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The Irish Border: A Northern Perspective

Growing up in Northern Ireland in the constituency of South Down, I have always been frustrated by the way politics has been conducted. But I was disgusted to see Arlene Foster open the door to the Good Friday Agreement being sacrificed for Brexit, saying that it was not “sacrosanct”. Over 3,600 people died in the North of Ireland over the course of 30 years in a period known as The Troubles. But in 1998, the SDLP/UUP top brass finally decided to come together, along with Tony Blair, Mo Mowlam, Bill Clinton and many others to start the painstaking process of bringing about peace in Northern Ireland. These negotiations were far more complex than Brexit ever will be, and we managed to get there. They ensured that my generation and the generations that follow will never experience what our parents did.

I want to try and illustrate the dangers that now face the North. Our First Minister appears to be willing to run the risk of violence starting again just to be closer to the Union. Instead of insisting there can’t be a hard border in Ireland, she is insisting there can’t be a border in the Irish Sea, despite the border that means gay people can’t get married and women can’t get abortions. Meanwhile, the inept Tory government still can’t seem to get a handle on the situation in NI. This all makes for frightening times ahead and is cause for great concern.

I watched the Channel 4 news when Stanley Johnson claimed, “There’s never been a hard border in Ireland” and that “There are plenty of countries in the EU where one country is in the EU and another country is not in the EU, and they don’t shoot each other. So why we can think that Ireland’s going to be such a disaster, I don’t know”. I was disappointed to see this, but not at all surprised. Within the Tory party there is a monumental lack of understanding towards the Northern Irish issue. Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for NI, admitted she was profoundly ignorant towards the politics of the North, and that she was “slightly scared of the place” before taking office. This begs the question, why was she appointed to that ministerial post in the first place and perhaps more importantly, how can we trust this self-proclaimed ignorant MP to deliver a Brexit that is in the best interests of Northern Irish citizens?

The answer is that we can’t. And we need to prepare for a hard border once again. The Good Friday Agreement would be finished and that is terrifying. If a Johnsonian Brexit was implemented, it would mean Northern Ireland would become more divided as economic border checks would become part of their daily lives. What Rees-Mogg would like is to have people checked at the Irish border, carrying out inspections “just like during the troubles”. What these senior Tories fail to grasp is that people who consider themselves Irish in the North don’t like having bags or cases rummaged through in order to pass into what they consider the same country. There can be no doubt, that if this hard border is implemented, the Dissident Republicans that were banished with the GFA will emerge from the gutter once again, polarising a nation that has come so far.

The economic effects it will have will also be disastrous. It was no secret that NI’s economy was going to take a huge hit post-Brexit, something Teresa Villiers failed to recognise when she was banging the Brexiteer drum, but the impacts a hard border will have on business owners will be devastating. The Agri-Food sector, which is the most integrated industry on the isle of Ireland, will be damaged due to a common external tariff. The economy is heavily integrated with Ireland’s, the EU’s and the UK too. A hard border will only harm it.

It will also give way to an eventual Border Poll. When that day comes, moderate Nationalists who were once perfectly happy accepting that they were in the UK whilst maintaining their own Irish identity will choose to be part of the EU, not the UK. Moderate Unionists will begin to waver on their loyalties to the Union and could vote accordingly. In any case, the vote will be close and could easily result in the breaking up of the UK.