In an Irish Times piece subtitled “If the UK leaves the EU, the North’s status will change, perhaps disastrously” veteran commentator Dennis Kennedy gets bogged down in in his own “fantasy.” He’s right in one respect, that any bid by a Conservative- led government to quit the EU by referendum would undoubtedly shake a union that is already exposed as fragile. And true enough, we surely know that the last thing on the minds of Cameron and the massed ranks of his euro-sceptics is the implications for Northern Ireland.
Although the EU is mentioned only once in the preamble to the GFA, Kennedy claims that “ the framework of EU citizenship validates its essential core: the idea that conflicting Irish and British identities can co-exist as equals within present-day Northern Ireland, pending some future resolution of the fundamental divide.”
This probably overstates; the GFA was almost immediately treated as basic law and it is unthinkable that Westminster would ever overturn or amend it against the wishes of the other parties in Belfast and Dublin. Freedom of movement might in theory be challenged if somebody started putting up tariff walls again but the reality of a porous border is likely to remain what it always was, ratified today by the common travel area which exists because the UK and Ireland are not parties to the Schengen agreement, preferring to deal with entry matters bilaterally.
As for Dennis’s “ fantasy” of the north uniting with the south over a joint preference to remain within the EU, he admits that neither Dublin nor the EU would stump up the necessary £9 (£10?) billion a year. So we’re back as usual to square one. Nice try Dennis. You probably didn’t know where you’d end up when you started but you might have guessed…
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London