The prominent pro-Brexit activist, Darren Grimes – most famously known for being fined £20,000 by the Electoral Commission after breaking electoral law during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign – has been mercilessly mocked on social media after inadvertently coming out in support of open borders and the Free Movement of people.
Writing on Twitter, Grimes – who has repeatedly indicated his support for a hard No Deal Brexit, an end to Freedom of Movement and strict controls on immigration – stated during his holiday in Europe that he had “Just crossed the border from Italy into Switzerland“, adding that it was:
“not a bother, it’s almost like it doesn’t have to be. Somehow. It’s almost like it’s not beyond the wit of man.”
Just crossed the border from Italy into Switzerland, not a bother, it’s almost like it doesn’t have to be. Somehow. It’s almost like it’s not beyond the wit of man.
— Darren Grimes (@darrengrimes_) March 25, 2019
Grimes’ tweet was, of course, referencing the ongoing row between the UK government and the EU over possible solutions to the Irish border problem.
Both the EU and the UK – in addition to virtually all advocates of a hard Brexit – have consistently stated their desire to uphold the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, which stipulates that no infrastructure should ever be put in place on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
However, in his tweet, Grimes appears to have completely forgotten – or intentionally omitted – the fact that the border between Italy and Switzerland is only “not a bother” because both countries are members of the EU Schengen area.
The Schengen area currently comprises of 26 EU member states in which many border controls have effectively been abolished, meaning that people can move freely between countries without needing to show their passport.
Furthermore, despite not being a member of the EU, Switzerland contributes into the EU budget and accepts ECJ rulings – things supporters of a hard Brexit are also entirely opposed to.
Unsurprisingly, given his previously relentless support for tighter controls on immigration, Grimes’ apparent support for the Free Movement of People came in for significant ridicule:
Either you don't know it's in Schengen (unlikely) or you are calculating that your core supporters don't understand what the Schengen area is (more likely). Option A makes you ill informed. Option B makes you deceitful. Neither is a good look
— Otto English (@Otto_English) March 25, 2019
You do know they're both in Schengen? You do understand how that works?
— Chris Bryant (@RhonddaBryant) March 25, 2019
Brilliant. So what's your point? That we should also be part of the Schengen area, just like Switzerland is? This is the Switzerland which also pays into the EU budget, and has Free Movement of people, and accepts ECJ judgements.
Is this the Brexit model you propose then?
— Ian Harris (@biscuitsgod) March 25, 2019
There is FoM for people between EU and Switzerland, you plum.
— Chris Gray 🇮🇪🇪🇺 (@chriostoir_g) March 25, 2019
Isn't Schengen great!
— Sarah Calvert (@calvert_3) March 25, 2019
So you're behind free movement of people then? Good for you. Me too. And coming from someone who only a couple of day's ago claimed leaving the UK was somehow elitist it's good to see you travelling and broadening your horizons.
— Peter Slater (@Peatearslater) March 25, 2019
Oh dear. pic.twitter.com/xc0V85SrZP
— Mark Shapland (@Markclaret1) March 25, 2019
Thick as mince.
— GeorgeWeahsCousin (@WeahsCousin) March 25, 2019
You're coming out in support of us joining the Schengen area, and having a total abolition of passports an border control with the other 26 states? Excellent – you're half way to coming out as a @RemainerNow! #FreedomOfMovement
— CelticDragon (@CelticDragon12) March 25, 2019
Furthermore, Grimes has also failed to mention that the probem surrounding the Irish border is not simply a question of people moving freely between the two nations – it’s a problem of goods moving between them too.
Whilst Switzerland does accept the free movement of people, it does not accept the free movement of goods – using infrastructure on its borders with EU countries to check goods as they come and go.
Did you have goods? A carnet? Anything to declare? Any merchandise you were hoping to sell?
If you have any of those things, Swiss border waits can be anything from 2-5 hours.
— Public Service Broadcasting (@PSB_HQ) March 25, 2019
Hard Brexiteers have consistently argued that infrastructure will not have to be implemented on the Ireland-Northern Ireland border even in the event of a No Deal Brexit or no post-Brexit Customs arrangement being agreed.
However, this suggestion has so far only been based on a hypothetical technological solution – something which has not currently been attempted anywhere in the world.