Could Brexit be the mechanism that reignites the troubles in the north? Dean Swift examines the possibility of a hard border being implemented.
The Troubles that ravaged the north seem a distant memory to the youth of Ireland, but to many Brexit is feared to be the tool which will allow them to begin anew. One of the key issues arising from Brexit, at least in the Irish sphere, is the border between the North and the republic, a key to the arguably shaky peace that exists today. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Theresa May had a meeting in Downing Street on September 27th to discuss the issue.
While promises have been made that no hard border will be implemented in Ireland, these promises should be viewed with caution. A poll taken for Huff Post UK shows that 59% of voters “want Theresa May to step down immediately.” The promises made by one prime minister are not a guarantee from another. Therefore, it is important to discuss the potential reality of a hard border in any form.
The management of the situation has been incompetently handled at best, negligent at worst
Should a hard border be implemented it is only reasonable that the British government pay for its operations. It would be costly, especially taking into consideration that the American-Canadian border costs the Canadian government over €1 billion per annum to operate 250 crossings, according to Varadkar. While considerably smaller, the cost of an Irish border would be significant, particularly with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) giving a conservative estimate that “a hard Brexit will cost Ireland €200m a year and deprive us of 49,000 jobs over a decade.” One could argue that the border protects the citizens of the Republic of Ireland as well as those of Northern Ireland, and therefore the Republic should also pay. However, the borders themselves could instigate violence. They were major targets of the IRA during the troubles and were removed when peace was established, to help in maintaining that shaky peace. If a hard border were implemented would it be fair to make the Republic also pay for its upkeep?
One of the many reasons people voted for Brexit was the issue of immigration. The hard border seems to be a clear extension of that sentiment, however the British government has repeatedly ruled out Northern Ireland having special treatment in Brexit negotiations. As a piece in the Irish Times states, “London is not prepared to explore the treatment of Northern Ireland as a separate entity, subject to separate rules, or for it to remain part of the customs union or single market, as some politicians North and South have urged.” The suggestion that no hard border would exist is paradoxical. It would also easily allow for the movement of other Europeans into the North with ease via the Republic of Ireland. The management of the situation has been incompetently handled at best, negligent at worst. The lack of a clear decision is worrying and leaves the possibility of a hard border a looming reality.
One could argue that the border protects the citizens of the Republic of Ireland as well as those of Northern Ireland, and therefore the Republic should also pay
The idea of a coastal border has been thrown into the mix several times during the Brexit negotiations as an alternative to a hard land border. Varadkar, who has been Taoiseach since June of this year, made his intentions clear very early. As the Irish Independent reports, “he is said to want customs and immigration checks moved away from the land border to ports and airports—effectively drawing a new border in the Irish Sea”. A coastal border is the only realistic way to avoid a hard land border that fully coincides with Britain’s aims in Brexit. However, the British and Northern Ireland government are opposed to the idea of a coastal border as outlined in a paper issued by the British government which dismisses it as “economically and constitutionally unviable.” The only truly viable and straightforward option that avoids a hard border has been firmly rejected by the British government.
With the idea of a coastal border rejected and the promise of no border remaining contradictory to the main aims of Brexit, Ireland is in an uncertain area. How the Irish border is handled is fundamental to Brexit, and a very dangerous issue if not handled correctly. Unfortunately the lack of decisiveness, the potential for change in leadership, and the rejection of a coastal border make a hard border a very real possibility.