jmcd: yes and no. Like most of my classmates, I watched it religiously in the Deayton years, but less and less since then. I was irritated by the way Merton and Hislop stabbed Deayton in the back, and found them increasingly smug and lazy - likewise, the guest presenters were hit-and-miss, and the writing for them had clearly declined. In general, it became a much softer, more comfortable show, which I didn't like so much (to be fair, this started years before Deayton went, but that was kind of an obvious landmark). [and then the ignominy of effectively being replaced by Mock the Week, which was both funnier and more controversial - like if someone at the BBC actually said "we need something like HIGNFY, but actually funny again".]. I've watched it occasionally since when I've heard there's a good guest presenter on. However, this last season I've actually watched most of it, for some reason, albeit only on the iplayer when I have a blank half hour - it's not as good as it was, but it's still entertaining.
As it's been demanded of me in the 'nag Salmoneus' thread, an explanation of why the border issue is an issue:
As you know, four entities exist: Britain; Northern Ireland; Ireland; and Europe.
After Brexit, Britain and Europe will, it is assumed, no longer share a common market. Customs will be imposed on imports and exports. Things will be legal to sell in one country but not in another (due to differences in regulations). Likewise, there will be people with a right to be in one place, but no right to cross into another. The Brexiteers claim - and, let's be honest, on this they are quite right, that restricting the flow of goods and people between Europe and Britain is probably the single most important part of "what people voted for" in the referendum. Therefore, we know one thing: 1. there must be a hard border somewhere between Britain and Europe. Not just on a map, but, you know, with guards and customs inspectors and things.
Now, the Channel makes for an easy border. Everything crossing the Channel already does so on a boat or on a train or on a plane, and ports and stations and airports all have their own security systems in place already, so it's just a matter of slightly stepping up those systems.
But the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a different matter. There currently is no 'hard border', so it can't currently do that necessary job. So how can this be dealt with? Let's rule out some possibilities...
2. there cannot be a hard border between Ireland and Europe.
This is fundamental to the idea of the EU. Unless Ireland leaves the EU - which it absolutely does not want to do - it cannot prevents the flow of goods and people between it and the EU. Many people in Britain think it's their duty to, to make things easier for us, but they won't. Legalities aside, it would ruin their economy.
3. there cannot be a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
There are basically five reasons for this: economic; social; ideological; and criminal; all of which add up to a problem political:
- economically, we need to understand we're not talking about one road between two civilisations here. The Irish/Northern Irish border is a populated area with hundreds of roads crossing the border. Some roads cross repeatedly - the main A3 road crosses the border 4 times in only 6 miles. Some parts of Donegal are most easily accessed from the rest of Ireland via Northern Ireland. There are many towns and villages within a few miles either side of the border. Derry, in particular, is very near the border. 30,000 people cross the border to work every day; two million cars and nearly half a million lorries and vans cross the border every month. Even just slowing down the crossing will have a major economic impact on the (almost all Catholic) population near the border, as well as the entire NI population (many things are cheaper to drive up from Ireland than to ship over from Britain, so prices of consumer goods will increase). Worse: in practice it is unlikely to be economically possible to meaningfully man 300 border crossings, so it is likely most would have to be closed (as they were in the Troubles), with an even greater impact on the economy.
- socially, likewise, the Catholic lands on both sides of the border do not feel like they are separate nations. They are deeply culturally entwined, and in the last twenty years have returned to being practically intertwined too. Put up a hard border and you're going to be splitting up families and stopping granny from coming to the family sunday lunch. And on a larger level, people in NI enjoy the fact that they can nip down to Dublin whenever they want in a few hours, and vice versa - put an hour-long queue at the border and you're putting a serious dent in how people live their daily lives.*
- ideologically, putting up a hard border is saying for definite, "Ireland is not united". A lot of people won't like that. They know it's currently not, in practice, unified, but the fact that for all intents and purposes the Catholic community can live as though united, socioeconomically if not politically, has been a huge salve to the concerns of nationalists. It must be remembered that the Catholic community has very long-running grievances against the British government, including about how the previous hard border was managed; to some extent, putting a wall around Northern Ireland feels to them less like keeping out foreigners, and more like imprisonment in their own country.
- criminally, hard borders mean attempts to evade hard borders. That means smuggling. That means crime. That means criminal gangs. And criminal Catholic gangs smuggling goods over the border, who inherently see the government and law enforcement as their enemy, means a resurgeance of nationalist paramilities. That probably means a resurgeance of loyalist paramilities as well. And the creation of a smuggling trade gives those paramilitaries a source of income. And if the gangs become political paramilitaries, it becomes far harder to combat them with the police alone - they become a political issue, rather than a law-enforcement one. Historically, paramilities on both sides were closely associated with criminality, rooted in smuggling and trafficking (though the pIRA itself tried to steer clear of drug dealing, at least). You might say, "well just make sure there's no smuggling". But there are 300 crossings. See above re: number of vehicles doing the journey. The more you protect the economy by not interfering, the more you allow the smuggling. And it's not just the roads. It's a 500km border, and most of it is very permeable terrain - we're not talking deserts and mountains. And two large naval estuaries. And half a dozen lakes! It'd be hell to actually prevent smuggling there - as we know, because the British Army was camped on the border for decades in the Troubles, and couldn't stop the trafficking of drugs and guns across the border. Their hopes of preventing illegal immigrants and cheap cigarettes are close to zero.
- politically, what all this means is that a) the population of Northern Ireland will absolutely hate a hard border and vote against anyone who tries to impose one; and b) Catholics in particular will be driven toward extremist nationalists, threatening a return to violence and at the very least making NI politics even more unworkable and polarised than it already is. A hard border would essentially be asking NI to make huge sacrifices so that people in Wiltshire don't have to worry about ever seeing a Polish person. And that wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that NI is already the poorest part of the UK!
So, no border between Ireland and the EU. No border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. That leaves:
4. There cannot be a hard border inside Northern Ireland.
This is an absolute. Loyalists would say that this is in practice giving away half of Northern Ireland. Nationalists would worry that this was effectively surrendering their claim to the other half of Northern Ireland. It's not going to happen.
5. There cannot be a hard border between Northern Ireland and Britain
As we've seen, Loyalists are outraged by the idea of this. Economically, it might be a bit better than a border with Ireland, but it's still going to hurt imports into an area dependent on imports. It effectively gives Northern Ireland citizens second-class status - in how many countries on earth does a citizen from a certain proscribed class have to produce a passport to travel inside their own country? Northern Irish with family or second homes on the mainland would be restricted from taking their own possessions across the sea (or else forced to "prove" where they got the goods). How would a Northern Irish merchant export from NI to Britain, if there were a customs border in the way - are you going to charge a guy a tax to move goods from one warehouse to another inside the same country? A tax that English, Welsh and Scottish tradesmen wouldn't have to pay? And ideologically/symbolically, it's basically saying that Northern Ireland is a separate country - that the United Kingdom isn't actually United, but is just Britain, plus a colony in Northern Ireland whom we impose taxes on but feel free to withhold basic rights from. And splitting NI off from Britain in order to let it enjoy continued union with Ireland!? With no border with Ireland, but a border with Britain, and by extension trade and customs regulations and employment and services regulation all decided in Brussels, in part by the Irish government, enforced by a half-Catholic (much of which half is explicitly pro-reunification) local assembly in Northern Ireland... you're basically handing Northern Ireland back to Ireland in all but name! This is a cause that Loyalists have fought and died over for generations, and the ghost of Paisley will not just spin in his grave but rise up and stalk abroad the land!
6. There cannot be a hard border within Britain
Obviously, because this would be silly. Although admittedly, a fair few of us wouldn't object to keeping London, Northern Ireland, Scotland and various other parts of the UK within the customs union, and erecting a hard border with the rest of the country...
So to recap:
There must be a hard border somewhere between Britain and Europe
... it cannot be between Europe and Ireland
... it cannot be between Ireland and Northern Ireland
... it cannot be inside Northern Ireland
...and it cannot be between Northern Ireland and Britain.
Once this minor problem has been resolved - presumably in just a day or two now - we can all move on to the more difficult issues of Brexit.
*of course, such a fear of hour-long queues doesn't lead the government to do anything about the dartmouth crossing, does it? I can get to bloody France more easily than I can get to bloody Essex. Admittedly, I don't want to go to Essex, so it's not really much of a hardship, but it's the principle of the thing...
But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh
I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!