Brexit has had a significant impact on discussions around the possible reunification of Ireland, influencing the issue in several key ways. Let’s chase down what that looks like here.
- Hardening of Border Concerns: One of the major concerns of Brexit was the potential for the re-establishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which would be a setback to the progress made since the Good Friday Agreement. The avoidance of a hard border is central to maintaining the peace process.
- Northern Ireland Protocol: This protocol, part of the Brexit agreement, effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, creating a de facto regulatory border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. This arrangement has led to political tensions within Northern Ireland and has reignited discussions about its constitutional status.
- Change in Public Opinion: Brexit, which was largely opposed in Northern Ireland, has shifted some public opinion in favour of reunification. The fact that Northern Ireland was removed from the EU against the majority will of its voters has led to increased support for unification, especially among those who see EU membership as beneficial.
- Economic Considerations: Brexit has resulted in economic challenges and trade barriers, affecting Northern Ireland’s economy. Some argue that reunification could mitigate these issues by re-aligning Northern Ireland economically with the EU through the Republic of Ireland.
- Political Dynamics in the Republic of Ireland: In the Republic, Brexit has intensified discussions about the practicalities and desirability of reunification. The Irish government has had to consider the economic, social, and political implications of a potential reunification more seriously in the wake of Brexit.
- International Attention and EU Support: Brexit has increased international attention on Ireland’s situation, with some European figures expressing support for Irish reunification in the context of EU membership. This has raised the profile of the reunification issue on the international stage.
- Catalyst for New Discussions: Brexit has acted as a catalyst for new discussions and research into how reunification might work, what challenges it would present, and how it could potentially be managed.
In conclusion, Brexit has brought the issue of Irish reunification into sharper focus, altering political, economic, and social dynamics in both parts of Ireland and potentially accelerating the timeline for serious consideration of reunification.