Monday 14 October 2019

Colette Browne: 'Boris Johnson has shown his contempt for Ireland with a DMZ straight out of North Korea's playbook'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

In attempting to find an answer to the intractable question of the Border, Boris Johnson's team have sought inspiration from an unlikely international hotspot - North Korea.

"The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) - let's just make it longer and wider," was never a promise that was emblazoned on the side of a bus but, as negotiations descend into farce, it's an idea whose time has now come.

RTÉ's Europe editor, Tony Connelly, who broke the story, explained the British have proposed a string of customs clearance centres on both sides of the Border as part of their plans to dispense with the backstop.

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"Under the plans, goods moving north and south would need to be declared and cleared in customs clearance sites on either side.

"The goods then moving through the 10m-20m zone would be monitored in real time, possibly via mobile phone GPS data or tracking devices fitted to vehicles," he tweeted.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson's final Brexit gambit: UK to offer double border for four years to abolish backstop

While the DMZ in the Korean peninsula is just 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, Mr Johnson has always been ambitious in his vision for Brexit. So, the Irish version suggested by his team would be 300 miles (500km) long and 20 miles (32km) wide.

Cartographer Richard Cantwell, using the most charitable iteration of the plan, drafted a map of what the country could look like with a buffer zone extending 10 miles in either direction of the Border.

Per his results, 625,000 people would be living in that area, which takes in Derry, Bundoran, Monaghan, Newry, Armagh and Dundalk, among others.

This, according to Mr Connelly and his impeccable sources, is the "gist of what UK officials have proposed on customs". Having conceded that the issue of the Irish Border was among the most difficult aspects of the exit deal to grapple with, Mr Johnson and the other geniuses in his cabinet have thought outside the box to come up with a solution. Their proposal? Replace it with three borders. What could possible go wrong?

The leak of the latest absurd idea from the British came from one of four 'non-papers' submitted to the EU in the past number of weeks. The contents of these non-papers are not formal proposals, but contain the best results of British brainstorming efforts to put flesh on the bones of its exit deal.

READ MORE: EU chiefs consider six-month Brexit delay as Boris Johnson's plans expected to fall flat

If 'North Korea lite' is among the gems that have actually been sent by the British to Brussels, just how bad must their other suggestions be?

The Infinite Monkey Theorem is the notion that an unlimited number of monkeys, armed with enough typewriters and an infinite amount of time, will eventually be able to reproduce literary classics like the complete works of Shakespeare.

Clearly, Mr Johnson needs more monkeys and more typewriters if this is the best he has been able to do in his efforts to replicate the backstop, thus far.

Embarrassingly for Mr Johnson, the leak came during the Tory Party conference when he had been booked to appear on a number of high-profile news programmes, hoping to discuss his "exciting domestic agenda" at length.

Instead, he had to spend much of the time distancing himself from a proposal that has been roundly derided and which was sent to Brussels just a few short weeks ago as, variously, "not quite right" and "not what we are proposing at all".

So, if the British never intended this enormous buffer zone would be part of their final plan, then why include it at all in the documents sent to Brussels?

And, crucially, what will it be replaced with?

Predictably, no response to the latter question was forthcoming from Mr Johnson, a man who is rarely troubled by boring things like facts and details.

READ MORE: Kevin Doyle: 'We have run out of time and into a brick wall, so it's extension or bust'

He was, however, forced to concede that, given he is insisting on different customs arrangements in the North to those south of the Border, that the final deal will need to incorporate customs checks in some form.

Quite apart from the vapidity of Mr Johnson's inane proposal, he and his team clearly don't give a toss about the hurt, confusion and deep alarm that they are sowing in Northern Ireland as people, who actually have to live there, begin to seriously fear the return of a hard Border.

In a rare display of public opposition with the British government, even DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly slammed the leaked plans yesterday, citing the "dismay and surprise" they had caused in Northern Ireland, and sought assurances that customs clearance centres would not feature in any finalised deal.

It would be interesting to learn just how many of those in Westminster tasked with replacing the backstop have been to Northern Ireland or have ever visited the Border.

By Mr Johnson's own admission, it has been many decades since he has ever been anywhere near the Border and one suspects that many of the Brexiteer firebrands in his cabinet wouldn't be able to locate it on a map.

At sea when it comes to geography, Mr Johnson and his team also suffer from an empathy and sensitivity deficit as they persist in ripping open old wounds and instilling fear in communities along the Border.

Back in April, Virgin Media reporter Paul Colgan interviewed his father Thomas, who was two days on the job in 1972 as a trainee customs officer when he survived an IRA attack on Newry Customs House which killed nine people.

Even all of these years later, emotion was still thick in Mr Colgan's voice as he described the ferocity of the bomb and his fear, in the immediate aftermath, that he had been left blind.

When Mr Johnson is attempting to square the circle of his promises on Brexit with the reality of the unique history and geography of the Border region, does he ever think of the violence and trauma that people who lived in the six counties during the Troubles endured?

Does he ever pause for a moment and consider the deep impact of his throwaway comments and flippant remarks on those who have enjoyed a peace spanning more than two decades but who now fear a return of bombs and bullets?

The tragedy of Brexit is that it is those who will suffer most, both economically and socially, who have the least influence on Mr Johnson's deranged plans.

The leaked proposals are further proof that the Conservative Party does not care about Northern Ireland.

To them, Northern Ireland is an inconvenience standing in the way of their dreams of Brexit glory. If they have to endanger its residents to make those dreams a reality, they won't hesitate.

Irish Independent

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