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So who’s going to think of the poor old South Armagh cattle smugglers?

Well, I’m not so sure what to think of the latest move in the Brexit negotiations. The EU will have the power to require UK customs officers to carry out controls, but it is not clear what the ratio will be.

John Campbell gives us a clue, but advises that definitive conclusions are premature. Northern Irish retailers who feared charging UK imports fees appear relieved. It looks like an extension for another three months:

There will be a hard Brexit, but the EU and UK are trying to give Northern Ireland a soft landing.

The immediate fear of disrupting the flow of goods from supermarkets across the Irish Sea is addressed with a three month “grace period”.

But what happens after that? Will there be time to negotiate a more permanent deal or is it a matter of giving supermarkets time to source more goods on the island of Ireland?

And what about the grocery stores that aren’t supermarkets? They anxiously search for more details.

The most pressing issue is not that there will be a “sea border” but that this appears to be an attempt to protect Northern Ireland from the worst effects of a possible no-deal. At least that’s how managers see it:

Tesco chairman John Allan called it an “important step in the right direction”. The grace period is part of the agreement between the UK and the EU. It determines how the new Irish maritime border will work after Brexit.

Mr Allan said the supermarket chain – which owns 56 stores in Northern Ireland – was preparing for the worst, a no-trade deal, but he was confident that Tesco could continue to provide food to NI in either case.

That deal would make this deal a lot easier, he said, telling BBC Radio 4’s World at One, “Anything is better than nothing.”

In the south it may be a different matter. The Irish Times warns the republic that goods purchased through the mail may be charged up to 40% higher fees, according to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).

The South (without an EU exemption) may have to collect VAT and other fees that are not applicable in NI. Despite the focus on a maritime border, the south has always been more vulnerable to a hard Brexit (which, incidentally, has not yet happened).

However, livestock farming from the south to Scotland and back is now monitored at a much higher level. That’s an established trade that may not survive the cut. As a joke just wrote in an “email to the editor”:

Now that we have a border along the Irish Sea, who will save the cattle smugglers in South Armagh if they try to cross their cattle?

And who will compensate the drowned families for their valiant efforts to deliver their cargo to England?

Photo by AustinCountyNewsOnline is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

Mick is the founding editor of Slugger. He has written articles on the impact of the internet on politics and the media and is a regular guest and speaker across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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