No deal has been done and the details remain hazy and under dispute. But the issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has been at the heart of the EU-UK brexit negotiations today in Brussels.
It did look like an agreement of sorts was close. And although the exact details were not revealed, the idea on the table regarding the Irish border reportedly involved Northern Ireland getting a special status for the province that meant it would effectively remain within the European Single Market and Customs Union. The euphemism “regulatory alignment’ was employed to describe the possible arrangement.
There are many interested parties making any such agreement very difficult. The Republic of Ireland has noted that it will not accept a ‘hard border’ between North and South. The Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland will not accept a deal that’s different from other regions in the UK. So called Brexit Ultras, mostly on the Conservative Government benches, also aired concerns that it was a Brexit sell-out. The British Prime Minister Theresa May needs the support of her MPs and the DUP if her minority government is to persist.
Other figures, including political leaders in Scotland, London and Wales said that if Northern Ireland could enjoy special status as a region then that could and should be an available option to other devolved regions.
But looking beyond the political wrangling, the possibility that Northern Ireland might be able to remain within the Single Market and Customs Union offers a tantalising opportunity for businesses and especially those who sell online and sell to shoppers overseas.
This is just speculation but imagine a deal that sees the Irish border remain open with free movement of goods across the border after Brexit. It could potentially mean that an optimal location for an ecommerce firm would be close to that border.
An ecommerce business could seamlessly trade within the UK and use Royal Mail and other services to fulfill goods to the UK without let or hindrance. And the same business concern could also fulfil within the Republic of Ireland and therefore the EU. It could give an online retail business a real competitive advantage.
There is also an opportunity for couriers, carriers and fulfilment houses if the Irish border remains open in a special arrangement. It could be good news regarding jobs and the local economies for plenty of Northern Irish border towns.
It’s too early to say whether this will be a plausible outcome, but would you move your business to Northern Ireland if it offered significant competitive advantages?