One of the trickier issues that will have to be addressed is the question over the Irish land border. The Joint Negotiation report between the European Commission and UK Government in December 2017 includes a clear commitment to: (a) avoid a hard border across the island of Ireland; (b) the right for Northern Irish citizens to identify with being British, Irish or both; (c) and ensure continuous Northern Irish access to the UK market.
Introducing a hard border would contravene the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (or Belfast Agreement) that was put in place after a cessation of violence in the province. It was a hard-won solution to years of violence following protracted negotiations between leaders of the UK, the Republic of Ireland and divergent Northern Irish political parties.
A sober look at what is really meant by ‘no hard border’ suggests no goods checks, no customs barriers and payments and no barriers to the free movement of labour. The only way to respect this principle is if the UK were to decide to stay in a Customs Union and accept the free movement of labour, both of which the Prime Minister appears to have ruled out.
A further complication is that the current UK Government is dependent on the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for a working majority. The Unionists insist on being governed by British law and being an integral part of the UK. If the softest of Brexit deals can be negotiated then this contradictory mesh of ideals could be immaterial. If not, it has the potential to spark political crisis. Only time will tell.
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