Written by Fergus Starkey |
It certainly seems that way following Europe’s unanimous rejection of Mrs May’s latest Brexit proposals. It’s certainly clear now (if it wasn’t earlier) that the EU is firmly standing alongside Ireland rather than the UK. But why is Ireland and the border such a controversial issue?
“Since 1923, with the creation of the Irish free State and Northern Ireland, Ireland has been split into two separate entities.”
Since 1923, with the creation of the Irish free State and Northern Ireland, Ireland has been split into two separate entities. The consequences of this were seen throughout the late 20th century during The Troubles, which saw bitter violence between Nationalists and Unionists over the future of Northern Ireland, more commonly known as the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force). It was a dark time in Ireland’s history, and even now the wounds of the past aren’t fully healed. But what does this have to do with Brexit? Well, allow me to explain.
As a member state of the European Union, Ireland benefits from the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour. When the UK’s membership of the EU was certain this wasn’t a problem. However, with Article 50 being triggered there was -and is- a need to establish some form of border between the UK and the EU. This is due to the UK leaving the customs union of the EU and thereby needing to impose its own product standards on goods coming from Europe and vice versa.
The European Parliament has considered this, and in their paper (Smart Paper 2.0 Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland for Customs control and the free movement of persons) points out that “Both large businesses and SMEs often have highly interconnected supply chains covering the island of Ireland and often involving movements across the border throughout the manufacturing process, as well as sourcing and sales. In the course of production of Guinness, approximately 13,000 border crossings are made each year. Bombardier, one of Northern Ireland’s largest employers, engages more than 60 suppliers in Ireland.”
“… a physical border would cause significant disruption and harm to a great many businesses”
If you’re not a candidate on The Apprentice, then allow me to explain. The sheer number of border crossings made for the production of goods means that a physical border would cause significant disruption and harm to a great many businesses that rely on either goods or labour on either side of the border. The paper also considers the agricultural sector; highlighting that various products cross the border for preparation and refinement, such as raw milk and pigs being transferred to either side of the border.
“Its illogical, exasperating and quite frankly embarrassing for the United Kingdom on the international stage.”
This is of particular concern to members of my extended family. As livestock farmers in the Republic of Ireland, they depend on their cattle in order to live, therefore placing them at risk of being worse off with potential new border checks imposed on the border. This is particularly unfair as they didn’t vote for Brexit. They didn’t even have the right to vote for Brexit, but now the will of the British people has decided that they, in a country in which Britain no longer has any influence, will be bent to the will of the people. In all honesty its exasperating, its illogical and quite frankly embarrassing for the United Kingdom on the international stage.
Evidently, there is significant trade and movement across the border but there is also the export of goods from the UK to Ireland. According to the BBC fact check, Ireland is the fifth largest customer for UK exports (only behind Germany, Italy, Spain and France). Clearly, Ireland is no mere footnote on the UK’s export market, which is why I feel that certain politicians, particularly those who enjoy making headlines, need to perhaps reevaluate their strategies.
”Nobody wants to see a return to the Troubles”
Being of Irish descent myself, I find it disheartening that key politicians such as Jacob Rees-Mogg (who I’m sure is a very pleasant chap) show such contempt and ignorance to the question of the Irish border. His comments that “There would be our ability, as we had during the Troubles, to have people inspected.” have sent shockwaves through the Irish communities both in the North and the Republic. Nobody wants to see a return to the Troubles, and yet Mr Mogg has even said that he does not need to visit Northern Ireland as it isn’t going to “give me a fundamental insight into the border beyond what one can get by studying it.”
Now, I’m sure we can all appreciate the benefits of studying and viewing it as a case study in order to make a decision, however, this is more than a simple thought experiment, these are people’s lives. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, all of whom will be affected by the imposition of a physical border between the Republic and the North. Northern Ireland is home to over 1.8 million people, and the Republic of Ireland has more than 4.8 million.
These people deserve to have their voices heard and Westminster needs to listen, for the people of Ireland’s sake as much as their own. The Irish must be allowed to have their views recognised and heard as they decide the path that their country will follow in the future, and not be bullied into a settlement by the British.