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Brexit and the Irish Border

The referendum to leave the European Union was, despite what some Leavers such as Boris Johnson say, fought and decided on immigration. The issue dominated the discussion and became the focus point of the campaign with the phrase ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ being constantly used.

Yet while the argument about migrants and immigrants crossing the channel was debated several times, the issue of the Irish border was largely ignored. With Article 50 triggered, the problem of creating a new border in Ireland has been brought into sharp focus.

The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland was a key battleground during the troubles. It was infamous for the long queues, army checkpoints, and terrorist attacks until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement brokered a peace deal. Since the agreement, Ireland has operated the border without trouble. Brexit is about to undo years of hard fought peace and create numerous problems between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The British government and the EU have so far disagreed on nearly every aspect of the Brexit negotiations. Not returning to a hard boarder in Ireland is one of the few points they have found common ground. Yet despite the goodwill the practicality of the situation is raising many questions.

Several ideas have been banded about with Politico reporting that one ambitious idea is to create a virtual border where tariffs would be registered and paid online. While this would reduce the need to check paperwork it would be difficult to police without a customs check.

The other big issue would be immigration, the central topic of the referendum. The government doesn’t want Ireland to become a backdoor to the UK, yet it also doesn’t want to return to passport controls. The Irish Times stated that one solution that has been voiced is to create a hard border across the Irish Sea.

This would see border checkpoints appearing in ports such as Liverpool. While this would stop the flow of immigrants coming to mainland Britain it would turn Northern Ireland into a sort of neutral zone and create a number of legal problems. British citizens may also have to prove their citizenship to enter a part of the UK.

The cost of the border has yet to be measured. Reports show that prices are going to go up with the food industry taking a big hit. Currently the UK and Europe have the same food safety standards, yet once the UK leaves the EU these are likely to change as Britain opens its food market to the USA. Some experts have pointed to the trade agreement between Sweden and Norway as a possible example of how a trade route could continue unimpeded despite a EU border. However, Norway is part of the EEA and follows EU custom laws, something the British government has ruled out.

Northern Ireland isn’t the only border problem that Brexit has caused.

UK political experts Betfair believe that the relationship Gibraltar has with the EU will become a highly contested part of the negotiations. Like Northern Ireland, the border that will separate Gibraltar from the EU will cause numerous legal and trade problems.

The future of Ireland now lies in the hands of the negotiators. There will be no easy answer. Like the rest of Britain, Ireland can only wait and hope that they don’t return to the past.

 

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