Whatever #Brexit means for Britain, Northern Ireland must take its opportunities and threats seriously…

So Guy Verhofstadt tells us that the EU is not out to punish the UK (or ‘Britain’ if you still think we’re all the same). We, if we are paying attention to Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU cannot had out what the British Foreign Minister so crassly refers to as a punishment beating:

  1.  The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness, founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation.
  2. For the purposes of paragraph 1, the Union may conclude specific agreements with the countries concerned. These agreements may contain reciprocal rights and obligations as well as the possibility of undertaking activities jointly. Their implementation shall be the subject of periodic consultation.

The other compensating thought for the Leavers is that the Canadian deal provides a template for something very close to membership of the Single Market without actually being in it.

That means all manner of regulatory strictures in the first place, but it would be hard for the EU to offer ‘Britain’ something more ‘punishing’ than the the deal it has already struck with Canada.

The opportunity and the threat of Brexit is not the big stuff, it lies in the smaller unintended consequences that can scale up over time. Without adding to the often meaningless rhetoric around the implications for peace in NI, Verhofstadt makes a valid point here:

One of the greatest challenges in the forthcoming negotiations will be the acute need to find a solution for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, so that a new hard border dividing them is avoided. I am committed to doing my upmost to ensure, from the European Union side, that the specific needs of Ireland and Northern Ireland are prioritised in the negotiations to come.

Here again, Britain and the European Union must work together. It would be a tragedy if Brexit reversed any of the progress towards peace and reconciliation made in recent years, but much work must be done to square this circle and deliver a viable solution on the ground.

The key to may amount to developing a positive attitude on both sides of these negotiations:

Brexit will be a sad, surreal and exhausting process. The EU must use the UK’s departure to reform and move forward. Britain can choose to be a partner in this process, or it can be an impediment to it. Let us hope for a future relationship based on trust and genuine partnership.

There’s no near term threat that I can see re Northern Ireland, but we’re about to witness an election in which the storing up of dried kindle of tribal resentments are shamelessly displayed every time there’s a fresh deadlock at Stormont.

Those who voted for remain have serious concerns that need more than just another series of meaningless supplications or protests. And as Micheal Martin noted the other day in this Irish Times podcast:

The independent economic analysis is that the North will suffer most of all from Brexit, and particularly from hard Brexit. And the island of Ireland will suffer. So I’m pessimistic about the translation of the conciliatory language into reality in terms of what we all want to avoid: borders tariffs on goods and services. We want to avoid borders on the island of Ireland.

I think it’s still possible for a common travel area, but its going to be very difficult because Britain seems intent on restricting on the movement of people, particularly in terms of work. In terms of the language of her speech and the aspirations of her speech, they will have to come up with further clarifications of how they terms of how they intend to translate into a workable model.

The bigger worry is a political worry. There have always been people who are not signed up to the new political situation, so we have to be careful that we don’t create scenarios that give fodder to people who will want to be disruptive and destructive.

The trade issue is jobs and bread and butter. It’s interesting in the Prime Minister’s speech about the reference to research and education, and particularly the research  collaborations across Europe. Now Britain wants to retain that, and there is a sense that Europe will kick back. And I think for the North that’s a worry I have.

Many northern campuses, universities, companies, business were aligning themselves with both British and Irish companies in the Republic to seek Horizon 2020 funding and that all could be shut off for the North. But we need to seek out ways and means [for] the citizens of Northern Ireland.

Given the conflict and the violence the economy of the North is not one that has ever really come out of that situation. And because of its over-reliance on public sector employment it has never really developed fully as a private sector economy.

One would argue, and one would hope, we could get special deals on a number of fronts for Northern Ireland. That Interreg funding could be maintained, for example and that we could tap in to the good will that is in Europe to maintain some access for the citizens in partnership with the Republic to quite a number of these EU funds.

That’s tangible and practical in people’s everyday lives.




  • Oriel27

    If anything, NI needs an open border with the Republic for economic, social, geographical and physiological reasons.

    Any attempt to put a border back, its an ‘act of war’ on the irish people, north and south. Imagine the civil war that will happen again. I live beside the border, i know what its like to have roads closed before & brutal checkpoints. Do we want a repeat of the troubles again? – i certainly dont. But really does Westminister care?

    Brexit hasnt been thought out at all regarding NI. There is simply no benefits what so ever to having a border return. NI being a part of the UK right-now is a big mistake.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Everything Martin points out are simply sound bites which have been repeated time again by dozens of people. Fianna Fail have no map and no plan and absolutely no idea how to get to where everyone apparently wants to go. Sadly its all just empty rhetoric.

  • mickfealty

    Who’s got this here map you’re referring to then Anthony?

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Remove the border Mick. Thats the first part of the map anyway.

  • On the fence!

    Maybe having to look at the border from a different perspective i.e. the only land border between the UK and the EU, will be a good thing as it’ll take it out of the hands of those on both sides in the island of Ireland.

    With much larger interests at stake than something as relatively unimportant as the partition of Ireland, maybe a practical solution will be arrived at much sooner.

    There was no way that both sides here could ever win, maybe in a perverse way the only chance of equality is for neither to win?

  • mickfealty

    No, put a motion through the assembly looking for a undefined special status, have it blocked. Bring it back to the Downing street, have it blocked. Rinse and repeat. #PumpYerFist

  • Paul Hagan

    As I commented on these pages some months ago, there were many leavers who saw the “CETA+ model” as the best option to go for on Post-Brexit Trade but it’s still a surprising choice as the current deal reflect’s Canada’s specific trade portfolio based on commodities as well as agricultural and manufacturing products. While CETA does include services, investment and other trade aspects useful to the UK economy, it has very limited regulatory cooperation or harmonisation of standards, a crucial feature of the EU internal market. The other factor to remember here is that CETA took around 9 years to complete and was almost scuppered by lowly Wallonia. While the UK-EU deal might take less time to complete we don’t know yet what the ratification process will look like, other than we know the European Parliament will have a say, which is why on this issue at least it is worth taking note of Mr Verhofstadt

  • Obelisk

    So because of something as ‘unimportant’ as partition, a decision regarding the freedom of movement of the people of the island of Ireland on the island of Ireland is to be taken from the people of the island of Ireland? People who will now suffer because of something they did not vote for and did not want?

  • Enda

    Relatively unimportant to who? Certainly not the people who live circa 15miles either side of the border.

  • Oriel27

    What?, the only practice solution is a border down the irish sea. I cant understand how you thing its ‘relatively unimportant’. What about the 1000’s of commuters each day? i was on the M1 going North this morning with the massive amounts of traffic, imagine interrupting all that business? Can you imagine the reception Frontex would get if they appeared at the border.

    No its a very important issue for the island of Ireland, its also a very important issue for Westminister. Who will take the blame when the troubles start again?

  • Jams O’Donnell

    “Britain can choose to be a partner in this process, or it can be an impediment”

    Anyone who has paid the slightest attention to the way that Westminster has always treated Scotland, will know that the “impediment” course is the one that will be chosen.

    Luckily, it is now extremely likely that within 2 years we will not be in the UK to be impeded.

  • Jams O’Donnell

    “does Westminister care?” The answer to that should have been obvious years ago.

    Here’s an explanation:


  • Jollyraj

    “Any attempt to put a border back, its an ‘act of war’ on the irish people, north and south.”

    Eh?? Who do you imagine is declaring war on Ireland? The EU?

  • Karl

    The UK has opted for a path that singularly disadvantages NI. Unlike the British economy due to services industries, expertise and ties to many countries outside the EU where it is at least debatable that Brexit may be benficial in the medium to long term, no such argument exists for NI.
    With a stubborn deficit, weakening revenue streams the UK govt will be in austerity mode lite for years to come. Given that it has no discernable private sector to be the impetus for growth and its largest employers are in manufacturing, what possible reasons can the unionist heirarchy give that the union is beneficial to NI?

  • SDLP supporter

    I presume you mean ‘psychological reasons’? I agree with you.

  • On the fence!

    You are all spectacularly missing the point as usual.

    I would suggest that dealing with the border on a EU/UK basis will attract considerably more motivation and desire for a solution than dealing with it on a purely “Irish” basis.

    I would also suggest than whatever best meets that need will take precedent over anything else ultimately, and perversely, some sort of situation whereby neither side here gets what they want, may ultimately be the most practical and palatable for both.

    But even beyond that, why the obsession with the border? The overwhelming problem in the north is that there are two factions who will ultimately have to be able to live with each other half civilly. That issue will remain no matter what form the border takes or even if there’s one at all.

  • Katyusha

    With much larger interests at stake than something as relatively unimportant as the partition of Ireland, maybe a practical solution will be arrived at much sooner.

    Sure. Reunification.

    Treating the border as the far western frontier of the EU to be secured at all costs would be a totally unmitigated disaster for all involved.

  • Katyusha

    The overwhelming problem in the north is that there are two factions who will ultimately have to be able to live with each other half civilly. That issue will remain no matter what form the border takes or even if there’s one at all.

    Disagree. That problem is very much dependent on the border, its form and placement, as one of the factions you mention only exists because of the border’s current placement – the northern nationalist faction only exists because a sizeable nationalist population was left North of the border after partition. If you move the border northwards and eastwards then many of those Northern nationalists become southern nationalists, living in a completely different political and civil environment. There’s also the issue that unionism may have splintered and normalised if the unionists did not feel the need to constantly circle the wagons against what they viewed as a threat posed by the very existence of 30-50% of Northern Ireland’s population.

  • On the fence!

    With respect.

    Anyone who thinks that Northern Irelands problems will in any way be lessened by the removal of the border (as things stand) has no concept of the views held by some in both communities.

    However, that is not the main point under debate here so I’ll not labour it.

  • Oriel27

    yes, exactly. I open the front door i look into the North. My natural hinterland would be to the North. My own parish is split by the border.

  • file

    Mick, Artcle 8 of the Lisbon Treaty as you quote it in the two sections above, will not apply to the UK until AFTER it has left the EU, ie at the end of the negotiations, not during them. Up until the point it leaves, the UK is not ‘a neighbouring country’, it is a constituent member of the EU. And you do not need a lawyer to get agreement on that reading of the sections; it is just logic and time.

  • file

    Ah no, Babushka! Don’t re-partition and leave us poor Antrim Taigs surrounded by Ballymena Biblebelters. Please no! We have all suffered together in the statelet; at least let us all leave it together in a dignified manner (and being sensitive to residents who may be sleeping).

  • Katyusha

    I don’t think Northern Ireland’s problems would be solved if the border was removed; just that the root cause of many of its problems is how the border was imposed in the first place.

    You can’t undo the almost 100 years of development that have gone on since then. NI society today isn’t the same as it was at the onset of partition. But this idea that NI will be eternally locked into eternal sectarian stalemate and stagnation between two more-or-less evenly matched tribes ignores that this tribal makeup was a result of political decisions take during the formation of the state. If the political situation changes, new factions will arise and some of the old ones will disappear. Identity and the political composition of a country is very much dependent on geopolitics and how the state is constituted. These things aren’t eternal.

  • Katyusha

    I’d have no intention of advocating such an idea, file. Just playing out a hypothetical. 😉

    Whatever happens to NI in the future needs to apply across the wee six; it would be startlingly unfair to repeat the same mistakes of the last century and confine future generations to the same problems that the past ones suffered, or to repeat the act of abandoning people on the wrong side of an artificial border. That ship has long sailed.

  • Oriel27

    Ship building industry is gone, linen industry with all the mills is gone etc The economy of the North was in a seriously better shape 100 years ago, than it is today.
    The Ulster Covenant movement did have a point back then. The north of the country was far more prosperous than the south.
    NI really has nothing now worth talking about.
    Retail, call centres? seriously thats not sustainable.

  • Reader

    Oriel27: My own parish is split by the border.
    How does the GAA organize itself where a parish is split across two counties?
    Off topic – I’m just being nosy.

  • Oriel27

    No bother.
    In my case its 2 different clubs. One in Co Monaghan, One in County Fermanagh. GAA rules recognize county boundaries, so wherever county you live you play for that club. The GAA have transfer rules that allows one to play for any club they wish but it must be passed my county board.

    As regarding the the religious end of things. 2 different chapels, either end of parish. The Sunday bulletin denotes mass times for each chapel. Gives phone numbers (north & South) for each priest, gives news of parish either side, discusses parish finances in euro & sterling. Regarding holy communion and confirmation, the children from either end of the parish club together to the one chapel, and rotate the chapel each year. You see its the same Diocese, and it crosses county boundaries. Both parishes and Diocese predate county boundaries.

    Some crack one year (that was May 1986), making confirmation on the northern side of the parish, having to go through an army checkpoint. The ‘bastards’ made the occupants from several cars get out while they searched the cars. Children & women crying everywhere. The confirmation mass was held up by an hour that day.

  • lizmcneill

    That’s an optimistic (or pessimistic depending on Orange/Green) timetable!

  • lizmcneill

    We would have problems, they would just be somewhat different problems than currently.

  • lizmcneill

    Still not taking your point. A hard border would be more onerous on those who live close to it, ie mostly Nationalists. I’m sure a few hard-line Unionists in the northeast of NI would be quite happy for a 300-mile border fortification to be put up.

  • Gingray

    Had that happen to us too at my sisters holy communion – and all we had travelled was a couple of hundred meters from church to to the hotel. 2 adults and 5 kids made to stand in their finest in the rain while the car was searched. Joy.

  • Gingray

    BTW oriel, any of the border clubs play in the wrong county? I know of one in Tyrone that plays in Derry, but think thats unique.

  • 1729torus

    Repartition will be impossible within a decade if it isn’t already:


  • On the fence!

    Yes, and a “few” republicans would probably like to be murdering people and blowing things up again.

    Fortunately, slowly but surely, we are getting further and further away from such extremists on either side dictating what happens here.

  • Tarlas

    Wow !!! Thank you for the link. A brilliant article; it explains a lot, on the psychology of Brexit.

  • aquifer

    Wow !!!! Thanks also. Erudition at last. The real punishment beating for the English was post WWII when the yanks insisted that the war loans be repaid in full.

  • Angry Mob

    Whilst the goals Ms May has asked for are admirable although at times contradictory they are unattainable in the given time frame. What she is about to do is unleash project May-hem and ensure a hard Brexit unless she sees sense and changes tack, preferably before triggering article 50.

  • Madra Uisce

    Arnt you a Brexiteer AM. Do you believe May is on the wrong path?

  • Angry Mob

    Unapologetic Brexiteer but Ms May has just ordered the charge of the Light Brigade.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Nah, I’m sure those who supported Leaving the EU have a domestic plan to try to turn all those threats into opportunities …

    Vulture capitals circling yet another property bubble collapse?
    New cemetery land from former farms?
    People trafficking and Smuggling?

    I’m lost for ideas here. Sorry.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Technically Gibraltar would be another land border the UK has to think about.

    I have constantly suggested the Crown Principality should be added to the “Council of the Isles” as a result.

    And probably should adopt Schengen.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Maybe we could add more factions? 😀

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’d like to ask that same question about cricket teams as they sometimes organised on a parochial basis.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Look if the UK leaves the Customs Union abruptly they are going to have a nightmare in South East England Too … the second place most effected visibly after Ireland.

    I suggest a few Irish/Northern Irish can gain some catharsis watching the likes of Hannan and Farage try and squirm about the tailbacks they created in their own backyard.

    Then again they’ll probably all blame it on protectionism and migrants. 🙁


  • Annie Breensson

    I wonder why BoJo mentioned “punishment beatings”?

    Couldn’t possibly be laying a false trail for the inevitable fallout (recession, austerity – etc.) that will follow BrExit, could he?

  • Obelisk

    Notice how nobody is talking up getting a deal that recognises the interests of Gibraltar? I can’t see how they have a rosy future.

  • lizmcneill

    I’m not talking about terrorists, I’m talking about ordinary people who live, commute and visit across the border and whose communities would be split in two by the imposition of a hard border. I don’t see how it’s any consolation to them that it’s an EU/Little Brexit border, not just an Irish border.

  • On the fence!

    What do you mean by “Little Brexit”?

    It plainly would be an EU/UK border and the border would have to take whatever form was necessary to fulfil that requirement.

  • lizmcneill

    Portmanteau of little England and Brexit as that’s who started the whole mess.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s an EU border or not, a hard border will disproportionately affect the Nationalist community and won’t be a case of “neither side getting what they want”. Look at the maps posted in this thread. A Unionist from Ards will rarely see a borer checkpoint and psychologically they’d be happy or neutral to its existence. A Nationalist from South Down could be inconvenienced by it daily, and psychologically to them it should be gone and South Down part of EU Ireland.

  • Madra Uisce

    Thanks for the reply. What do you think May should be doing if it’s not a hard Brexit

  • Hugh Davison

    The Brits? EU doesn’t do wars.

  • Hugh Davison

    Did he go to Eton?

  • Jollyraj


  • John Devane

    Gain some catharsis? Gaining it already watching Farron, Clegg and the Remoaners in apoplectic self righteous rage. Who really wants an EU superstate?

  • John Devane

    Really? Did Nicola Sturgeon tell you as much? …….

  • John Devane

    Very true. And all this talk about a united Ireland or Independent Scotland on the back of Brexit is no more than wishful thinking. Brexit has had an affect on a partitioned Ireland which could be an adverse one but it’s not beyond the UK / Irish govts and the EU to resolve it. No one actively wants to see a hard border.

  • John Devane

    Partition was always on the cards even in the home rule era. Wishing it wasn’t so doesn’t alter the facts on the ground. May be if the boundary commission had redrawn the border on a more accurate sectarian headcount a smaller less viable NI may have been subsumed into an all Ireland state decades ago? Counter factual history all the same.

  • Angry Mob

    I don’t think Ms May actually wants a hard Brexit, when you listen to her speech she wants customs cooperation, open borders with Ireland etc but if she continues this course she will unequivocally get a hard brexit inadvertently.

    The 10 years guessed by Ivan Rogers is possibly a reasonable guess, if the EU were willing to cooperate which I don’t actually think they will fully as 1) they don’t want another relationship like Switzerlands built on bilateral deals, especially not one where there is no surveillance mechanisms that the ECJ or EFTA court provides and 2) “Divorce settlement” will potentially be a major sticking point in the talks before the EU is willing to come to the table to discuss the 35+ potential areas (including trade) where common ground must be found in order to create a bespoke FTA: https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/policy/conditions-membership/chapters-of-the-acquis_en

    My opinion is that the EFTA/EEA is the only serious contender for a managed exit and indeed is preferable to remaining in the EU despite some of its shortcomings. Assuming that we could remain in the single market (there is precedent when Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995 moved from EFTA to the EU with uninterrupted access) and gain permission from the EFTA states to rejoin. This would allow us to piggyback on the FTA already made between EFTA and the EU which significantly lightens the workload of all parties and allows negotiators to focus on some issues not covered in the agreement such as the Irish Border (possible Customs agreement similar to Turkey could be negotiated), divorce settlement, agricultural policy, etc etc Which may just make it possible to complete the vast majority of negotiations within two years but even then it may be a close run thing.

    From there we could have several options, try and negotiate a bespoke FTA as Ms May intends to do or something slightly more ambitious is to reform the single market open it up to all 51 European countries by giving control to an intergovernmental body such as the UNECE.