Brexit and Northern Ireland: The shape of Europe’s new border

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By Wilson Adams.

By Eoghan Hughes

An earlier version of this article was first published with the Montesquieu Instituut. Following the results of the Northern Irish Assembly elections, it has been updated.

Of all the complicated consequences of Brexit that have been analyzed at length in European and British media, one issue is often brushed aside as a detail. The island of Ireland is to become home to the EU and UK’s only land border, potentially upending two economies and threatening a fragile peace between Unionist and Nationalist extremists. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have long enjoyed an open border as members of a UK-Ireland Common Trade Area, and since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 all Northern Irish citizens have been able to avail of Irish and British nationality, bringing stability to a region once afflicted by intense religious and ethnic violence.

Changed utterly

However, to paraphrase Irish poet WB Yeats, the situation after Brexit is changed utterly. Already, in emergency elections being held on 3 March in NI due to a whistleblower scandal, the Irish nationalist party seeking unity with Ireland, Sinn Fein (SF) has managed a dramatic surge in support at the expense of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) by highlighting the DUP’s support of Brexit and their role in a whistleblower controversy that revealed tax payers money was misspent on an ill-conceived incentive system aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by paying companies to turn green.  The former First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, has come under especially severe criticism for her role in the controversy. SF has managed to get within a single seat of the DUP, and Unionists for the first time ever have lost an outright majority in Northern Ireland, although they still remain the largest political force as a whole. With the outright Unionist majority gone, the political balance that has been maintained since Ireland was partitioned in the 1920s has been destroyed. Under the Good Friday Agreement, SF and the DUP must now enter negotiations to restore government. These contentious negotiations could elapse the set period of time, triggering fresh elections, or more likely, lead to the reinstatement of direct control from the UK parliament in Westminster, a situation that would certainly hurt Northern Ireland’s interests in the Brexit negotiations. Negotiations that already hold direct dangers for Northern Ireland and Ireland’s open border.

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Leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster. By Richter Frank-Jurgen.

The media have been happy to suggest that some sort of deal can be struck to keep the border open, although Kevin O’Rourke’s recent article in the Irish Times has acknowledged how difficult this could prove. In the case of the “hard Brexit” promised by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK will be out of the EU’s customs union. To avoid tariff cheating between the EU and UK and by other trading partners seeking to exploit Europe’s single market or the UK’s favorable rates, both the EU and UK will likely have to insist on a customs check on the island.

Likewise, as long as people can travel into the UK through the North’s open door, Ireland, without needing an ID, May can’t curb EU migration into the UK, a central pledge of the Brexit campaign. This leads to the conclusion that a so-called “hard border” will be the inevitable consequence of Brexit in Ireland.

Nevertheless, with peace and the economy on the line, it is not impossible that May and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who have promised to keep the border invisible, might be able to find an innovative solution to the border problem.

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Gates in the Belfast ‘Peace Line’. By No. 1.

Innovative borders

Some solutions to this border problem can be dismissed quickly. For instance, a “United Ireland” approach where NI merges with Ireland has, despite what the recent election might suggest, little popular support in NI or political capital in Ireland. Similarly, while the DUP’s Foster, and the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, have suggested a soft border based on “new technology”, this concept has remained vague, and unrealistic in light of the customs and immigration issues.

More likely is the “All Ireland” solution, suggested by the UK, where Ireland would be allowed to take over maintenance of the borders of the island of Ireland, pushing British border control back to the island of Britain but leaving NI and Ireland politically distinct. If a special customs deal could be reached so that EU goods can move freely into NI, this could be a potential compromise. Thanks to the Good Friday agreement, NI citizens would also have EU citizenship, allowing them to retain many of the privileges of full EU membership.

However, this option could face significant resistance from NI’s Unionist majority, who would face border checks when entering other regions of the UK, but not gain many of the benefits of the EU in return, such as EU subsidies or freedom of movement for work in Europe. Unionists, often fearful that they may be “abandoned” by the UK, could see this as the first step towards a United Ireland, making it a politically toxic strategy, and an unlikely resolution to the border issue.

Reverse Greenland

One way of getting Unionists to agree to the “All Ireland” strategy might be the so-called “reverse Greenland” proposal.  Proposed by Scotland, this is the idea that individual UK regions, such as Scotland and NI, could be allowed to retain their membership of the EU or the EEA even as other regions, like England and Wales leave. This model is based on the Danish territory, Greenland, which left the EU in 1985 while remaining a part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

For NI this option might offer the most promising outcome, although NI would require far more autonomy from the UK for it to be possible. As with the “All Ireland” solution, the UK border would be pushed back to Britain, granting NI, as an EU member, access to the customs union and the single market, while limiting EU immigration to Britain.  For Unionists a major attraction would be access to EU subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy and EU structural development funding, vital lines of funding for NI’s economy, while retaining all the benefits of being a part of the UK.

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The issues of the UK’s borders will prove a challenge for Theresa May’s government. By Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Assuming the DUP, who voted for Brexit, is won over, a “reverse Greenland” for NI would face several other obstacles. The main would be UK reluctance to grant Scotland a similar deal, as it might encourage an independence campaign that has picked up steam in the wake of the Brexit referendum. While the UK as a whole might not be affected by NI adopting this unique position, a border between Scotland and England would be unthinkable economically and politically. Coupled with the difficulties in negotiating such a bespoke arrangement, the chances of this approach being implemented are slim.

Hard Brexit, Hard Border

The options outlined above constitute a wish list, not a likely reality. The real shape of the future border is dependent on more than innovative options. It depends on some of the most complex divorce proceedings ever undertaken, the disentangling of thousands of laws, economic relationships and partnerships. It depends on this not just going well, but going amicably, with the UK and EU being able to find common ground. It depends on the EU making exceptions to some of its most dogmatic rules, and the UK softening the blow of its Brexit. For now, with everything as it stands, with an end to free movement and the UK’s membership of the common market, a hard Brexit means a hard border.

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Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK Migration work Post-Brexit?

 

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Johnson and May, although on opposite sides pf the referendum campaign, have both promised to reduce immigration post-Brexit

Eoghan Hughes

Months after it helped convince citizens to vote to leave the European Union (EU), migration remains at the heart of post-referendum politics in the UK. One promise of the Brexiteers was that a points system would be brought in to gauge the usefulness of various applicants for immigration. Another promise was that the freedom of movement of EU citizens into the UK would stop. However the newly minted but not so shiny Prime Minister Theresa May’s has made the decision to rule out introducing a points-based immigration system to the UK following the referendum result which has stirred media attention in Britain as the debate about the UK’s future immigration policy rages on.

May’s immigration blunder

May made the initial comments before her journey to Beijing to attend the 6 September G20 summit earlier this month, largely an exercise in trying to keep the UK relevant on the international stage and assure international partners that Britain would not become a disconnected island. The points-system referred to is modelled after the Australian immigration system which sees immigrants being given points for their various skills, qualifications and backgrounds, as well as behaviour, as the basis for their potential residency in the state.  May’s statement that there was not yet any proof such a system worked, emphasized that there was no “silver bullet” solution to reducing immigration to the UK. Upon her return, the British cabinet confirmed that the points system would not be part of their immigration policy. May promised, however, “some control” over immigration.

This seems a softer message following May’s 31 August pledge to her cabinet, that restricting immigration will be at the heart of any Brexit negotiations. So far there are less bullets, silver or otherwise, coming out of Westminster, and more vague promises. Continue reading “Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK Migration work Post-Brexit?”

Cyprus Surprise: Sailor, Tsunami and a dog called Bubble

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Crossing the border is one of the most bewildering experiences in the world,
This time, however, it was a bit different than usual.

Mirja Simunaniemi & Niek Zeeman

We were barely one month into our internships in Ankara and Istanbul when we were spoiled with our first holiday. Kurban Bayram is a religious holiday in Turkey with Muslims celebrating the sacrifice Abraham (Ibrahim) was willing to make as act of submission to God’s command. About to sacrifice his son, God intervened and offered a lamb to Abraham instead. Muslims around the world celebrate God’s gracefulness every year by offering him an animal, Kurban. For most of the Turks, and for us, it also means a week holiday. we chose sunny Cyprus as a new territory to explore after our intense travels in Iran earlier last year. Continue reading “Cyprus Surprise: Sailor, Tsunami and a dog called Bubble”

A Luxury: Lack of Borders

Heather Southwood | southwood28@gmail.com

“From somewhere different?”
“Like Europe?”
“No, not like Europe”*

*War of the Worlds

Maybe it’s all psychological or maybe it’s just that America is so much bigger but, for some reason, in the run up to my trip, it seemed like a huge undertaking. There was so much to do, so much paperwork for the visa, so many forms to fill in for the university and so many hours to sit on a plane. It did not help that each time I spoke about my trip, someone had some horror story about the journey there: going through customs, immigration, or just the flight itself, everyone had a story to share and advice to impart. If you Googled transferring flights at my connecting airport, forums were filled with horror stories and complaints.

Yet, when I stepped off my plane, immigration was rather easy – I was greeted with a smile, not the surly face I had been promised. Customs was just the handing over of a paper card filled in on the flight and, at security, the security guard complimented my boots. In fact, since landing in America until arriving at my apartment, six different airport employees complimented my boots! So, even though I had heard all these stories about getting in to America, it was actually very easy and really friendly. Yet, I definitely breathed a sigh of relief once I had got that bit out of the way and I could continue on my way.

“Borders” is a word we hear a lot in Europe; having no borders, the Schengen agreement and of course from reading Balibar. I wonder if ‘Fortress Europe’ to those non-Europeans is almost like my psychological experience of entering America. Of course, as a European those borders to me either do not exist or are pretty easy: there are no visas, interviews, paperwork, forms with different numbers, handing over of financial evidence, or health insurance. Just the wave of a passport, some security procedures and knowing your final destination is all you need (and from experience, even if you get the destination wrong, they still let you through!). Of course, once you enter Schengen countries you can travel country to country without even those questions. I remember the first time I travelled to Germany: I was amazed by trains going to Amsterdam or Geneva, but maybe that was just a British thing.

Borders, or the lack of borders, I think may be a luxury that we Europeans may take for granted, whether they are physical or just physiological. An American girl, in the run up to my travels here as I envied her ability to walk straight in said, I wish I had your passport”. My friend with dual nationality would never give up her European passport, it’s too valuable. The European passport: it’s like the golden ticket for travelling.

Heather Southwood, Copy Editor

Heather is from Manchester, UK, and completed her undergraduate in Law before studying Euroculture in the University of Göttingenand Jagiellonian University, Krakow. She is currently completing a research track in Indianapolis. Her research interests include citizenship and the promotion of belonging in citizens. She also attempts to discover a new national dish she can cook every time she goes somewhere new.