MS Risk Blog

The Irish Border: The Latest Roadblock

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When Theresa May signed Article 50 at the end of March the countdown started. Deciding to leave the EU is the easy part, now the UK has to negotiate a thousand different details to ensure that its citizens are able to have the same rights and freedoms that they are used to. The most recent hurdle to the Brexit negotiations is Ireland threatening to veto the Brexit deal if Britain doesn’t state in writing that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. One of the advantages of Brexit is greater control over the borders making this request difficult for the government to agree without a fight. During the negotiation Britain needs to be able to retain control of the border while making sure that we don’t reopen old wounds, hurt the economy of Northern Ireland, or lead to a vote of no confidence triggering an election.

The Troubles was a 30 year long fight between Protestant and Catholic Irish over where Northern Ireland should become part of England or part of Ireland. Ireland is historically a Catholic country and the Protestants mostly came from England and settled in Ireland this lead to the division of Northern Ireland from the rest. It was difficult for people to know which side people were on so bombers attacked the English who had troops in the area and maintained a hard border to try to stop weapons from entering northern Ireland. This border had a large impact on the day to day lives of many Irish who worked in Northern Ireland but lived in Ireland, as well as those who had family there. So for many Irish a hard border is a reminder of the days of violence and uncertainty.

A hard border may be desirable for England as control over the borders is not only useful to keep out illegal immigrants but also stop drug shipments into the country but the downside for England is that it then makes moving legal shipments across the border more time consuming and therefore expensive. According to the Financial Times it will affect 9 out of 10 small companies in Northern Ireland as they are reliant on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Northern Ireland is the second poorest area in the UK and is dependent on agriculture for jobs, this industry that will be negatively affected by a hard border as it also relies on moving livestock between the two countries.

After the election the conservatives didn’t have enough MP’s to form a government. They formed a coalition with the DUP the party is from Northern Ireland and they are a pro Brexit party. One possible solution to the border issue it was suggested that Northern Ireland is allowed to stay in the single market but the DUP have stated that they will dissolve the coalition if this is agreed.

The conservatives face a difficult negotiation as many people have leverage over them. The DUP holds the future of the current government in its hands. They face splitting a country that has taken great strides to recover from its large divisions. They face the possibility of crippling an already poor area. And if they get it wrong they face a veto on the Brexit deal and have to walk away with nothing.