A customs union won't solve the Irish border issue

PUBLISHED: 16:50 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 17:01 11 April 2019

Doire Finn campaigning on the Irish border as part of an anti-Brexit protest. Photograph: PA.

Doire Finn campaigning on the Irish border as part of an anti-Brexit protest. Photograph: PA.


DOIRE FINN says that the latest Article 50 extension only creates more uncertainty for the people living in Northern Ireland.

With a new final date now set for October 31st, the idea that we are in for a ‘trick or treat’ Brexit has been widely expressed in various pictures, memes and suggestions for who gets dibs on dressing up as the backstop. For those living in Northern Ireland, Brexit is neither trick, nor treat. It has become a divisionary force that has called into question what our lives are going to be. We are staring into the same abyss of uncertainty that we have faced for the last three years; and farmers, business owners, and young people living on the border are still stuck in limbo while the elites in Westminster try to fumble their way out of this self-styled mess.

We were overlooked in the referendum in 2016. Since then, our lives have been trivialised to no more than stumbling blocks: the border and the backstop are all people hear about us. For months I have watched with horror, because Northern Ireland is so much more than a continuation of old battles. Northern Ireland is welcoming fun, and full of craic! Thankfully, parliament has shown this week that they are edging closer and closer to acknowledging a People’s Vote is the only way to save our futures.

But parliament also came close to supporting a customs union. This option has had minimal scrutiny over the last months - all attention has been focussed on the prime minister’s deal, on the backstop, and on the threat of no deal. Initially, it seems like an attractive option for a parliament that doesn’t want the deal and has rejected no-deal decisively. But when you look at it through Northern Irish eyes, it loses a lot of its appeal.

A customs union doesn’t solve the fundamental conundrum of our invisible border. You need to have single market alignment in order to do that as well - if you don’t, you would need to maintain checks on goods. Not having checks means that smuggling becomes a lot more attractive: this funnels money to those who come from a darker past, and desire a darker future.

Not only does it not solve the problems that our unique arrangement presents - it begs the question: what is the point of Brexit? If we’re in a customs union, then we lose the ability to have an independent trade policy. If we’re aiming to keep single market access, then we have to follow EU rules and regulations on our goods, with absolutely no say in how they’re made. Where I’m from, we’re depressingly used to a democratic deficit: Stormont hasn’t sat for over two years, Sinn Fein don’t take their seats in Westminster, and so we’re “represented” by the DUP, who only got 36% of the vote in 2017. But those who rail against the EU for being undemocratic now would be wise to carefully examine a future in which the standards for products they can buy and sell aren’t decided by them or their representatives.

The peace of Northern Ireland has been hard-fought and hard-won, and bright futures that were promised after years of conflict and strife are what all young people living here are working towards. We are the first generation to have grown up with politics free from violence and fear and this is a future that we all want to see. With great extension, comes great responsibility. Let’s hope the politicians give us what we need: a People’s Vote.

• Doire Finn is co-founder of OFOC (Our Future Our Choice) NI - a group of young people pushing for a People’s Vote.

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