PM visiting border is good symbolism but it is policy that matters

Some months ago, the leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg questioned the notion that he needed to go to the Irish border to understand the subject more.

Friday, 20th July 2018, 1:23 am
Updated Friday, 20th July 2018, 1:28 am
Morning View

In a BBC interview, the Tory MP rightly resisted the almost hysterical claims about the border and the insistence that leading politicians cannot have a position on the frontier if they have not been there.

But Mr Rees-Mogg, for all his valid criticism of such gesture politics, later turned up at the border and outlined his views in an interview between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

For similar symbolic reasons, it was good that the prime minister went to the border yesterday, apart from anything else as a reminder that the United Kingdom stretches so far west.

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Mrs May did not need to ‘understand’ the border by going there, as no curious person would need to do — they can read in depth about the issues from afar. But the sight of her visiting Belleek was nonetheless welcome to try to assuage some of those people who seem determined to take offence.

The important thing however is the policy.

The land border is a major challenge, both technically and politically. The latter because the hysteria about the issue, however unnecessary, has taken on a momentum of its own.

But Brexit should not fall on the basis of the border alone, however complex it might be.

Mrs May said yesterday that her Brexit plan will ensure no hardening of the frontier, as has been said ad infinitum.

But while these reassurances are appropriate, it is essential that a British prime minister’s commitment to avoid an internal frontier is always — always — greater than the commitment to avoid a hard external one.

Again and again it needs to be said: there is already a major change of jurisdiction at the border in terms of currency, fuel duties, tax rates and general laws.

But the EU is sticking to its plan to resolve this issue in favour of Dublin’s hardline stance. Supporters of the UK need to show daily vigilance in resisting that.