Scottish unionists cannot accept an Irish Sea border or let Brexit divide our nation, says Tory MP

Kegs of Guinness being prepared  for shipment at the St James' Gate Brewery, Dublin. Ross Thomson writes: "When Guinness leaves Dublin to go to Belfast, Glasgow or Liverpool the necessary paperwork is completed electronically, taking account of the differing duties, taxes and regulations so that it complies and any dues are paid to the correct authority". Photo: Guinness/PA
Kegs of Guinness being prepared for shipment at the St James' Gate Brewery, Dublin. Ross Thomson writes: "When Guinness leaves Dublin to go to Belfast, Glasgow or Liverpool the necessary paperwork is completed electronically, taking account of the differing duties, taxes and regulations so that it complies and any dues are paid to the correct authority". Photo: Guinness/PA

This article by Mr Thomson, a Conservative MP, was written for Thursday’s print edition of the News Letter and so was published before news of the letter from the prime minister to the DUP:

There is far more that brings Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England together than divides us.

Ross Thomson is Conservative MP for Aberdeen South

Ross Thomson is Conservative MP for Aberdeen South

The ties that bind go beyond nations to individuals. As citizens, we have built the UK together.

We have traded together. We have fought together and we have built our lives together. 

Four years ago, I fought head, heart, body and soul to save our precious Union and helped to stop the SNP from breaking it apart. 

It is the UK that is a member of the EU, it is the whole of the UK that will leave and it is the UK that must now form a new relationship with the EU. 

Likewise, it will be the UK that is then free to set its own independent trade policy, its own trade tariffs, sign trade deals with countries such as the US, China and India – and also join Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and others in the Trans Pacific Partnership.

And when it comes to negotiating the new relationship between the UK and the EU, it must be done for the whole of the UK.

As a Scottish unionist I believe there can be no border down the Irish Sea splitting off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. 

Not only would the application of different trading laws and taxes mean that over time Northern Ireland would diverge unconsciously from the United Kingdom against the expressed will of its people – it would also feed Scottish nationalist demands that a similar divergent arrangement be made for Scotland.

It is no wonder that the SNP are so keen on it.

I welcomed the recent intervention of the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, and the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, in writing a letter to the prime minister making it clear that their blood red line is the integrity of the UK.

Unionists across the House of Commons, whether from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England have been completely and consistently clear that there is either a UK-wide deal or no deal at all.  

The EU has sought to use Northern Ireland to take control of Brexit, and to prevent us from leaving.

They have had the audacity to put forward a crude plan that both violates the Good Friday Agreement and would hive off Northern Ireland from the UK.

Despite all the scaremongering about a hard Checkpoint Charlie-style border, there is a very clear and logical solution. But the fact that the EU does not seem willing to discuss it raises questions about its motives.

The European Research Group of backbench Conservative MPs has published a detailed paper, written jointly by two former Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and an architect of the Good Friday Agreement Lord Trimble, that explains the variety of technical solutions available to ensure that border checks are not necessary.

Both the UK and Irish governments have said they will not erect a physical border.

In answer to a question in the Dail in Dublin, the EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker asserted the EU will not force a physical border on the Republic of Ireland.

Revenue and customs officials from the UK and the Republic of Ireland have said they neither need, nor have plans for, new physical infrastructure at borders. 

With such overwhelming agreement, why is there a problem?

If the EU can accept that technical solutions for the movement of goods are possible for an imaginary border down the Irish Sea, then those applications can surely be possible between the two jurisdictions in Ireland too. 

Borders are borders. Whether or not the border is a line in the ground or in the sea there will be a place where the jurisdiction changes.

That’s all it is, a change in the laws and who has the authority to enforce them.

This used to take place with goods in transit being stopped and clarification sought that the consignments comply with the different laws.

The perception is that this always takes place when the border is crossed, but that’s not how it happens anymore – technology has changed all that.

When Guinness leaves Dublin to go to Belfast, Glasgow or Liverpool the necessary paperwork is completed electronically, taking account of the differing duties, taxes and regulations so that it complies and any dues are paid to the correct authority.

The beer truck is not stopped at the border. Only random checks are necessary and these are conducted anywhere on the journey by officials from any of the jurisdictions involved.

There is no fuss made about this either.

The idea that there will be a need for border checkpoints holding up traffic, asking for bills of lading [details of a cargo consignment] is a mendacious invention by the EU to keep the UK in its single market and customs union – or divide our country.

It is not a choice we have to make.

All it needs is for the UK to make that its goal and for the EU to see sense and recognise the border question can be solved.

l Ross Thomson is Conservative MP for Aberdeen South