Belfast and Brexit: What Could a Border Change?

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Bologna: On April 10, 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was signed, concluding forty years of ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland. Twenty years later, as the Brexit negotiations unfold between the U.K. and the European Union, Northern Ireland’s presence is felt more than ever.

While you might not see it in the export figures, the Northern Irish economy is heavily dependent on the Republic. Deep in the manufacturing supply chain, cross-border trade, particularly in raw materials, is essential between the North and South. In terms of energy, agriculture, transportation and even culture, the Good Friday Agreement succeeded in integrating Ireland with the British economy, making Brexit a bigger challenge.

Emotionally, the border caused an identity crisis among the Irish community of the North. The peace agreement was designed to allow the Northern Irish to live in one space with the flexibility to choose between the Republic or the United Kingdom as their nationality. However, if a hard-border emerges from Brexit, the Irish community will no longer be able to freely go from one side to the other. Instead, some sort of border patrol will be implemented to check people and goods passing through the border. As a result, those who were able to feel equally as Irish as British under the peace agreement might now see their identity threatened.

Brexit is a word with many interpretations, and what it really means is still unknown, especially to the Northern Irish. Many have suggested a special status for Northern Ireland, drawing a border between islands instead of countries as a potential solution. However, that’s only speculation. What is clear is that the absence of a deal granting unique conditions to Northern Ireland threatens to reinstate historical religious and class divisions, and ultimately tear its society apart.

Lluis is a first year MA candidate specialising in Europe and Eurasian studies. He is currently based at SAIS Bologna



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