“God has not made for a man two hearts in his interior.”
Brexit is caught in what programmers call an infinite loop. A dangerous infinite loop. The options to break out of the loop are not palatable. The key stumbling point is the question of the status of Northern Ireland post Brexit. In a poetic sense the problem revolves around whose heart controls Northern Ireland: European, British or a two-heart option. The first two options are ruled out, as either asks the other side to sacrifice too much. The compromise of a two-heart option is the only way forward, but after three years of negotiation everyone seems to have run out of ideas and the nation is close to exhaustion. The fundamental reason blocking the two-heart option is that men, analogical of sovereign states, cannot possess two-hearts. The only human who can bear such a burden is a mother who carries her child. Herein lies a possible solution to the Irish backstop and the Brexit conundrum.
Mother not father
It is worth reflecting for a moment on the analogy of the nation state as a human. Nation states behave in many ways like people simply because people are the basic and essential ingredient of any nation. Just like people some nations are young and vibrant others are old and pondering, some shun the limelight others bathe in it, some slow to act others light-footed, some are good at fighting others at negotiating, some greedy and others open-hearted and so on. All of these differences reflect a various mix of two basic sides of human personality: the limbic, quick, and intuitive while the other cerebral, slow and measured. The art of nation-craft is to build a national temperament that alloys these two qualities in the right measures to create a composite whose sum is greater than its parts. Sometimes it is best to be led by the zeal of a man but others when the intuitive nature of woman is best.
Nature teaches us that the only two-heart human that exists is the mother when she is pregnant and nurtures her child whose hearts beats independently. On the beating of her heart depends the child, yet its heart is not coerced to beat in synchrony, Each beats to its own rhythm and need. In order to achieve this her immune system is tamed, to not reject the child. She sacrifices her food and air, her wealth, for the betterment of the child. She trades her desire to rule with her desire to nurture.
In this unique model lies the answer to Northern Ireland’s future, a child in many ways caught in an embrace of two nations that wish to rule it like men, but must relinquish their male desires and embrace the qualities of a mother. The key instrument that enables the child to stay inside its mother in a perfect symbiotic relationship is the placenta. The placenta regulates a microcosm for the child and interfaces with the mother allowing the two to exist and thrive.
Building on this analogy the seed of a proposal to solve the issue is to set up a Common Buffering Area (CBA) as opposed to a Common Regulatory Area. The main remit of the body that oversees the area is not to ‘regulate’ but to ‘track and buffer’ the financial impact of having such an area which will allow the free movement of goods across this unique border. Goods that criss-cross the border can be divided into two types: those that serve the needs of communities within Ireland and Northern Ireland and those are traded beyond the confines of the island.
Public Health Approach
Economists and financial specialists may say that the ability to track the vast number of transactions is too great and arduous a task. It is technically not possible. Every expert’s opinion is at the end of the day limited by their education, experience and emotional draw. Men who deal with numbers and money have a natural instinct to control, down to the last penny. It is difficult for them to let go. The sense of control is exhilarating but at times like this is limiting. This is why a different approach is required. Fresh faces are needed at the decision table to think outside the box.
A very close parallel to the myriad of transactions that occur in a financial system is the way an infectious disease spreads. Infectious diseases and their spread arise from a composite or billions of ‘transactions’ of profit or loss between the infective agent and the host and its immune defences. This rapidly scales up to an immeasurable number of such transactions as the problem is vastly magnified as it spreads through a population even on a global scale. It is a scale where the atomistic approach of ‘financial number crunchers’ would be woefully inadequate. Yet as the recent tracking and containment of viruses such as Zika and Ebola by the USA authorities has shown that a public health approach works and works well.
Drawing on the expertise of public health medicine, a system based on sampling can be set up which tracks a representative sample of goods crossing at the border and turning up at both intra and extra-island sites. Their expertise if synergised with financial analysts will allow the reliable tracking of trade that is both cross-border and intra or extra-island, whatever the volume. The imbalance in trade that occurs due to extra-island movement of goods is the real area of concern and is unlikely to represent the majority of goods. This imbalance can then be dealt with through the same mechanism that has been setup for emissions trading, borne principally by the EU and Britain but with a percentage that should be borne by corporations that most benefit from access to the CBA and its benefits i.e. the movement of goods across the CBA.
The CBA does not have to be defined as a strictly contiguous geographic area but an area with mobile boundaries in the same way public health experts track the outbreak of a disease by searching for pockets of disease and index cases which link them. The key players here are most likely to be corporate structures, that have achieved a threshold volume of trade, making the task easier. They are equivalent to the ‘index cases’ in public health medicine. Once these ‘index cases’ are identified they should be ‘reported’ to the CBA and will need to abide by the CBA rules to allow the unfettered passage of movement of their goods, as is what happens with ‘index cases’ in public health medicine.
Such companies would be required to open an account in a bank exclusively setup under the CBA to track and process all intra and extra-island transactions which route themselves through the CBA. This will allow the monitoring of financial transactions and give a suitable opportunity for the CBA to charge an administrative or transaction fee to help offset the trade-imbalances of extra-island movement of goods. Where there is a net ‘profit’ it could be reinvested in the CBA and the area it serves.
When a child forms in the mother’s womb, the skeletal structure takes shape very early on and then slowly is clothed by muscles and skin. The above suggestion represents the kernel of an idea, the skeleton upon which the final flesh can be formed in due course. The lessons contained in the development of the human body at a strategic level and the expertise of public health experts in tracking disease at a detailed level is not one usually found at the table in government circles dealing with such issues of national interest. This is a unique problem and a unique approach is required.