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Brexit and Europe Brexit and Europe

Seek to ensure Northern Ireland’s interests are protected after Brexit

Last updated: 02:09pm 14 October 2019

As we leave the European Union we recognise Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances and will seek to ensure that Northern Ireland’s interests are protected.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.34

Our verdict

This is a promise to consider Northern Ireland’s “unique circumstances” and ensure the interests of the country are “protected”. But what does that mean?

Northern Ireland voted by a margin of 56 to 44 per cent to remain a member of the European Union. But this fact hides significant differences in opinion about what is in the best interests of Northern Ireland. Some 88% of ‘nationalist’ voters supported remain, but only 34% of those who self-identify as ‘unionists’ did so. However, there are three areas where there is relative unity as to the best Brexit direction for Northern Ireland:

  1. Restoring power sharing in the devolved assembly at Stormont
  2. Protecting the Northern Irish economy, and
  3. Avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

We turned to the research project UK in a Changing Europe for a better understanding of these issues:

Discussions over power sharing have not developed since the general election. Indeed, the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party has led many to question the UK government’s ability to act as an ‘honest broker’ in such talks. However, by accident rather than design, the result of the Conservative-DUP agreement has meant an injection of £1 billion of funds from central government into Northern Ireland.

Nevertheless, Northern Ireland is forecast at present to be one of the areas of the UK most adversely affected by Brexit economically: under different circumstances and deals, the Northern Irish economy is set to dip – under the government’s own estimates, by 8% if the government’s preferred ‘trade deal scenario’ is achieved. The lack of resolution of how the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will function increases both political and economic uncertainty. This uncertainty over the political settlement and the all-Ireland economy makes it difficult to argue that, at present, the government has ensured that the shared cross-community aims in Northern Ireland’s will be protected.

Clearly this policy is tied to the outcome of Brexit, and there are many potential outcomes at the moment. The deal has been rejected by Parliament, and the issue of the Irish border backstop was a huge sticking point for many, not least the DUP. So currently we have no deal. That means we’ll either leave the EU on October 31st with a new deal, or an extension will be requested to give more time to consider our options.

With much work still to do, this policy is ‘in progress’. To get updates when they happen, follow this policy.

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