By Anna Dutton
Ireland’s government has confirmed that discussions have begun with Britain to try to reach an agreement on how to secure the two countries’ borders after Brexit, control immigration and counter terrorist threats.
Post-Brexit talks with European leaders have hinted that free movement will continue as a condition of trading within the single market. It is also believed that influence over immigration laws and border controls are likely to devolve to Northern Ireland, as they voted 54% in favour of remaining.
This could leave the Leave campaign red-faced because it is ultimately taking immigration powers from Westminster and handing them to Ireland. Therefore undermining their ‘take back our borders’ argument in the run up to the referendum.
The reason that the British government is seeking to shift the frontline of immigration controls to Ireland’s ports and airports is to avoid having to introduce a “hard-border” between north and south after the UK leaves the European Union.
The Northern Ireland secretary, James Brokenshire, has suggested that London and Dublin will work to strengthen Ireland’s external borders to combat illegal migration into the UK once it leaves the European Union.
It is not in the interests of anybody to create a ‘hard border’ because the current open border has thus far allowed for free movement of people, capital and trade. If the open border is lost it will reflect badly on Westminster, creating an atmosphere of hostility between the Prime Minister and the Northern Irish Assembly, as well as affecting those in the Republic of Ireland.
It is also possible that a “hard-border” may weaken the economic and trading advantages between the two countries, fragmenting relations further. The government has tried to reassure those doubting Northern Ireland’s positon after Brexit by reinforcing Westminster’s commitment to working with the National Assembly. Despite this, questions surrounding industry and business are still unanswered and therefore concerning for MP’s and citizens alike.
If there was a stricter border system, it could undermine the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that stressed the commitment to cross-border communication and free movement. If this agreement was to be breached, there could be severe repercussions and further protest in Ireland against its Government.
By triggering Article 50 and beginning the process of leaving the EU, there will inevitably be short-term consequences for the UK and subsequently for Ireland; many commentators believe the best way to minimise these risks would be to avoid a “hard-Brexit”.