Why Northern Ireland plays a key role in Brexit

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By Gastredacteur

Written by: Sjors Lockhorst

One of the main reasons that Theresa May was unable to deliver Brexit, was that the House of Commons could not agree on the policy regarding the only border between the United Kingdom and the European Union on land: the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Now newly elected prime minister Boris Johnson promised to deliver Brexit even if there is a no deal by the 31st of October. Many people wonder what implications this might have for the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland. These consequences might be more disastrous than one might think.

The root of the problem of the physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland lie in history. For a long period of time, the entire island of Ireland was ruled by the British. They introduced their language and culture in Ireland, a culture vastly different than the Irish culture and language. Over the course of history, the Irish rebelled against British rule many times, with little success. But everything changed with the Irish War of Independence. This resulted in a treaty between the UK and Ireland. The south part of Ireland would eventually become independent, the northern part would remain part of the United Kingdom. This was mainly because many people in Northern Ireland identified themselves as British and protestant, and people in the rest of Ireland identified themselves more as Irish and catholic. This created the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as we know it today. 

Division in Northern Ireland
The border was, however, not a completely clean cut. While the majority of Northern Ireland wished to remain under British rule, there still is a community that would rather see Northern Ireland join the independent republic in the south of the island. The movement that strives for one Irish republic are known as Irish republicans or Irish nationalists. This view is strongly opposed by those who wish to remain a part of the UK. These people are called loyalists or unionists. The majority of the people supporting these views are protestants.

This split in society would later cause the civil war that is commonly known as ‘The Troubles’. It was fought between the British army and paramilitary forces from both Catholic Irish republicans (provisional Irish Republican Army or IRA) and protestant British loyalists (Ulster Volunteer Force or UVF). During this war, people of both communities fought against each other with bombs and bullets. This only enlarged the division in society. They did not go to the same shops, their children did not go to the same schools, they did not drink at the same bars. This created above all a very complicated media landscape. The protestants read a protestant newspaper, and the catholics read their own. The separation resulted in an echo chamber for ideas and views that were already held. This would only excelerate hate and misunderstanding between the communities and keep them further apart. 

The Good Friday Agreement
This war waged on from the late 1960s to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This agreement stated that Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK, but that people could decide for themselves whether they wanted to be Irish, British or both. This means that Irish Republicans can have both British and Irish passports. It also stated that in the future, Northern Ireland could vote to join the republic of Ireland. This agreement has kept the peace for over 20 years and is widely considered a success, as it gave both parties what it wanted and brought an end to the conflict. 

A hard border might respark violence in Northern Ireland

The problem that exists now is that if there is a no-deal Brexit by the 31st of October, there is a possibility of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the UK and will therefore also leave the European Union, even though it voted largely for remain (56%). For a lot of nationalists, being cut off from the rest of Ireland is a no go. It makes it harder for them to get into and out of the country, but maybe even more importantly, a hard border makes their aspirations for a united Ireland seem farther away than ever. Some say that a hard border might even respark violence in Northern Ireland.

Cover: Sjors Lockhorst

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