Brexit has predictably dire effects for Northern Ireland

Forget Theresa May’s boilerplate encomium in the Commons the other day about never being ‘neutral’ about the Union. (Hardly as emphatic as Margaret Thatcher’s claim Northern Ireland was ‘as British as Finchley’). The Prime Minister is leading you up the garden path.  She surely knows by now that Brexit has big implications – dire and far-reaching ones – for Northern Ireland. Here’s eight of them:

  1. A funding black hole. All in, Northern Ireland draws down about €600m euro of funding a year from the European Union. Even if Whitehall manages to wangle a transitional arrangement out of the Commission as part of the Brexit negotiations, it’s hard to see how that funding could possibly last beyond 2020. That leaves a pretty hefty financial hole. If a 50k Irish language grant is enough to destabilise the political institutions, what do you think losing 12,000 times that amount will do?

Get used to being ignored, because it’s a sign of things to come. And bear in mind where we are in the electoral cycle. Pleasing her political base – in this case English marginal seats – is where Theresa May’s attention will increasingly be focused.

Ah, but who would she have met with, given the little local difficulty with the Executive? Fair enough, but it would have been easy enough to arrange a speech to a bunch of business types, if only to show parity of esteem with Wales and Scotland.

2. Britain will become more English. Where was Theresa May this week after stopping off in Wales and Scotland during her short-lived ’listening’ tour of the UK? Not in Northern Ireland, that’s for sure. Rather than hop across the Irish Sea before triggering Article 50 – as promised – she instead made her way to Birmingham to campaign for her candidate in the West Midlands metro mayoral race, Andy Street.

3. Economic impact. Of course, if Britain goes down with a dose of the Brexit-related economic sniffles, Northern Ireland will be flat on its back with TB. We know this because analysis from the Assembly’s own committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment tells us as much. Its respected adviser, Dr. Leslie Budd from the Open University’s Business School, reckons Brexit could knock 3% off Northern Ireland’s GDP. That’s tens of thousands of jobs.

4. Out of the single market – possibly out of customs union. The collapse of the Executive means there’s already talk of postponing Peter Robinson’s cherished goal of reducing corporation tax to match the RoI’s 12.5% rate, a move that was scheduled for 2018.  The Irish development agency staff must be rubbing their hands with glee; there jobs just get easier and easier. Arlene Foster can moan all she likes about Dublin ‘poaching’ the North’s investment, but Brexit will now prove telling when it comes to attracting future foreign cash. Why on earth would any company,

looking to export into the single market, opt for Northern Ireland over the Irish Republic? As IDA Ireland’s website puts it (unsubtly):

‘Ireland is a committed member of the European Union and provides companies with guaranteed access to the European market.  Ireland is the only English speaking country in the Eurozone and provides an ideal hub for organisations seeking a European base.’

Northern Ireland’s private sector will be reduced to the sandwich van outside the studio where they film Game of Thrones. Until they stop making it next year.

5. A hard border is increasingly likely. This is surely one of the easier issues for Theresa May to deal with amidst the cornucopia of grief that Brexit represents. Yet eight months on we’re no nearer to learning how invasive future border arrangements will turn out to be. Having already confirmed Britain will be outside the single market (and possibly outside the customs unions too) it’s clear that something is in the offing, despite no-one in either the British or Irish governments having any enthusiasm for imposing a hard border. Yet as Professor Jonathan Tonge from Liverpool University put it the other day in a research paper for the European Parliament, ‘customs controls [are] probable and immigration checks possible.’

6. Impending financial crisis. Any slowdown in the economy, or reductions in government funding, combined with the lost EU cash will deliver a crisis for Northern Ireland’s public finances from 2019 onwards. And when she takes her begging bowl to the Treasury, Arlene Foster (or successor) will find Greater Manchester’s new mayor, Andy Burnham, already sat there in the Chancellor’s outer office with a better story to tell about how scarce public funding should be spent in his patch instead. Presumably while he lobbies for the scrapping of the Barnett Formula.

7. Impending political crisis. Of course, a financial crisis is followed, as sure as night follows day, by a political crisis. The row over welfare cuts will be nothing compared to the scraps to come. Assuming it ever meets again, the Executive’s budget-setting ahead of April 2019 will be utterly brutal. At which point proceedings will probably topple over again.

8. NI can rejoin EU. Assuming political and economic gravity applies as described above, what remedies are possible? Step forward Brexit Secretary, David Davis, who helpfully confirmed this week that Northern Ireland could remain in the EU if it becomes part of the Irish Republic. Can enough EUnionists be marshalled to make a border poll a bigger question about Northern Ireland’s place in the EU?

Irish reunification, as I’ve tried to argue in my book, is already in prospect due to a combination of factors ranging from long-term population trends through to its obvious economic utility. But Brexit is an accelerant. Political kerosene, poured over all the other issues.

By triggering Article 50, Theresa May has just set it alight. Moreover, much of the Brexit-induced pain and uncertainty outlined above could be avoided if Northern Ireland merged with (not ‘joined’ or ‘was absorbed by’) the Irish Republic.

Just as the Good Friday Agreement came to be dubbed ‘Sunningdale for slow learners,’ might we look back at this week in a few years’ time and see this was the moment  we truly entered Northern Ireland’s endgame?

Kevin Meagher is the author of ‘A United Ireland: Why unification is inevitable and how it will come about,’ published by Biteback

(Postscript – Why only eight impacts and not a neat, rounded ten? These, I would argue, are merely the ‘known knowns’. There are effects of Brexit that we are not fully aware of yet. Trust me, it gets worse).

  • Deeman

    That’s why Irish people should be accommodated in ukni now and why British folk must be accommodated in a new Ireland. I think we have had a breakthrough here. 😉

  • Jimmyz

    Brexit combined with Trumps new policies equate to a world of pain for the Republic.

    The last thing they want is a million angry unionists

    Choo Choo…………here comes the pain train

  • Fear Éireannach

    Presumably if you can find a million unionists then there won’t be any change. If you cannot then presumably the rest will not be sore losers, Ulster will be right after all.

  • North Down dup

    Funny man, Irish people are accommodated in the UK now , how many hundreds of thousands live in the UK

  • North Down dup

    A function of time can go on for millions of years

  • Deeman

    Maybe, but I would bet closer to 20 years than 1 million but I am not a gambler 😉

  • murdockp

    Brexit won’t work and it’s nothing to do with a UI. Did you not hear Donald tusk this morning?

    Define brexit success and define brexit failure? For me brexit failure is recession and jobs leaving UK shores to EU countries.he tangible evidence of brexit success is accelerated economic growth so let us see who is right.

  • murdockp

    Exactly my point. People in Northern Ireland lI’ve like kings compared to many in the UK. The poverty in much of the UK is very real. You should visit your mainland once in a while to see for yourself. No free dla cars or housing for the masses and with a tory government in power expect more of the same.

  • murdockp

    So you think that removing £800m of annual EU funds and farming subsidies just for starters are going make this place better off.

    Do you understand the DNA of a tory?

  • North Down dup

    I was going to say never but am also not a gambler

  • North Down dup

    800 mill is our money in the first place,

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    So it’s come down now to “faith”! How desperate can you get – presumably Brexit is God’s will? Well, I’m an atheist.

  • North Down dup

    Read the post again

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    It’s no good – I still read it as ‘Have[ing] faith Brexit will work’. Maybe try some punctuation?

  • No, it’s London’s money.

  • I disagree, it makes it easier to keep Scotland in fact, there won’t be any need for a soft border/special case to be cooked up for NI. Scotland can threatened with a hard border between it and England. That will damage support for independence in Scotland. I feel Westminster would throw NI overboard if it meant keeping a firmer grip on Scotland.

  • So why is Ireland sustainable but NI not? It’s nonsense to say NI will forever be a basket case while straight to the south Ireland is working fine.

  • Macca

    I don’t hope for that. I have been around the UK, though, and the North, quite clearly, is an afterthought in every sense.

  • Macca

    If only there was an undemocratically assembled, mainly foreign, Ascendancy in Dublin to sign the Irish people into such arrangements now.

  • Macca

    The Republic (and EU) will pick up the tab. Can the EU help the ROI absorb a population smaller than greater Birmingham, and assist the ROI in pumping investment into those six north east counties? Absolutely. Is the political will out there to do it? I think so. For outsiders, it would be a huge, international good news story (especially in the USA) to see Ireland reunited once more and that, in itself, will encourage more outside investment into the new Ireland.

  • Roger

    Don’t tell any Welsh I said this, but remember Wales is part of England…so Kingdom of England as it was before would be perfectly appropriate….

  • Henry Kissinger

  • Timothyhound

    NI needs trade and inward investment. The latter is particularly trashed by Brexit. Regardless of whether there’s a UI in the next couple of decades, the decision by the DUP to support Brexit unconditionally will be shown to have been a major strategic mistake.

  • Timothyhound

    It’s unlikely the Trump tax proposals will see the light of day – he fell at the first fence on healthcare and he’s a long way to go to convince congress that his corporate tax proposals will fly either. US multinationals have no intention of giving up their European base and whilst it won’t be plain sailing the Republic will continue to keep and win a hugely disproportionate level of US investment in Europe. The fact that NI struggles to get much of it should be the real focus. Sadly unionist economic illiteracy regarding Brexit ( as typified by Nelson McCausland on Nolan a few weeks ago) would make one despair!

  • Bit of an exaggeration but the fact NI is so dependent on trade worth the test of the UK somewhat shields it. Less than 8% of gdp is worth EU most of which is with the Republic

  • And €65 to see your GP in Dublin

  • murdockp

    If you are running a 50bn deficit the money is not our money it is the banks money. But that is not my point. My point is tories don’t do subsidies.

    Are you saying then that you t are confident that all EU funds spent in NI will be replaced by a tory government?

  • North Down dup

    The European money which they pump into the UK is the money we gave them , the 50 billion people say we might have to give the Eu I don’t know how to get round that, do you have a answer, I heard we give them 50 billion and we get free trade

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    They might try to throw NI overboard, but will Arlene and her pals go with it? As for the ‘firmer grip on Scotland’ – it’s the grip of a palsied hand, on an arm that is being twisted ever more intelligently all the time by the SNP.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    One of my wife’s colleagues is a big economist, advised U.K. government etc – a Remainer like me – and his guess is Brexit will make us worse off than we would have been, but we’ll be modestly OK. We won’t experience how non-Brexit would have been, so it will probably never be clear to what extent Brexit has cost us. In summary, we’ll be reduced, but life will go on not too differently for most of us.

    So politically, there’s unlikely to be big buyer’s remorse from the public; we’ll remain very divided on it.

    So I don’t think it will be dramatic enough to change the arithmetic in NI on the Union, because the following is the key question the apolitical, uninterested uncommitteds in the middle ask on that score: not ‘do I love the status quo’, but ‘is the status quo OK enough that I can continue getting on with my life; and is a united Ireland compared to that something of a gamble’. And my gut instinct as a researcher of public opinions on stuff tells me the effects of Brexit will tip the balance for a few but not most of that group of people. The Union remains the safe option and a united Ireland contains potential toxicity that will continue to scare the uncommitted. The more SF owns the issue, the less likely those people are to see the issue as detoxified.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    On the contrary, I hope many of the Welsh read that. It’s just the sort of imperial attitude which is leading to a new Scottish referendum on independence. The Welsh are not ‘English’ – thats because they are ‘Welsh’ i.e. identify as Welsh, or speak Welsh, live in Wales – whats left of it. They can always join with Scotland and Ireland if they can’t make it on their own.

    The Empire must die.

  • Roger

    I didn’t write the history. Check it out. Wales was annexed to England centuries ago….Don’t think the imperial nasties established a Human Rights and Referendum Commission before the annexure either.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Annexed or not, it doesn’t make them ‘English’.

  • lizmcneill
  • John Collins

    I am not sure your you are right with that contention. William Hague said at the time of the Quenn’s visit in 2011, that the reason GB gave a loan to the ROI, at the the time of the financial crises, was that it was in his country’s interest that the Irish economy was in good heart. How much more is it in the ROIs interest that the British economy is going well.
    I would contend that it is in no countrys interest that its neighbours are struggling.

  • John Collins

    How often do you visit your GP?
    How often would draw their JSA?
    A carer in the South gets 230 Euro a week , he gets 89 Euro north of the border.
    An OAP couple in the South get over £6,0000 a year than their northern counterparts.
    It is not all clear cut on one side.

  • Roger

    did some one say it did?

  • North Down dup

    Your right about the governments, but I was talking about SF and there supporter’s

  • David Colhoun

    funny you think Louth is a wealthy part of the Republic, I’m guessing you cross the border around there. Its pretty grim IMO, but obviously more prosperous than nearly anywhere in NI.

  • Fear Éireannach

    The union offers continued sectarianism and being the poorest part of these islands (unless the poor Welsh end up worse). People will eventually aspire to more than this. The good thing about present events is that SF no longer own the issue.

  • Brendan Heading

    The problem is that it is very unlikely that brexit will work.

  • North Down dup

    That’s the problem brexit supporter’s think it’s likely it will work, I can say it’s very likely Ireland is going to go through hard times in Europe in the next few years.
    Only time will tell

  • Trasna

    How will the UK be more successful outside the EU than inside it? 33, soon to be 35, Commonwealth counties have access to the single market. The UK trades with them and will continue to have to abide by EU rules and regulations. For these 35 countries, which is more important, the UK or EU?

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    You’re claiming they belong in the ‘Kingdom of England’ – so, yes, you are saying that. However, it’s up to the Welsh to disagree with you, not really my problem.

  • North Down dup

    These 35 countries will beg the UK to buy their products, brilliant more poor eastern Europe countries wanting to be part of the eu, I feel sorry for the burden Ireland is going to have to help Germany and France bail out all the problems coming there way

  • Trasna

    Hmm, the UK will still be subject to EU rules and regulations. You think the UK is a more important than the EU. Methinks you didn’t know 35 countries of the commonwealth were part of the single market. Never mind, most of the Tory cabinet probably don’t know.

    Don’t worry about Ireland, worry about NI.

  • North Down dup

    What eu rules