Lawyers, Lorry Drivers and Brexit

Written By: Andrew Rosthorn
Published: February 28, 2018 Last modified: March 4, 2018

Our laws and the many ways we feed and supply ourselves are now so complicated that Brexit, as envisaged by Brexiteers, simply cannot be achieved.

The people who seem to know this best are lawyers and lorry drivers.

When Brexit ran aground on the Irish border in January some members of the European Movement asked for a personal explanation from a road haulier.

I chanced my arm at their meeting in Kendal, Cumbria, on February 23, claiming my right to obstruct, undermine and sabotage a lawfully-elected government on the grounds that it intends to rob me of my citizenship, take away my EU passport, deny me access to the Court of Justice of the European Communities, deny free movement to my friends and cancel the international road haulage permits for the lorries, trailers and drivers for which I am responsible.

I made it personal. Because it is personal. I reckon it goes right back to my schooldays in the 1950s, learning French from a German Jew who had fled from Hitler.

Arnold Meier, educated in Cologne, Heidelberg and Paris, was interned as an enemy alien in the Isle of Man in 1940 before they allowed him to come and teach at Bury Grammar School in Lancashire.

Dr Meier made sure we took our chances to live “en famille” with French and German boys at the height of the post-war enthusiasm for twin towns, pen friends and school trips on the Anglo Swiss Express, the steam-hauled night train that took us across the old battlefields from Calais Maritime, through Hazebrouck, Lille, Valenciennes, Thionville, Metz, Strasbourg and Mulhouse before an early morning breakfast of warm rolls and Swiss black cherry jam at the station buffet at Basel.

At breakfast in a youth hostel in Montreux in May 1958, we heard the news from Colombey-les-Deux-Églises. After a military coup in French Algeria, Charles de Gaulle had accepted an invitation to “assume the powers of the Republic”.

Meier and our history teacher Colin Hindley, who was a Gladstonian Liberal, did not like the sound of it. They thought it smacked of Bonapartism.

Yet four years later, de Gaulle invited Chancellor Adenauer of West Germany to celebrate a mass in Reims Cathedral, a place where thirty-three French kings had been crowned.

In 1914, German gunners had shelled and burned the great mediaeval monument, so a flagstone now carries the words spoken in 1962 by de Gaulle to Archbishop Marty:

Excellence, Chancellor Adenauer and myself come into your cathedral to seal the reconciliation of France and Germany.

I was on the mailing list of the European Coal and Steel Community when I was thirteen and sixty years later when I stay in the home of my grand old German school friend, he tells me

Andrew. You and I. We were the first Europeans.

I was a long distance continental hitchhiker and a Lancashire lorry driver before I ever set foot in a university. Yarning with lorry drivers of five nations in a relais routier on the docks at Le Havre proved to be a fine education. I saw the best of post-war Europe. The frontiers were opening, tariffs were falling and trade was growing.

A personal introduction to the more poisonous parts of Europe happened in September 1969 when my newspaper sent me to walk alongside Home Secretary Jim Callaghan through the ruins of Bombay Street, Belfast, burned out by loyalists in a terror campaign in which 1500 Catholic families lost their homes. Patrick Bishop and Eamonn Mallie described the situation.

Both communities were in the grip of a mounting paranoia about the other’s intentions. Catholics were convinced that they were about to become victims of a Protestant pogrom; Protestants that they were on the eve of an IRA insurrection.

In the winter that followed we hard news reporters were expected to shelter in dark doorways and observe the street fighting. Night after night in that unfortunate city I saw how fear and loathing gripped the people. They were paying the very high price that you have to pay for trusting politicians prepared to use fear and hatred to win power. It’s a price that we started to pay in England after the murder of Jo Cox MP.

Sunday after Sunday, I endured the sermons of the Rev Ian Paisley at scary church services in East Belfast. Contacts in the RUC Special Branch said they were waiting for a green light to arrest “Doctor Paisley” for conspiracy to blow up power lines in a false flag operation that had been blamed on the old Marxist IRA. An informant took a twelve year jail sentence before giving Queen’s Evidence that the plan was hatched on the back seat of Paisley’s car. But the Special Branch never got their green light and Paisley lived a long time as a free man.

Jim Callaghan and Harold Wilson ensured that right through the winter of 1969, well before the creation of the Provisional IRA in 1970, the isolated Catholic areas of West and East Belfast were protected by British soldiers. Callaghan abolished the feared B-Specials who had colluded in anti-Catholic terror tactics.

Nevertheless in 1969 even when resolute soldiers of the Royal Hampshires were protecting Catholics in West Belfast, seventy miles away in Derry I heard the ghastly Belfast republican activist Maire Drumm tell a crowd of frightened people that

It is well known that every British prostitute puts her son in the British Army.

The Red Hand Commando shot Maire Drumm dead in a hospital bed in 1972, but Paisley lived on, to found the Democratic Unionist Party.

After opposing the Good Friday Agreement that delivered twenty years of peace, Paisley eventually found himself sitting up in Stormont Castle with Martin McGuinness, a young IRA commander in my days in Derry. Paisley and McGuinness served as first and deputy first ministers in the power-sharing government that was encouraged by John Major and brokered by Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern and Bill Clinton. An apparently genuine and public friendship between Paisley and McGuinness is said to have eventually cost Paisley the leadership of the party he had founded.

The baleful influence of that party has since poisoned the entire body politic of our disunited kingdom. Not only do ten Westminster DUP MPs hold a whip hand over the weak Tory government of Theresa May, but in the ludicrous EU Referendum of 2016, the Northern Ireland laws protecting the identity of political donors were used to conceal the origin of £435,000 in dark money used for a last-minute pro-leave advertising campaign in England.

The DUP even paid £282,000 for a four-page anti-EU wraparound for London’s Metro giveaway paper, a publication read daily on London tube trains but never distributed in the six counties.

I was back in the six counties again in the mid-seventies and the eighties, working for a remarkable Anglo-Irish road haulage firm.

Our boss was a County Armagh Roman Catholic known as The Wee Man. He farmed on both sides of the border and relished employing both Protestants and Catholics. After someone raided the yard, The Wee Man let it be known that he would be paying no more protection money to anyone.

Being non-sectarian gave us a sales pitch at the supermarket chicken producers Moy Park, then owned by Courtaulds. Long distance loads to England were assigned on a strict fifty / fifty basis between Protestant and Catholic hauliers.

When extra night ferries and the building of bypasses on the A75 in Scotland made it possible to deliver chilled fresh chicken overnight from Portadown to Tesco in Lancashire, The Wee Man demanded his non-sectarian bonus, extra loads from Moy Park. We had a number of English lorry drivers of course, both white and black-skinned, but in County Armagh no-one asked, knew, or cared what religion an English lorry driver might profess.

The non-sectarian edge was never better demonstrated than a day in 1974 when an Orangeman called Jimmy Graham volunteered to take a load of fruit into the Belfast market when all roads into the city were blocked by pickets from the Ulster Workers’ Strike, a brutal political weapon that destroyed Ted Heath’s Sunningdale Agreement and ended the first power-sharing assembly. I heard the story from the Catholic lad who rode that day in the cab of Jimmy Graham’s Scania 110.

Jimmy was actually a super Orangeman, being a member of the Royal Black Institution, sometimes known as the Imperial Grand Black Chapter Of The British Commonwealth, founded in 1797 in Daniel Winter’s cottage at Loughgall, very near our haulage yard.

Jimmy pulled out for Belfast that morning in ‘74, armed with nothing more than a bogus document purporting to be authority to deliver fruit for children in hospital in the isolated city.

The two men cleared a Protestant checkpoint without problems and rolled on with their 16 tonnes of fruit into West Belfast until confronted by something completely unexpected… a Provisional IRA roadblock.

A masked gunman aimed an Armalite at Jimmy’s window and commanded: “Come on down boys. We’re taking your motor for a roadblock on the Falls.” With a half a lifetime of haulage confrontations behind him Jimmy knew how to look calm. Without hesitation, deviation or repetition, he simply told the armed representative of the Provos to “Find your own roadblock. We’ve just lifted this one. She’s going to block the Crumlin.” It worked. The Provo waved his rifle: “G’waan ahead boys. Take her away.”

Hard borders, like the 310-mile Irish border that was hard between 1923 and 1993, or a very hard border, like the present-day EU – Ukraine border, have the effect of blighting all economic and political activity for at least forty miles either side of the frontier.

Tax changes and currency fluctuations upset retail prices of basic commodities like fuel and potatoes. Petrol stations close and shops die. The smugglers move in, and wherever you find smugglers you find corruption and violence.

A Polish TV series set in the frontier forests of the European Union and screened as The Border by Channel 4 just two nights before voting day in the British EU referendum was described as

an unflinching look at xenophobia and misogyny in Poland and Ukraine, with terrorist attacks, human traffickers and refugees hunted by wolves

The average time taken for a goods vehicle to clear customs into Poland from Ukraine on the E373 at the Yahodyn – Dorohusk checkpoint is currently 15 hours 35 minutes. In the 1980s the average time for customs clearance between Newry and Dundalk at Killeen was about three hours. The Irish border was closed at night to loaded vehicles.

Thanks to the European Union single market, to the customs union and to the Good Friday Agreement, about 800 heavies now cross the invisible border at Killeen every night. Most of the mushrooms in the English supermarkets and the McCain oven chips from Scarborough and Whittlesey that sell in the Irish supermarkets have rolled over that border.

In a half hour spell during weekday nights at Holyhead, four hundred lorries roll off the Dublin ferries to cross another invisible border into Anglesey. That’s our bacon and eggs.

Now that the future of the Brexit project seems to hang on what can happen at the Irish border, we hear people saying that the Common Travel Area that was tacitly agreed back in 1922 to allow freedom of movement for people between England and Ireland, will survive a bad Brexit. They tell you that the old Irish border was never a particularly hard one any way. But they are wrong.

Co Armagh 1992

The Irish Free State and the UK fought a five-year retaliatory trade war between 1932 and 1938. Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald started it by putting 20% import duty on all Free State agricultural products. That was ninety per cent of their exports. The Irish hit back with a twenty per cent duty on British coal and sent delegations to Germany and Russia to study power generation from turf. They revived a 1720 slogan from Jonathan Swift, “Burn everything English except their coal”.

The 1949 Republic of Ireland was treated fairly well by Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government. We needed their workers. But duties and tariffs were still in force and the republic remained economically moribund until a brilliant Taioseach named Sean Lemass, a man of French Huguenot descent who had carried a shotgun at the age of 16 in the Easter Rising, accepted a secret invitation to go to Belfast in 1965 and talk about trade with the prime-minister of Northern Ireland, Captain Terence O’Neill. The Protestants got rid of the patrician O’Neill early in 1969.

Killeen Customs, near Newry, pre-1993.

Newry suffered decades of border blight, corruption and violence until 1993 when the Killeen customs checks were lifted. The spooky British Army watchtowers were gone by 2007.

When the Westminster government cut VAT from 20% to 15% in the financial crisis of 2008, and when the euro rose against the pound, the New York Times described Newry as “the hottest shopping spot within the European Union’s open borders, a place where consumers armed with euros enjoy a currency discount averaging 30 per cent or more.”

In December last year, the European Union forced the British government into a promise, based on a fudge fixed between Theresa May and the DUP. The promise is that if Westminster cannot design and operate an invisible border in Ireland Westminster will not be allowed to take the rest of the United Kingdom out of strict alignment with the rules of the EU single market and the customs union.

In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South co-operation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.

The formerly “most distressful country that e’er the world did see” is where Brexit must fail.

The border of the world’s biggest free trade area cannot be invisible.

If Brexit fails on the Irish border, the humiliation and likely anger of the 37 per cent of registered British voters who voted “leave” might equal the national humiliation that followed the cynical Suez escapade of 1956.

A former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson, a Brexiteer whose own constituency of North Shropshire lies on a conveniently invisible border between England and Wales, now claims that the Brexit EU border between the UK and Ireland could be just as invisible as the present invisible border south of Newry.

In November 2017 Paterson told Brexit Central:

UK and Irish representatives should instead see these negotiations as an opportunity. They are a chance to build an innovative, pragmatic and technologically advanced system away from the outmoded dogma of the Customs Union. In particular, we should improve and expand our Authorised Economic Operator scheme allowing customs clearance for operators undertaking routine, repeat business across the border. As an example, milk crosses daily from the same suppliers to the same customers in the same tankers. They would be able to submit their paperwork electronically ahead of travel, with number-plate recognition systems allowing trucks to cross the border without so much as changing gear. Small traders, too, can be afforded some special status or exemptions, with light-touch regulation and the requirement to pay any duties only once or twice each year to minimise their disruption.
Even in the absence of such a deal, however, there is no need for a return of physical infrastructure at the border. The prospect of uniformed border officials, watchtowers and long queues is wholly fanciful.
In reality, the notion of a “hard border”, at which all incoming goods are checked, has been obsolete for decades.

All the old lorry drivers I know could tell you exactly how Paterson’s number plate recognition and “light touch” regulations would provoke racketeering on both sides of the border.

An old pal, an owner-driver with a wife who was a loyal Free Presbyterian, established his own trade routes by acquiring documentation to cover the smuggling one type of potato from Dundalk to Glasgow, followed by an immediate reload in Scotland of a different type of potato for smuggling southbound across the Irish border. Only an expert examination of the spuds would have unravelled his ingenious racket.

I remember a British soldier accidentally uncovering a big EC intervention beef racket when searching for weapons in a northbound fridge trailer. He asked his platoon commander to explain why the hanging beef looked green near the back doors.

That load had been gathering subsidies in constant circulation between Ireland and England for so long that occasional back door checks had started to rot the meat.

Any economic border, anywhere on earth, cannot work without the ever-present threat of a random check on the lorries. You simply have to open the doors and take a look inside.

Forget for a moment that there are now 275 regular roads across the Irish border. Forget that the “unapproved” roads used by my pals in Crossmaglen to smuggle CB radios worth millions into England in the 1980s are open again. Just ask yourselves one question. What sort of a business would be clean enough to qualify as one of Owen Paterson’s Authorised Economic Operators?

Marks and Spencer perhaps? That would be the Marks and Spencer caught busting UN sanctions on Serbia in 1992, smuggling boys’ shirts from a factory in Macedonia controlled by the war criminal Slobodan Milosevic.

I was on the night news desk of the Daily Mirror in Manchester when a transport clerk from Trafford Park passed on his suspicions.

He’d been told to send three artics 3,400 kilometres empty from Portugal to Ohrid in Macedonia.

They loaded school shirts consigned to Dewhirst in England, an M & S supplier for over a hundred years.

The three English drivers were heading home loaded by the time Dale Campbell-Savours MP tipped off HM Customs. The Department of Trade had already bent the rules by granting M & S an extraordinary licence to ship garments worth ten million pounds back to Britain beyond the deadline of the UN sanctions intended to drag Milosevic back to the negotiating table and halt ethnic cleansing.

Italian customs detained the lorries for a time in Ancona, on the grounds that Macedonia was not even recognised as an independent state by the European Community.

Our photographer found them at the North Sea Ferries compound in Hull, just after Christmas.

Customs allowed the drivers to drop their loaded trailers for later examination and to drive home in the tractor units for New Year’s Eve. One of the drivers spotted the photographer, wrote down a home address in Wigan, wrapped the paper round a pebble and tossed it over the wire.

The interview in Wigan led to an exclusive story in The Independent on January 3, on the very morning that the customs found shirts in the cargo labelled Made in England. A subsequent wider World in Action investigation into M & S activities in Macedonia and the use of child labour in Morocco ended badly for Granada TV in the libel courts but our honest lorry driver from Wigan was entirely vindicated.

For twelve months now, I’ve been chancing my arm, telling people that both our legal system, and the many ways in which we feed and supply ourselves, are now so internationally complicated that Brexit, as envisaged by most Brexiteers, simply cannot be achieved. The people who seem to know this best are lawyers and lorry drivers, privileged to know how tightly our world is geared, how interlocked, how engrenagé, to borrow from the French title of that terrific TV series we know as Spiral.

It was no surprise to me that eight of the eleven Tory MPs who defeated the EU Withdrawal Bill on December 14, were lawyers.

Four QCs, two solicitors, a criminal barrister and a bencher in the Middle Temple were joined by three non-lawyer MPs; Heidi Allen, with a degree in astrophysics and a business career at Exxon Mobil and Royal Mail, Stephen Hammond BSc, with a career in finance at Dresdner Kleinwort Benson and Commerzbank, and Sarah Wollaston, with a BSc in pathology and a career as a family doctor in Devonshire. Eleven people who knew something about the real world.

Lord Pannick and Helen Mountfield QC, acting for Gina Miller, Deir dos Santos and the crowd-fundePeople’s Challenge to the Government on Article 50, wiped the floor with a government that wanted to take the UK out of the EU without even consulting parliament.

The government wanted to do it that way because we all knew that 450 out of the 650 MPs wanted the UK to remain in the EU. The 650 MPs were of course the only people with the constitutional power to repeal the 1972 act.

Helen Mountfield delighted me by citing a 1976 precedent from New Zealand. Chief Justice Richard Wild, father of a skiing friend of mine, ruled that New Zealand’s new prime-minister, Robert “Piggy” Muldoon, had breached Section 1 of the 1688 Bill of Rights

that the pretended power of suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of Parliament, is illegal.

That was of course exactly what Theresa May tried to do with Article 50.

I liked Richard Wild’s 1974 judgment:

It is a graphic illustration of the depth of our legal heritage and the strength of our constitutional law that a statute passed by the English Parliament nearly three centuries ago to extirpate the abuses of the Stuart Kings should be available on the other side of the earth to a citizen of this country which was then virtually unknown in Europe and on which no Englishman was to set foot for almost another hundred years.

The old country on the other side of the earth lurched further into fear, hatred and mutual loathing when Gina Miller and three of the Supreme Court judges were attacked as “enemies of the people” by the Daily Mail.

When the Lord Chief Justice offered “the full weight of the law” to protect Ms Miller, Dominic Raab MP, a parliamentary under secretary for civil liberties, whose own father had come to England in 1938 as a refugee from Czechoslovakia, launched his own personal attack on Miller:

This is a pretty naked attempt to steal the referendum by the back door. I don’t think it’s right that a fund manager with deep pockets and legal friends in high places can try and block or frustrate that process. It takes a pretty special kind of arrogance to think that one person’s view trumps that of 33 million.

What is that turns some British politicians with foreign origins into un-British xenophobes and chauvinists?

There’s Boris Johnson, born in New York of a Turkish family, arrogantly reciting Rudyard Kipling in a post-colonial Myanmar temple.

There’s Michael Howard, whose Romanian father couldn’t speak English when he came to live in Llanelli, offering an outrageous piece of jingoism by suggesting that Theresa May might emulate Margaret Thatcher’s triumph in the Falklands by fighting Spain for Gibraltar

Gisela Stuart, born in Bavaria, still insists that “Every week we send £350 million to Brussels”.

Daniel Hannan MEP, born and raised in Peru, writing in 2017:

Two thirds of Irish beef exports, for example, go to the UK. Once Britain starts buying cheap and delicious beef from Argentina, Australia and the United States, this market will suffer.

Daniel Kawczynski Tory MP for Shrewsbury born in Warsaw wants a hard, no-deal Brexit and says, “Many of my constituents expect free movement of people to stop in March 2019”.

Shailesh Varaa, the Tory MP for North West Cambridgeshire who was born in Uganda told Anna Soubry QC in the Commons:

Those who threaten economic Armageddon if we leave the EU without a deal are effectively engaging in Project Fear Two. Would my Right Honourable Friend agree with me that Project Fear One did not materialise and there’s every possibility that Project Fear Two won’t either?

Let’s not confuse globalism with neo-liberalism. Globalism has been going on, to the great benefit of mankind, since the dark ages.


On the summer bank holiday of 2016, when Theresa May came back from a walking holiday in Switzerland to watch the cricket at Lords, I found myself on the docks at Southampton at eight-o-clock on a Sunday morning watching the dockers drive hundreds of cars aboard a 67,000-ton Swedish-registered ship bound for Canada and the USA.

The Undine was already loaded with cars and heavy plant from Bremerhaven, Gothenburg and Zeebrugge. She was bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia, and New York.

These vehicle carriers are so big that it takes all of Europe to fill one weekly transatlantic sailing. All Europe shares them. The British exports that day were BMW Minis, Jaguars, Land Rovers and Range Rovers.

Eighty per cent of the British-built BMWs are exported. Millions of their components have been sourced in all 28 EU countries, some parts crossing the English Channel four times before the car ever gets sold. Can anyone imagine a situation in which customs could impose and collect even the tiniest of tariffs or generate the dozens of certificates of origin needed to record such a complicated process – without killing the profit?

The Japanese ambassador warned us about this two weeks ago.

The Dutch government are hiring and training 930 customs officers for dealing with an extra 4.2 million export declarations required for post-Brexit traffic between Rotterdam and England.

Jaguars, Range Rovers and Land Rovers built by an Indian company that employs 28,000 British workers, arrive in Southampton docks on freight trains 600 metres long, hauled from Merseyside and Castle Bromwich by Canadian-built locomotives, owned and operated by a subsidiary of state-owned German railways.

In November 2016, the JLR chief executive Ralf Dieter Speth, a Bavarian with a doctorate in engineering from Warwick Business School, announced that the next-generation Land Rover Discovery will be built in Slovakia in a billion-pound plant opening later this year.

Speth spoke ominously:

UK may be planning to leave the EU. But be sure JLR is not leaving Europe.

Undine topped off her transatlantic cargo with Rolls Royces and Bentleys from Chichester and Crewe and JCB diggers going from Derbyshire to Florida. There was also an enormous crated precision grinding machine built for the 200 year old French engineering firm of Fives at their 200 year old Landis works in Cross Hills, Keighley, West Yorkshire, for their other newly-purchased machine tool builders Fives Cincinnati in Kentucky. That’s the Cincinnati who shipped thousands of lathes to wartime Britain under Franklin Roosevelt’s lend lease programme. Globalisation indeed!

Lorry drivers were in the front line this winter after Boeing had persuaded the US Department of Commerce to propose a 300 per cent punitive anti-dumping tariff on the cost of the Canadian Bombardier C-Series airliners sold in the USA. Almost 4,000 jobs at Bombardier’s plant in Belfast, where they make the wings for the C-Series, were under immediate threat.

Airbus, Boeing’s European rival, moved fast to buy out 50.01 per cent of the C-series project and outwit Boeing by assembling the aircraft at an Airbus plant in Alabama. That’s what they call tariff-jumping.

Tariff-jumping demands new trans-national supply lines. So in December last year I got my chance to play a small part in defying “America First”.

Just after Airbus saved the Bombardier jobs in Belfast my Irish opposite number back-loaded a lorry from the Airbus plant in Hamburg with urgent aircraft components for Bombardier in Belfast.

The Irish driver reached the Bombardier plant on the last working day before Christmas – only to find that Bombardier wanted to reload components for Germany, for delivery in Hamburg on a working day before New Year. They call it JIT, just in time. The trailers in transit become the warehouse.

The Belfast aircraft workers who had feared redundancy at Christmas went home for the festive season, while the hauliers worked out how to get the reloaded trailer back to Hamburg.

To avoid an Irish driver being stranded on the continent for half a week, we shipped the artic without a driver, overnight on a ferry from Belfast to Heysham. I collected my best English driver and took him to Heysham by car on the morning of December 28. He slipped an EU driver card into the digital tachograph of the Irish Scania and drove from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, arriving at the DFDS ferry terminal in Immingham by mid-afternoon to catch the only direct RORO ferry to Germany. DFDS shipped the lorry on the night of December 28 to Cuxhaven. I drove our man home to Lancashire and an Irish driver from Dungannon caught a plane to Germany on Friday, December 29, to join his lorry at Cuxhaven and deliver on time same day in Hamburg.

It was certainly a neat piece of JIT. But what made it possible is that it incurred no other documentation or formality than a single emailed invoice from Bombardier to Airbus for the cargo, which we hauliers never saw, and one hand-written piece of paper known as a CMR note, filled in by the driver and carried in the lorry. The CMR was not examined at any time by anyone in the UK or in Germany.

If the UK ever falls out of the single market and the customs union, a similar last-minute, just-in-time movement would require:
public invoices with certificates of origin for each item or commodity on the trailer, an export customs entry on the HMRC computer by an authorised customs agent at Belfast, or in Immingham, and a corresponding EU import customs clearance, probably with a down-payment of money for VAT at Cuxhaven.

The cost of all this, on top of any tariff imposed by the EU on UK exports, would be borne by Bombardier, or Airbus, or one of their customers.

Nick Clegg, who knows what he is talking about, put it this way:

Boy will it come as a shattering shock to UK businesses when they realise what this means in practice: new lorry parks near the Kent ports; new checks to work out which tariffs should apply to each product; phytosanitary and veterinary checks on livestock and agricultural products; according to the Institute for Government, every single trader exporting to the EU could end up having ‘to complete a Single Administrative Document (SAD) and an Entry Summary (ES). The SAD consists of eight parts with 54 boxes which must be completed and submitted for every declaration.’ Bureaucratic nightmare.

And this excludes insurance certificates and other product-specific documentation. With each declaration costing between £20 and £45, the IFG reckons the additional annual cost could amount to £9bn per year. Integrated supply chains will be destroyed.

Jacques Revel, who used to work for Rolls-Royce, put it to the Financial Times this way:

My colleagues and I were proud to work for a great company which has played a notable role in modern British history. We were also proud to be part of an international enterprise which served customers around the world and brought together talented business people and engineers living and working across Europe, America and Asia. I suppose that Mrs May would have to call us industrial ‘citizens of nowhere’. Brexit, if it takes place, will cut savagely into the complex fabric of our international businesses, replacing togetherness with otherness, and will inevitably make them weaker and less viable in highly competitive global markets. Over time they will be forced to move their operations out of the UK and invest instead in other places, where governments crave the highly-paid jobs and world-leading technology which our own government now seems to take for granted.

Over at Immingham, an unusual riverside port where they handle heavy trainloads of imported coal and iron ore, I took a look at what serves as today’s terminal for the direct Danish-owned DFDS roll-on-roll-off service to Germany.

It’s just a couple of shelter sheds at the roadside, plonked down only 250 metres from the ship, all within 300 metres of a public road. It simply wouldn’t do the job after Brexit.

For a hard Brexit regime the shelters by the ferry linkspan would have to be turned into an interface with the European Union. This would need the enclosure of a vast parking area for the un-cleared trailers that must wait for clearance in any port opposite an EU-frontier. The area would have to be isolated by security fences, to beat theft and smuggling, and to be guarded by HM Revenue and Customs officers operating a building for X-ray examinations of heavy vehicles.

Last week, David Dingle, chairman of the shipping industry coalition Maritime UK, raised the most alarming port problem of all, the situation at Dover. He reminded the government of the 2015 Operation Stack that ended with thousands of lorries parked for days on the M20:

We are lost in politics. The meltdown will come back to the roll-on, roll-off ports. We are shouting loudly about this. We have been for a while, but you do feel you are banging your head against a brick wall. We could have a permanent Operation Stack.

There’s a full EU Atlantic frontier port near me. It’s not like Immingham. It’s the Royal Seaforth Container Terminal at Bootle, a port for the USA and Canada.

It’s a triangular guarded area nearly a mile wide where valuable cargo can stand for days and weeks clearing customs, where every lorry driver must carry a special identity card, where every container or piece of out of gauge cargo is tracked by cameras and computers and where every container can be X-rayed. There is one single entry road and just one single railway line into the area.

I don’t suppose our Tory cabinet ministers have ever been to Manby Road, Immingham, but just watching that ferry loading with “minimum friction” for Germany in December, I knew immediately that their kind of Brexit cannot happen, because it is simply not possible.

As if to support my argument that the Irish border could block Brexit, three leading Brexiteers this week attacked the international treaty that has delivered peace in Ireland for twenty years, a treaty supported by 71% of the people of the six counties.

The wreckers are Owen Paterson, Kate Hoey and Daniel Hannan of the European Research Group.

Paterson retweeted a Daily Telegraph article by Ruth Dudley Edwards:

Realists believe the Good Friday Agreement has served its purpose and run its course, leaving behind the unintended consequence of enshrining sectarianism in the political process. Rationally, Ireland and the UK should face the truth and begin a renegotiation and updating of the Good Friday Agreement.

The former Northern Ireland secretary sent out his own message:

Disgraceful that hysterical Remainers and Brussels are weaponising the Irish border issue. Brexit is emphatically not a threat to peace in Northern Ireland.

Labour’s Keir Starmer called it “beyond irresponsible” but Labour’s Kate Hoey, a County Antrim Protestant and a prominent Brexiteer with a seat on the Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee told the Huffington Post:

I think there is a need for a cold rational look at the Belfast agreement. Mandatory coalition is not sustainable in the long term … We need to face reality – Sinn Féin don’t particularly want a successful Northern Ireland. They want a united Ireland,

The Daily Telegraph could see which way the wind was blowing:

The Irish border question could cause Brexit negotiations to run aground next month unless the European Commission is prepared to be more flexible in its approach, sources on both sides of the negotiations have warned.

A question not posed by the Telegraph was surely this:

If Theresa May were to appease the Brexiteers by ripping up, or in weasel words “re-negotiating” the Belfast Agreement to suit the European Research Group, would any government, anywhere, ever again enter into a bi-lateral international treaty with the British?

The Provisional IRA by Patrick Bishop and Eamonn Mallie Heinemann, 374 pp, £12.95, June 1987, ISBN 0 434 07410 1