Rock embedded in concrete.
This is a rock that I found in a hard place. Looks quite cross, doesn’t it? My picture.

Solutions Vacuous

William Essex
3 min readJan 9, 2022


Don’t take me too seriously here, but it crosses my mind that the simplest solution to the EU/Northern Ireland “border in the Irish Sea” problem would be for the UK to take back Calais. That would also solve the refugee crisis.

No need for refugees to risk crossing the English Channel in unstable boats if they can walk into English territory at a crossing somewhere, oh, on the other side of all those wine warehouses.

Background (1): The sticking point, for the EU/UK negotiators of Brexit is that they can’t agree to a land border between The Republic of Ireland, in the EU, and Northern Ireland, not in the EU. So they’ve stuck a border in the Irish Sea, thus cutting off NI from the rest of the UK.

A land border somewhere between Calais and, say, Lille would, of course, cut France in two. But think of the wider benefits. Agreeing a workable border between Calais:Lille, or indeed between Ireland:Ireland, would at last establish a precedent for a workable land border between the EU and its neighbours. That would apply all around the EU.

I’m not sure how it works now for Geneva, just across the EU external border in Switzerland, for example. I assume — going by the difficulties experienced over the land-border issue in Ireland — that anybody wanting to live in France and work just across the border in Geneva has to take a boat across “the border in Lake Geneva”.

Imagine. If they agreed a land border, there would be no need for French delegates to the United Nations, which has its European headquarters in Geneva, to risk crossing Lake Geneva in unstable boats. Imagine if they could just drive across the border into Swiss territory — what a sensible solution that would be.

Background (2): Calais was English territory from 1347 to 1558, so there is a precedent for my “take back Calais” strategy. It would be difficult, and a tough sell diplomatically given that there’s a French presidential election coming up soon, but it makes a worrying amount of sense.

So yes, if we were living in a world where, let’s say, road and rail traffic could run smoothly across the land border between France and Switzerland — without long tailbacks, without whole motorways turned into lorry parks — then all those EU/Northern Ireland negotiators could just invoke the precedent and save us all the cost of their salaries.

And how very simple and very sane that would be. There weren’t any obstacles until the negotiators arrived, after all.

But if we lived in a world where the negotiators seemed to be incapable of agreeing on —

Oh, never mind. Keeps them all busy, I suppose.

But imagine if they were let loose on something even more serious, like climate change. Imagine the endless conferences, the deadlines set far in the future, the agreed targets…

No, wait.



William Essex

Author, The First-Novelist's Guide to Getting Started, The Journey from Heaven, Escape Mutation, Ten Steps to a Bedtime Story.