No-deal Brexit could mean uncertainty for Northern Ireland, Ireland

A no-deal Brexit could mean a lot of uncertainty for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland. If the United Kingdom quits the European Union, it could cause serious economic problems and more violence to two countries that have been down this road before. Keeping the Good Friday Agreement intact is a start to keeping peace between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. If not, there could be a hard border between the two countries, which has never been done before. 

“Although Northern Ireland was rarely discussed during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, the challenge of addressing the region’s unique status has become the biggest obstacle to finalizing the U.K. withdrawal from the European Union,” said Amanda Sloat of Brookings Institution said during her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Oct. 22.

The Good Friday Agreement was a political development that was created and signed on April 10, 1998 with the intention of finding peace between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. 

Conflict was created because the loyalists of Northern Ireland, who were mostly Protestants, wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Most of these loyalists were against a united Ireland. The Catholics of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland wanted the opposite, instead favoring the North to be separate from the U.K in order to form a united Ireland. 

Over 3,500 people lost their lives during this time period. One of the biggest violent acts that were made was a car bombing in Omagh, County Tyrone Northern Ireland on Aug. 15, 1998. This was only four months after the Good Friday Agreement was put into place. Twenty-nine people lost their lives, and over 200 others were injured. This was the single most deadly act during the Troubles of Northern Ireland. 

Since then, The Good Friday Agreement has brought peace to the Emerald Isle. 

The Irish backstop was put into effect in 2017 to prevent a hard border with customs between Northern Ireland and Ireland. There are no hard borders and travelers are able to cross easily between the two countries.

“Businesses took advantage of the basically invisible border that the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement fostered to grow their businesses, find new markets, or open new companies,” said Mary McCain, director of Irish studies at DePaul. “Any kind of hindrance to their current practices, with tariffs or customs checks, for example, is likely to create problems both big and small for trade in both parts of Ireland.”

A majority of Ireland is run on agriculture. Having the ability to drive through Northern Ireland and Ireland without any problems makes lives for the Irish people that much easier.

“A no deal Brexit could be devastating for me and my future,” John Baldrick, a cattle farmer in County Donegal, Ireland said. “I do business with many other farmers in the North and have built great relationships with them. If a hard border is put into place, not only will it make my job and life much more difficult, but it could also cause more violent acts between the two countries, and right now that is the last thing we need here.”

At the October hearing, Sloat noted that agriculture “comprises 35 percent of the region’s exports, with nearly a quarter of exports going to Ireland versus less than 2 percent moving the other direction.

She said that a no-deal Brexit could result in “the projected loss of 40,000 jobs and an estimated decline in exports to Ireland of 11 percent to 19 percent.”

A hit to the economies of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the U.K. would also have an effect on the U.S. as well.

“The U.S. has played a crucial and beneficial role in building and maintaining peace in Northern Ireland,” said Henry Farrell, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University during the committee hearing.

DePaul University’s McCain said it’s no surprise that Congress held a meeting on the effects of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The people of both parts of Ireland have expressed their gratitude to the U.S. many times, and I think many leaders and others in the U.S. remain interested in Northern Ireland in part because it’s a success story — not a perfect one, but a success story nonetheless — about a region torn by 30 years of violence that’s now enjoying a peace process, constructed by its own citizens, that Brexit could weaken,” she said.