We’re all sick and tired of hearing about the latest twist in the Brexit saga. Particularly borders. In the abstract, borders seem very dull indeed.
So I decided to actually test the nearest border between the EU and a country outside the Customs Union. How hard is it to get through? Is it easy for trade and people? That border is with Switzerland.
Switzerland is not in the EU and it is not in the Customs Union. It has a free trade agreement with the EU and a raft of treaties. Brexiteers have lauded the Swiss ‘model’ as something the UK could follow if and when it leaves the European Union.
Arch Brexiteer and leader of the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Part, Jacob Rees Mogg, is a fan. He told a British newspaper: "The Swiss border is extremely effective. The system has been running for years, so it would be possible to have something even more efficient between the UK and the EU."
I jumped on board a truck owned by McArdle International Ltd, a Dundalk company that runs a fleet of about one hundred lorries in Ireland and across the European continent. These are experienced people. David McArdle shocked me by telling me they are in the dark about the Brexit process. They have no information, other than what you or I see on the news or read in the newspapers.
This is a man with tens of millions of Euros invested in a highly competitive business and he is unclear as to what will happen when Britain begins the process of leaving the EU next March.
"We are saying it since Brexit was announced and it is still in the same situation. Until the shape of the deal takes place — hopefully in October — we cannot do anything. We cannot plan for anything", McArdle tells me.
"The Swiss are renowned for their thoroughness. They are the world’s leading makers of mechanical watches after all."
We trundled off the ferry in Liverpool and I wasn’t even asked for my passport. As we motored down the spine of England, the driver, Terry Grogan, laid out the journey ahead. We would take the ferry from Dover to Calais and then park up for the night in a secure compound in France. Early the next morning we would travel through Belgium, Luxembourg, France (again) and Germany before arriving at the Swiss border.
David McArdle estimated that if every truck was stopped for two minutes at the British border at Dover, there would be a 20-mile tailback on the M20. The delays would be epic, but not in a good way. How would the Swiss border stack up?
Terry and I arrived at the Swiss border at Weil am Rhein in fine form. Terry reckoned it would take an hour or so to get through with his precious cargo of pharmaceuticals, destined for the Swiss market. There were many other trucks doing the same as us.
Very quickly things started to go wrong. After ten minutes of dealing with the Swiss bureaucracy, my mind shifted to what would happen at Dover. Would there be a queue one hundred miles long of trucks trying to get in or out of the UK?
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After breezing through five countries and six borders without even having to show a passport, it was a shock to find ourselves being questioned and examined at a real border, a hard border. The British embassy in Bern has been consulting experts in Switzerland about how the border works. I wonder if they know about experiences like ours?
The Swiss are renowned for their thoroughness. They are the world’s leading makers of mechanical watches after all. And that thoroughness was evident at the frontier.
As we were moved from pillar to post at the Swiss border, my mind wandered to the imminent Brexit. "God help us all if Brexit turns out like this", were the wise words from my travelling companion Terry. Much more happened to us on our journey.