A neighbour's view of Brexit


Picture of Gail McElroy
Gail McElroy

Gail McElroy is Professor of Political Science at Trinity College Dublin

While the initial shock and disbelief that surrounded Brexit have receded for the people of Ireland, uncertainty and anxiety have only increased. Nine months after the referendum, we are no wiser about the future status of the border or the Common Travel Area between the two countries.

Initial hopes that the United Kingdom would opt for a Norwegian-style arrangement have been dashed, and there are very real fears that a ‘hard’ Brexit will have dire consequences for both territories on the island. We feel rather like an innocent child caught in the crossfire of an increasingly messy and bitter divorce; we did nothing to cause the breakup but will undoubtedly suffer the most. Facts and details are in very short supply, but speculation is rampant and in Dublin there is talk of little else.

There is a widespread perception that neither the UK nor the European Union fully appreciates the impact that Brexit will have on the economic and political landscape of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Indeed, Westminster’s lack of attention to the border issue is seen as reflective of the Leave campaign’s very England-centric attitude, as well as Westminster’s own general indifference to the plight of the regions.

The peace process, economic prosperity and the viability of the agricultural sector in Northern Ireland are all seriously threatened by this secession. The Republic remains firmly committed to EU membership but worries that its voice will not be heard in the negotiations, as it is but one (small) member in a collective of 27. And while there may be opportunities to be exploited in terms of foreign direct investment (especially in the financial and technology sectors), the general belief is that the economic consequences of our second-largest export partner leaving the single market will be negative. The potential loss of the UK ‘landbridge’ for the import of goods from mainland Europe will also serve to raise prices.

Finally, one of the great ironies of the referendum outcome, which was initiated by the officially-titled Conservative and Unionist Party and supported by the Democratic Unionist Party in the North, is that the issue of Irish reunification is now firmly back on the agenda. And for nationalist parties, who all supported the Remain campaign, this has been an unexpected boon.

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