Henry Farrell Explores Brexit's Effect on Ireland for Foreign Affairs

Andrew Young — July 07, 2016

For Foreign Affairs, Network member and George Washington University associate professor of political scientist Henry Farrell examined how the Brexit fallout will impact Ireland. From geopolitical to economic to cultural issues, the United Kingdom’s move away from the European Union is likely to create a number of challenges and decision points for the Irish government. Farrell notes that if Ireland wishes to “maintain good ties with the EU—and all indications suggest that it does—it will have to disentangle itself from the United Kingdom.”

One area of likely impact involves border control between Ireland and Northern Ireland:

“In the future, border controls will have to be tougher. This may be a tall order: the British government will have a hard time maintaining control in the so-called bandit country of South Armagh, for example, where Irish nationalists have traditionally despised its presence. Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, has already started to argue that there should be no border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of its campaign for a united island. These pressures may destabilize the uncertain peace between nationalists, who are mostly Roman Catholic and want Northern Ireland to join Ireland, and unionists, who are mostly Protestant and want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Radical republicans, who have never been reconciled to peace, may turn again to large-scale violence.”

Farrell argues that mixed with many likely negative impacts, Brexit may create some new opportunities for Ireland:

“Of course, the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU may also create opportunities for Ireland. London’s financial sector is aghast at Brexit, since it may mean that British firms will no longer be allowed to use “financial passports” to export financial services to EU customers. This may lead some companies to relocate their activities to Dublin, which is English-speaking, has well-educated workers, and already has a significant financial services sector. However, the Irish government will have to invest in better transportation and communications infrastructure and build new housing in Dublin if it is to make a strong bid for new business. This may be difficult in uncertain economic conditions.”

Farrell concludes with a description of one possible way forward for Ireland to navigate the Brexit fallout:

“For now, Ireland can try to square its two objectives—staying committed to Europe while maintaining strong ties with its most important neighbor—by influencing the exit deal the EU strikes with the United Kingdom. Although Ireland’s voting strength is limited by its size, it may be able to play a valuable intermediary role. The United Kingdom will be eager to have a friend on the other side of the bargaining table. Ireland can informally represent the British position to Europe and vice versa. This will, in turn, allow it to advocate for its own interests. Ireland will likely want a deal that is favorable to the United Kingdom on trade issues, but that limits the consequences for the free movement of people of British anti-immigrant sentiment.”

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