The sociopolitical ramifications of Britain’s historic decision to leave the European Union on June 23, 2016, began soon after the verdict was announced, and have since evinced themselves in what now appears to be a divided nation. England and Wales have voted to leave the European Union, but Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar have overwhelmingly voted to remain.
Peter Moloney, a visiting professor of history at Boston College who studies modern international governance, explains that these dissimilar outcomes have established the central focus of political attention in Europe, and ergo represent “the first step in the disintegration of the UK as we have known it for over 400 years.”
In an article concerning the aftermath of Britain’s decision to resign membership from the European Union, Professor Moloney assesses the geopolitical conflicts that arise in securing and fortifying Northern Ireland’s borders subsequent to the nation’s departure from the EU.
Moloney asserts that one of the chief arguments for leaving the EU was that Britain should be able to exercise dominion over its own borders. Under EU regulations, the UK had to allow seemingly unlimited migration from Germany, Spain, Portugal, and other members of the European Union. To all intents and purposes, renegotiating immigration laws for migrants and securing Northern Ireland’s borders cause the reemergence of long-buried political dilemmas.
The Republic of Ireland’s more than 300-mile border is inadequately marked, and often crosses existing private properties. Additionally, small country roads and byways line the nooks of the entire region. Border regulations were more stringent in the 1970s, as violence between Protestants and Catholics known as “Troubles” proliferated. Creating a system of checkpoints to govern and reform a border that is already desirous of efficient navigability produces a logistical disaster that now looms over the Irish government, Moloney implies.
Moreover, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, decided between the British and Irish governments and most of the political parties in Northern Ireland about how Northern Ireland should be governed, established an ambiguous political hierarchy marked by compromise and the settlement of religious strife. In accordance with the terms of the agreement, the Protestants implicitly conceded that it was understandable for Catholics to pursue closer ties with Ireland, whilst the Catholics conceded that formal unification with Ireland was not likely. The unregulated flow of people and trade enabled by the European Union allowed Catholics to openly pursue those ties without having to subscribe to the condition of unification. Reforming the existing border and instituting stricter regulations are very likely to reignite these tensions.
“Setting up a border again brings back that ‘us-versus-them’ mentality and the echoes of confrontation that have broken down a lot in the past generation,” comments Moloney.
Moloney explains that since the 1970s, voters from Northern Ireland and Scotland have enjoyed limited autonomy, devolution of power, and a national parliament that exists within a reasonably flexible UK structure. This has resulted in a more equal partnership with London — a camaraderie that the European Union has helped to facilitate. As a result of the EU’s deliberate engagement with regional political parties, both Scottish and Northern Irish parties have bolstered their local profile while gaining legitimacy among the populace. This positive consequence of EU membership is now severely diminished due to Britain’s vote for departure.
Farmers in Northern Ireland will unfortunately lose EU [agricultural] subsidies following the Brexit vote. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, has supported farmers in Scotland and Ireland since 1973, Moloney explains. The responsibility to compensate Scotland and Northern Ireland will thus fall solely on the United Kingdom. Although the process of untangling Britain from the European Union will take up to two years, the UK must find a way to replace the money that Scotland and Northern Ireland would have received from the EU.
"[The UK has] earmarked that money for so many different projects," Moloney said. "[It’s] hard to believe there’s going to be enough money left for Northern Ireland or for Scotland.”
Interestingly, Moloney notes that although the Brexit vote registered the “rare achievement of uniting most Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland” to vote along the same lines, Scotland and Ireland’s ultimate failure to prevent the Brexit has made an unstable future for the now (dis)United Kingdom.