left many if not all of its ex-colonies with. The only way to do Brexit is a hard border in Ireland; and the biggest red line for the EU and the US - as Britain's allies - is a hard border in Ireland. Smuggling wouldn't stop even with a hard border though, it was easy enough during the troubles; Its a large and open border and that's just the land part. There'll be conflict for decades over this mess; see aforementioned colonies. Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 10:54
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    There is another option, Irish unification. The UK/EU customs and regulatory border would be the Irish Sea, and it is much easier to police ferries than country roads. Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 18:23
  • @PatriciaShanahan But that seems to be what BJ has set himself against in his latest volte face from the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 6:20
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    @WS2: True, but he doesn't get a vote in that. Irish unification, under the GFA, is up to the Irish. When a no-deal Brexit means that there will be a hard border, North Ireland will have the choice on which side of that border they'll be.
    – MSalters
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 9:32

2 Answers 2


Initially the EU will probably try legal means to force the UK to enforce a new border down the Irish Sea. If that fails the point may become moot because Northern Ireland votes to rejoin Ireland in a Border Poll. It's also possible that the UK will eventually agree to a deal, just late.

Ultimately if all that fails there will have to be some kind of border on the Island of Ireland.

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    Yes. Jonathan Freedland writing in today's Guardian says: *Put simply, if the UK leaves the single market and the customs union, there has to be a meaningful border (and border checks) between the UK and the EU. That border either divides the island of Ireland, reflaming the conflict healed by the Good Friday agreement ; or it falls in the Irish Sea, separating Northern Ireland from Great Britain, and thereby splitting the United Kingdom. "Where do you put the border, asks Jonathan Powell,,,,"It is actually insoluble. There isn't a solution."
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 19, 2020 at 16:44

The current production cost in the two countries and the economic ties make trade barriers and duties unlikely. Smuggling as you see it will probably never happen.

Smuggling is more a concern when it comes to importing goods from countries with low labour cost and labelling them as produced locally. To prevent this possibility actually a physical border is not required. What is required is reinstating some kind of mandatory documentation which could be subjected to random checks. But the British side is strongly opposing what they call red tape.

  • Actually it seems more and more likely that chlorinated chicken will nake its way into the EU via Northern Ireland. A border inside the island is imminent. Commented Oct 18, 2020 at 6:09

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