Brexit has always divided opinion, but now it looks as though it will be responsible for dividing Ireland in a more literal sense. In this article, Jess explains how leaving the European Union presents a huge dilemma with regards to the Irish border, the only land border that will exist between us and the EU. 

Brexit’s Effect on Irish Borders

Irish Border – picture from The Sun

The Irish issue was one of the three main divorce issues that need to be settled in the first phase of talks, and yet it had taken a back seat in recent months, as the UK was arguing that it would be easier to find an agreement on the border issue once the future trading relationship was clear. But Ireland has refused to be ignored any longer. Post Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will become the only land border between Britain and the European Union, which hence begs the consideration of necessary passport and customs checks as well as tariffs. With Ireland holding as strong as ever, there is increasing concern regarding how Brexit negotiations can be continued without first considering the Irish question. Ireland grows in prevalence each day, especially given the newly formed coalition with the DUP, a controversial Northern Irish party.

In the Good Friday Agreement of 1999 between Britain and Ireland, Irish borders became ‘invisible’. The army checkpoints, security barriers and observation posts which were symptomatic of the discord between the two countries are now long gone and the only clue available of the change of jurisdiction is in the form of road side speed-limit signs. The European Union, Britain and Ireland all wish for the borders to remain as they are presently. However, that expectation is looking unrealistic given that under EU law customs checks are required.

If such customs checks are implemented, the economic ramifications would be substantial. Given that over 13,000 commercial vehicles cross the invisible border daily with freight ranging from meat to dairy to Guinness all of which is packaged in the Republic and then returned to Northern Ireland for export to the UK, if customs checks were executed the efficiency of the system would be vastly reduced. This begs the question of whether or not such trade deals would continue between the Republic and Northern Ireland as the economic benefits would be reduced.

For the Republic, the only solution they see is for the UK to remain in the Customs Union, which is a principal component of the EU, placing no tariffs on goods within the customs area and imposes a common external tariff on those goods entering the union. For the UK however, this is not a possibility. In order for the UK to enter the World Trade scene they must leave to begin levying other deals, which for Prime Minister May is an important part of the Brexit narrative.

Without a solution to satisfy all, will Irish borders be a battle won for the EU to the detriment of the UK? Following the most recent discussions, an ultimatum was presented to PM May, giving her until December to come up with a British plan to be negotiated further. Until then however, the trade negotiations hang in the balance awaiting the verdict and decision on how customs law will progress after the divorce.

By Jess Nield