The border dividing Northern Ireland from the South has been a problem for years. If it now becomes a land frontier between the UK and the EU, old sores will open up.by Ruth Dudley Edwards / November 16, 2016 / Leave a comment
After the Brexit vote on 23rd June, some Irish nationalists had a rush of blood to the head. The border that was seared through the island of Ireland nearly a century ago was finally going to dissolve. After the Northern Irish electorate had voted 56 per cent to “Remain” in the European Union, they fancied, it had become inevitable that the province would gravitate towards the pro-EU Irish Republic and away from the Brexit-voting English.
But then came the reality. Polls still showed that 63 per cent of the Northern Irish electorate would vote to remain in the UK. Then there is the small matter of EU members such as Spain, which have their own secessionist movements and are terrified of setting a precedent. Last but not least, there is the money: Northern Ireland depends on financial support from London, and it is unlikely the EU would be so generous. The days are gone when Irish republicans could earnestly put forward an economic policy which their constitutional nationalist critics had always ridiculed as: “Fuck off, and leave your wallet on the mantelpiece.”
So the border will remain—but it will change. The principal reason is that the 310-mile boundary with the Irish Republic is also the UK’s only land border and after Brexit, it will become its only land frontier with the EU. The history of this boundary being asked to do extra work has rarely been happy, and there are real anxieties again: John Kerry, the United States Secretary of State, visited Ireland in October and insisted that Brexit should not be allowed to damage the push for peace in Northern Ireland.
The border has always been a source of tension and crime, as well as a symbol of territorial division. Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, there has been a happy mix of relative peace, easy travel and tariff-free trade. Brexit could…