What do hard-Brexiteers want with respect to the Irish border?



Hard-Brexiteers would like the UK to have a "clean break" with the EU, and in particular they don't want any part of the UK to stay even temporarily in the customs union (the so-called backstop).

This "clean break" would normally require a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but a hard border would breach the Good Friday Agreement. It seems that the options "the UK leaves the customs union" and "the Good Friday Agreement is upheld" are mutually exclusive.

As far as I'm aware, the only idea that some hard-Brexiteers have proposed to solve this contradiction is a soft border using "seamless technology". Even assuming that such a technological option is feasible for the trade of goods, wouldn't that leave a backdoor wide open for illegal immigration from the EU to the UK? If yes, are hard-Brexiteers ok with that? Alternatively, are there any hard-Brexiteers who support a hard border?

To summarize, what do hard-Brexiteers see as the ideal outcome for the Irish border in the long term?


Posted 2019-04-09T11:33:27.570

Reputation: 9 466


Comments deleted. Comments should be used to discuss the phrasing of the question, not to debate its subject matter. For more information about what comments should or should not be used for, please review the help article about the commenting privilege.

– Philipp – 2019-04-10T14:26:55.943

5The only answer to the question linked under "breach the Good Friday Agreement" appears to conclude that the GFA does not require an open border. Therefore the premise of this question appears to be incorrect. – phoog – 2019-04-10T21:30:18.813


This "clean break" would normally require a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but a hard border would breach the Good Friday Agreement. A 'hard' border would not breach the Good Friday Agreement. The full text of the text of the agreement contains no mentions of the status of the border at all.

– DrMcCleod – 2019-04-10T14:58:29.420

3For "seamless technology" read hand-wavium barriers manned by shoggoths. No-one has anything more detailed than that yet. – RedSonja – 2019-04-15T11:43:33.433



They tend to think it's somebody else's problem (Ireland's and/or the DUP's). Unless you are part of the DUP of course. See how Rees-Mogg has been punting the problem along the lines of: I agree with whatever the DUP agrees (or at least doesn't oppose) on Northern Ireland. And at the same time he says that in the case of no-deal Ireland would not dare to impose a hard border. Which is true to some extent.

The DUP has given a number of somewhat contradictory statements on this, over time. From the somewhat famous denial that a hard border ever existed to the more recent position(s) that they would prioritize staying in the EU over splitting Northern Ireland from the UK.


Posted 2019-04-09T11:33:27.570

Reputation: 76 605

The DUP would in theory be fine with a hard border with Ireland. It shows they have "won". – Caleth – 2019-04-09T13:35:16.493

3@Caleth: Source? For some reason, I get very very conflicting impressions... – Denis de Bernardy – 2019-04-09T18:22:06.530

5The DUP would not be fine with that. Some of them would be OK with it ideologically, they know it would be a massively unpopular move for which they would get the blame. – DJClayworth – 2019-04-09T18:40:22.040

1The Brexiters' stance is that the UK does not want a hard border, and Ireland does not want a hard border. Therefore there simply won't be a hard border. If the EU have a problem with it, then that's their problem. What are they going to do? Force Ireland to build a wall? – Chris Melville – 2019-04-10T10:25:20.750


FYI DUP stands for the Democratic Unionist Party

– axsvl77 – 2019-04-10T11:13:05.050

6@ChrisMelville AIUI the issue would be with the WTO rules, which say that you must have border controls unless you have a trade agreement saying you won't (i.e. a customs union with all that implies). Whether any brexiteer has actually addressed this issue is another question. – Paul Johnson – 2019-04-10T16:25:17.220

@axsvl77 OK so I was wondering what DUP means and now I wonder what FYI means. I really hate accronims they make communication extremely unclear. – Bregalad – 2019-04-10T17:32:32.357

1@PaulJohnson WTO rules don't say how strict those controls have to be. One person waving everyone through is some sort of border control as well. – Sjoerd – 2019-04-10T18:33:43.140


@Sjoerd Only if you do it the same for everyone. If you force goods from one country to go through the full customs inspection but wave through goods from another you are violating Article 1. "any advantage, favour, privilege or immunity granted by any contracting party to any product originating in or destined for any other country shall be accorded immediately and unconditionally to the like product originating in or destined for the territories of all other contracting parties." https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/gatt47_01_e.htm#articleI

– Paul Johnson – 2019-04-11T07:31:59.113

@PaulJohnson Which brings us to the technical discussion whether it is 'granted' or not. So in practice, you can do it while the lawyers discuss stuff like this. – Sjoerd – 2019-04-11T08:44:35.813


@Bregalad Check out this one

– axsvl77 – 2019-04-11T16:47:44.877

@Bregalad you're going to hate LMGTFY then! (and more helpfully, FYI = for your information) – Jamie Bull – 2019-04-11T17:06:09.850


The brexiteers don't really want anything regarding the Irish border. It's just a problem preventing them getting the hard brexit that they want, and since they don't have a real solution for it they just want to pretend it's not really a problem.

That's all it is, an annoying roadblock for them.


Posted 2019-04-09T11:33:27.570

Reputation: 16 552

5Disagree on this. DUP are brexiters and have strong opinions on the matter. Ironically probably would rather a soft border – None – 2019-04-09T17:31:23.397

3The DUP believes that the obvious solution to the problem would be the rest of Ireland giving up on this sovereignity nonsense and rejoining the UK as is right and proper, and if some people have Troubles with that, well, clearly we didn't shoot enough of them the last time... </sarcasm> – Shadur – 2019-06-12T09:12:38.397


The "Hard Brexiteers" that make it to English press are all English, not DUP. The English over all truly, really don't give a flying monkey's about the Irish border. The vast majority isn't even clear that there's two countries on one island, and when faced with the fact they shrug. Dublin is a place for a drunken weekend like say Prague, else irrelevant. E.g., https://ukandeu.ac.uk/attitudes-in-great-britain-to-northern-ireland-and-brexit/ --- "NI should stay in UK" or "I don't care either way" poll the same 36%, if you pose it separately from any costs or practical issues.

– user3445853 – 2019-07-31T20:37:05.177


I'm a Remainer, but have been accused of being a Hard Brexiter on some stances in this debate, so I'll take a stab. The WTO, the Repubic of Ireland, the UK and the EU have all recently made declarations and supporting statements that they have no intention of putting up border checks on any border between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. They will instead impose checks at warehouses and other centers of of commerce. The UK is adamant that they will not impose any border check on any borders between ROI and NI (already been there and done that) and currently, through the HMRC, conduct such checks (for immigration and contraband) in Northern Ireland. So it seems that this issue is, perhap ironically, sorting itself out whether there is a 'hard' Brexit or not. The means by which such controls can be done are long established by many nations around the world:

It will not be perfect. Nobody has a perfect system that I'm aware of. But it will suffice to control immigration and movement of goods to some extent and, most importantly, prevent any return of the Troubles.


Posted 2019-04-09T11:33:27.570

Reputation: 1 984

There are plenty of borders that aren't "hard" in the world - they usually arise from some form of treaty or agreement between the countries on both sides of those borders. For NI & ROI, that agreement was the free movement clause of the EU membership that both GB and ROI have; the US and Canada have elaborate treaties describing how their border works. To my mind, that's what would be exceptional about the Brexiteer claim that this is no big deal and it'll all automatically work out. – Erik P. – 2019-04-09T16:50:18.263

3@ErikP. I haven't heard anybody, Remainer or Brexiter, claim it would be 'no big deal'. But I have heard the WTO, EU and ROI say that they will use other means than ROI/NI checks at a border. Anyway, I've found a couple of interesting examples, one that supports your statement about US/Canada cooperation. – ouflak – 2019-04-09T16:57:35.687

@thelem, If you want any more, just let me know. There are so many examples, I could expand to the rest of the world as well. I ignored drugs, as there are just too many of those to be interesting. I also ignored people smuggling for more-or-less the same reason. The UK used to have a show 'Border Patrol' on which you can see them doing checks at train stations based on profiling. It was very interesting, if a bit appalling at times. It did yield results though. You can look that up. Any special requests you might have to do yourself. It's a lot to sort through and I think I've made my point. – ouflak – 2019-04-09T17:14:35.670

9@ouflak Isn't it illegal to cross the US/CA border away from a crossing point, even if you are a citizen of the country you are entering and don't have any contraband? The people on both sides of the NI border have become used to doing just this. – Rich – 2019-04-10T02:50:28.343

I don't think a comparison with Canada is relevant. First of all Canada does not have the problem that US funded wars in nearby Middle East are causing droves of people to move by boat and foot to Europe including the UK. Next is that both N.Irish and S.Iridh trading partners WANT to continue trading freely and no amount of UK supervision is going to prevent the ensuing corruption of controls. Effectively, N. and S. Ireland would fuse, and UK would have to implement a hard border with Ireland. – Sentinel – 2019-04-10T04:24:08.390

@Rich. No. Canadian citizens and American citizens can cross these borders away from crossing points and do so all the time. Indeed there is atleast one town where the U.S.-Canadian border cuts right through and goes through a library http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171105-the-us-canada-border-runs-through-this-tiny-library.

– ouflak – 2019-04-10T06:28:41.037

@Sentinel, I was not comparing the countries. I was comparing the borders. In particular, I was comparing the situation where there is movement of goods and people that aren't, and simply can't feasibly be, controlled at the physical border. It's just not practical. That has nothing to do with the actual countries involved as much as the logistics. They've had to come up with other solutions and have done so. It's these solutions that EU, the Republic of Ireland, and even the WTO have all endorsed recently. That's the comparison, not to the countries, but to the situation. – ouflak – 2019-04-10T06:31:58.583

@ouflak Well, yeah, I get that. I just poorly formulated my comment. I don't really see the overall comparison as a good one. The comparison would need to include some geographically close extension of Canada that is its major trading partner. And the USA would need to be suffering a huge influx of Latin American migrants trying to escape foreign-funded wars there. The analogous situation would be that if Canada did not implement a well-manned hard border with the USA, such as Trump's wall, then immigration and corruption would result in that Canada's equivalent of England divorcing from it. – Sentinel – 2019-04-10T07:10:31.047

@outflack. Rather than (or perhaps in addition to) adding requested examples in comments, you should [edit] them into your answer. – TRiG – 2019-04-10T15:53:56.880

Yeah I guess I can do that. At the time I only had one request, and frankly it seemed unnecessary due to obviousness. But his comment has gotten a few upvotes and now another request so.... – ouflak – 2019-04-10T16:00:32.113

2(-1) The last sentence does all the work (“prevent any return of the Troubles”) but explains nothing. From the beginning, rightly or wrongly, the concern coming from Ireland and relayed by the EU is that any type of border check or infrastructure could become a source of renewed tensions. None of the examples provided in the answer address that. Otherwise, it would relatively trivial for the EU to offer a solution (cf. the borders with Norway or Switzerland, which are considerably “softer” than the USA/Canada border). – Relaxed – 2019-04-14T10:34:02.803

@Relaxed, The symbol of the Troubles is the border patrol posts between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. They were pointed out distastefully by all sides and targets both topically and literally. You say that none of the examples address this, yet one of the examples is a customs raid in Northern Ireland conducted by the HMRC! That was just one example I put up. I spread the rest around the world, but there are many more for NI. The fact that these kind of operations are going on as we speak is more than enough evidence that they can work without inciting the Troubles. – ouflak – 2019-04-14T16:30:56.630

@Relaxed, Also apologies if I somehow implied it would be 'trivial*. Let me flat out say that it will not be trivial. I can include that statement in the answer if you like. It will all have to be done with extreme consideration and with immense focus on cooperation by all parties. The one thing I believe that everybody can agree on is that they don't want a return of the Troubles. Likewise, the UK doesn't want to have its territory bifuricated and neither does the EU. Both sides are perfectly correct in feeling that way. – ouflak – 2019-04-14T16:41:14.287

@Relaxed, But if you (or anybody) have another solution that is just as tried and true as what's already happening Northern Ireland (and many other places in the world), please post it. If it's reasonable and valid, I'll certainly vote it up and I'm sure others will too. – ouflak – 2019-04-14T16:41:54.147

1@outflak These operations are going on now when both the UK and Ireland are in the EU. It's also happening between Germany and the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France, etc. So how does it tell us anything about what's needed once the UK leaves the EU? – Relaxed – 2019-04-15T07:21:58.653

@Relaxed, What it's telling us is that these kind of operations can and do take place in Northern Ireland and are not inciting the Troubles. You stated, "...the concern coming from Ireland and relayed by the EU is that any type of border check or infrastructure could become a source of renewed tensions..." But the WTO has endorsed, and EU and Replublic have clearly stated that they will use exactly these kind of away-from-any-border operations to avoid a return of any tensions. If you disagree with them, fine. I'm only attempting to answer the question with real world examples. – ouflak – 2019-04-15T08:39:30.380

@Relaxed, This answer does provide reliable sources for its conclusions and is consistent with recent statements that the WTO, EU and Republic of Ireland have themselves made. I don't think that deserves a down vote, even if you don't like the answer. If you like, I can plow even more NI examples into the answer, but you don't seem to be disagreeing with that part, so I'm not sure what use that will be. Maybe take this up with the WTO/EU/ROI leadership and tell them how wrong they are? – ouflak – 2019-04-15T08:41:45.603

@Relaxed, I've updated the answer with a recent article that states the position of the various parties on this issue. There are more recent statements that are much more specific. Would that help? – ouflak – 2019-04-15T08:59:43.340

@outflak No it doesn't help, the WTO story has been wildly misrepresented. What the organisation stated (as revealed by a careful reading of the article you linked to) is that it would not itself initiate enforcement. But that's the way the WTO works in general and not a workable solution. But at least this does speak somewhat to the heart of the matter, unlike the rest of the answer which is still misleading and besides the point. The EU has obviously never suggested it wasn't a problem, that's the whole reason for the backstop so please tone down sarcasm... – Relaxed – 2019-04-15T17:50:36.350

Meanwhile, you completely fail to acknowledge that there is in fact border infrastructure between, say, the EU and Switzerland, a Schengen country with a very close relationship with the EU. If you really think there is a solution doing away with those, fair enough, state as much and provide relevant sources. But listing any sort of customs activities away from the border as if it was somehow new or an obvious solution is disingenuous. – Relaxed – 2019-04-15T17:55:18.440

@Relaxed. They are not new. In fact, that's part of my central point. They've been going for decades and decades. They are tried-and-true techniques and to some extent already going in Northern Ireland anyway. If it wasn't for that fact, I would not have bothered demonstrating the point. – ouflak – 2019-04-15T18:19:48.187

@outflak But tried-and-true techniques to solve what problem? They are used everywhere in addition to border infrastructure, even around borders that are much “harder” than what both the UK and Ireland say they wish to ensure. That's why it's completely beside the point... – Relaxed – 2019-04-15T19:48:31.260

Let's consider one of your examples: What point is the story about ICE raids supposed to “demonstrate”? The US-Mexico border is fenced off on something like a third of its length, there are huge border crossing checkpoints where vehicles have to stop, bags are opened, documentation checked... Why would you even bring it up? – Relaxed – 2019-04-15T19:56:06.710

1@ErikP. Free movement has exactly nothing to do with the state of the border in Northern Ireland. There were never immigration controls, only customs controls and military security checkpoints. The customs controls were removed because of the EU, and the security controls were removed in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement. Ouflak: it is indeed illegal to enter the US away from a border post, except for people with special permits to do so in boats (on the great lakes). While people can cross the border in the library, they can only exit to the country they entered from. – phoog – 2019-04-16T04:50:43.880

1From the BBC story: "Today, a US Homeland Security vehicle sits outside the library’s entrance 24 hours a day." From Wikipedia, after noting that there is no entrance in Canada, only an emergency exit: "Patrons from Canada are permitted to enter the U.S. door without needing to report to customs, providing they return to Canada immediately upon leaving the building." – phoog – 2019-04-16T04:56:39.373


What the hard Brexiters want is for Ireland to leave the EU at the same time as the UK and negotiate a bilateral trade treaty on the UK's terms that keeps the border open. There is of course precisely zero chance of them getting it.

Mike Scott

Posted 2019-04-09T11:33:27.570

Reputation: 2 446

6Some citations that that is a) what they want and b) that there is no chance of them getting it would be appreciated. – Tim – 2019-04-10T18:28:10.977

@Tim The only evidence of this is negative evidence — Brexiteers are opposed to every other possibility. They want a border between London and Brussels, but not between London and Belfast or between Belfast and Dublin. They therefore must want a border between Dublin and Brussels. – Mike Scott – 2021-01-05T07:21:11.207

nonsense. Brexiteers (whatever that term means) are not a uniform group, all having all the same opinions. – Tim – 2021-01-05T08:47:42.053