Newswise — Academic experts from Queen’s University Belfast are presenting a report in Brussels today (Tuesday 28 November) which has found that Brexit poses deep risks for the 1998 Agreement that is the foundation of the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The report, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, provides an overview of the Agreement and an assessment of the challenges posed to its implementation by ‘Brexit’. In addition, it examines ways in which – through differentiation and ‘flexible and imaginative solutions’ – the Agreement can be upheld and the context for its effective implementation maintained.
The report was co-authored by Professor David Phinnemore, Professor of European Politics from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics and Dr Katy Hayward, Reader in Sociology from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s, who are among a group of leading academics from the University working on the subject of Brexit, its potential impact on the island of Ireland, and how the challenges might be addressed.
“This substantial report identifies the challenges that Brexit poses for the Good Friday Agreement and hence why the Northern Ireland/Ireland dimension to Brexit has gained such prominence in Phase one of the UK’s withdrawal negotiations,” Professor Phinnemore noted. “The effects of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU extend to so much more than customs and trade arrangements.”
The study emphasises the importance of the UK-Ireland relationship for the Agreement and that this was premised on the assumption of common policies and interests across a wide range of areas only growing over time. Many such policy areas are currently underpinned and shaped by shared membership of the EU. Brexit potentially means wide-ranging divergence between the UK and Ireland in law, trade, security, rights, policies and politics, thus putting the Agreement at risk of deep fissures.
“Any ‘hardening’ of the Irish border is not just a practical impediment to cooperation and economic growth but also an obstruction to the effective implementation of the Agreement,” said Dr Hayward.
Dr Hayward warned that the danger posed by Brexit to the Agreement arises as much from the way the debate is being currently handled as in the potential terms of withdrawal itself: “The disagreements regarding the implications of Brexit for Northern Ireland recently aired in the media show that the biggest challenge here is not a technical one but keeping political focus on the real needs and interests of the people of Northern Ireland.”
She added, “The constitutional status of Northern Ireland is not in dispute here, but its economic welfare and security is most certainly in jeopardy if politicians continue to frame the discussion as an either/or choice between Ireland and the UK.”
The study notes that all main political parties in Northern Ireland have requested that the specific needs of Northern Ireland be addressed in the withdrawal process and the authors are clear that there are several workable ‘solutions’ to the dilemma posed.
The Agreement itself created conditions that enable multilevel governance, sectoral-specific and territorially-differentiated arrangements within the UK as well as across the island of Ireland. The language, principles and models for navigating the challenges of Brexit are already present in the Agreement and its successors, to which all main political parties in Northern Ireland are signatories.
Professor Phinnemore stressed the urgency of the matter: “Brexit is a complex, multi-faceted process. And major concerns exist regarding its implications for Northern Ireland, especially for the border and the Good Friday Agreement. The challenges are being acknowledged and the eyes of EU and UK negotiators are increasingly focused on Northern Ireland. Given the commitment of both sides to addressing the ‘unique circumstances on the island of Ireland’, there is no reason to doubt that the challenges can be addressed.” He cautioned, “But any solution will depend on compromise and flexibility on all sides. After all, this is the nature of any negotiated arrangement.”
The report, ‘UK Withdrawal (‘Brexit’) and the Good Friday Agreement’, is available to view/download from the European Parliament website: