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If Hard Brexit impedes the easy transit of this stuff – how wedded are you really to Hard Brexit?

June 22, 2017


Human milk, that can help save the lives of premature and low birth weight infants, currently speeds across all thirty-two counties of the island of Ireland.  It is logged, pasteurised and distributed from the milk bank in Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh, and sent via a variety of means to infants in need on both sides of the (currently) invisible border.

As we speak (assuming we’re speaking), negotiations are taking place to try to figure out to what extent abandoning the principle of freedom of movement between the UK and the EU is compatible with a so-called “frictionless border” in Northern Ireland.

Shamefully, of course, Britain’s moral commitment to the Good Friday Agreement formed no substantive part of the EU referendum last year and no substantive part of political discussions as to the form that Britain’s leaving the EU might take.

EU negotiators have had to prod the British government into taking care of the peace and security of the UK, in other words.  What are the fundamental obligations of national sovereignty?

But EU negotiators have also had to remind British negotiators that if they reject freedom of movement then something has to be done about a border between the EU and a place called the Rest of the World which has suddenly become Britain’s best friend.  If Britain continues to insist on the version of Brexit demanded by Theresa May’s backbenchers then some form of “checks” will be inevitable.

I’m very very biased.  My own perspective is over-determined by very specific personal circumstances.  I’m the parent of an infant, born prematurely in Canada, who died because of a condition (necrotising enterocolitis) that is rarely if ever seen among children with access to human donor milk.  I’m the parent of an infant, born equally prematurely in Ireland, who lived and lives and flourished and flourished and who was given donor milk from birth.  That milk crossed the border twice on its way to our son.  The donors (we’ve been told) were from the Republic, but the pasteurising was done in the North.

Even if there were a Milk Bank in the Republic, milk needs to defy lines on the map and get to where it’s needed as quickly as possible.  A premature baby (preemie) in Letterkenny should not have to deal with Dublin rather than Irvinestown.  Anything which slows down traffic, anything which subjects vehicles to custom checks, anything that makes crossing the border more intimidating, or stressful, or prolonged, or unpleasant – erodes the good will and convenience that enables the distribution of human milk to the most vulnerable human beings in Ireland.

So I’m very biased when it comes to ongoing Brexit border talks.  I can’t help but think of the issue in terms of whether or not babies live or die.  I would not make for a cool or calm negotiator.


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