The madness of the Northern Ireland border

By Ollie Campbell

Credit: Getty Images

The creation of a border inside Great Britain is causing extreme absurdities.


Across the country, there are a number of gardening-based companies that sell plants to Northern Ireland, accumulating a revenue of well over £10 million annually. Unfortunately, EU law means that it has to stop, because the plants are grown on ‘British soil.’


The recent Brexit deal agreed that a hard Irish border should be avoided and therefore certain EU regulations will remain in place for Northern Ireland, which includes a total ban on the import of soil. Firms could continue to sell plants to Northern Ireland if they use concrete, plastic or some alternative to keep the plants from touching the soil. However, the head of production for Johnsons of Whixley plant nursery, Jonathan Whittmore, has said this requires “complete change” in its processes. Another alternative will be to grow the plants in peat, a form of bog soil formed by decomposition of vegetable matter. Although this encourages peat bogs to be stripped for horticulture, contributing hugely to climate change, as peat bogs are a very effective carbon sink.


Another company struggling is J&K Aquatics of Somerset. The firm now requires an export health certificate to sell fish food to Northern Ireland. A few tubs of fish food would cost around £10, but a certificate that must be completed by a specialist costing over £50. Customs declarations will also be necessary for any exporting companies now as well. Having heard cabinet minister Michael Gove’s reference to "bumpy moments" on the post-Brexit road, J&K Aquatics owner, Paul James, said: "we can’t even find the road."


Pet owners who want to bring a cat or dog into Northern Ireland from Britain will require a rabies injection for their animals 21 days before travelling, even though all domestic animals in the British Isles have to be rabies free as a legal requirement. Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister, Gordon Lyons, has written to the European Commission to object "unjustified veterinary treatments, for diseases that we do not have."


The origin of all these problems are in rules put in place to protect the EU single market from foreign threats of soil-borne disease, infected fish foods or rabid pets. Since these rules have partitioned the EU, the sort of absurdities which drove the anti-EU sentiment behind the Brexit campaign are rapidly multiplying. Currently, Northern Ireland are the ones suffering from these laws but no doubt, they will become a problem for the EU soon also.


After 31 December 2024, the Northern Irish Assembly has the option to vote on whether to terminate or continue with protocol agreements on the Irish Sea border. A number of Irish nationalists will be happy to see the deepening division between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, hoping they can achieve some momentum that the SNP currently has, towards independence. In contrast, Unionists, a much more prevalent group in the assembly, have pledged to vote down the rules at the first opportunity they get. Elections are due next year and the Unionists are only 6 seats short of a majority.


If the sea order does go, the controversial decision will arise between a hard border on the island of Ireland, or no border at all. No border will put behind them the long history of division between the two Irish states leading to a new union, massive changes to the EU protocol in Ireland and potentially another limb lost for the UK. Reunification is a possibility, but whether it will happen, we can only wait and see.

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