The Island of Ireland and Brexit I: Understanding a Lasting Impact on Politics
The island arguably most affected by the outworkings of Brexit is the island of Ireland. With so much of the discussions around Brexit in the media focusing on the Westminster parliamentary arena and ongoing divisions and jockeying within the political parties (including the DUP), it is easy to overlook Brexit's impact on Ireland and its impact for the wqider process of European integration. Indeed, while Brexit may indeed change the constitutional land the political dynamics across Great Britain, it also raises fundamental questions about the nature of the UK in relation to Northern Ireland and crucially its meaning for the European Parliament. . This panel looks at four key issues: The first identifies and strategies and approach of Sinn Fein, Northern Ireland's second largest party, to the Brexit debate and implications for the unification of Ireland; the second explores the sensitivities of the backstop arrangement, its rational and and its significance for European integration; the third looks at the political constitution for Northern Ireland and its compatibility with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the fourth explores the really intriguing case of how Brexit issued has played out in the EP's political groups with special reference to Ireland.
Presentations of the Symposium
The Impact of the Brexit Debate on the 2019 European Parliament Elections, in Ireland and in other EU Member States
The paper would aim to look at the extent to which Brexit is raised in the Spitzenkandidat debates, and in the programmes of the European political parties and groups, of the national parties and of individual candidates. How many parties or candidates will advocate their own country's exit from the EU? To what extent will it be brought up by the national populist parties as illustrating the need for an EU change of direction? Will the more pro-European political families call for a rekindling of the EU spirit, or else react more defensively to the Brexit challenge or even try to ignore it?
The paper will also look more specifically at the election campaign in Ireland : Irish EP election campaigns are typically much more focused on the merits of individual candidates than on EU policy questions. Will it be different this time in the light of the importance of Brexit for Ireland, of the possible consequences for Ireland's stance within the EU and of the possible impacts on the campaign of the new situation of Northern Ireland?
Brexit and the Political Constitution of Northern Ireland
Historically, the position of Northern Ireland has been a minor subplot in most accounts of the constitutional development of the United Kingdom. However, in the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union – ‘Brexit’ – the unique political and constitutional status of Northern Ireland has played a starring role. Selected as one of the three issues to be dealt with in the first phase of UK-EU negotiations, post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland proved the most difficult for negotiating parties to reach agreement and the provisions made via the Irish/Northern Irish Protocol contained in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement have been the most politically contentious aspect during the domestic ratification process.
The unprecedented level of attention by those outside Northern Ireland’s borders, because of Brexit, is arguably more significant given the lack of a Northern Irish Executive and strategic position of the Democratic Unionist Party supporting the Conservative government in Westminster. Meaning, despite playing a central role in the constitutional maelstrom wrought by Brexit, the presence of a democratically representative, unified Northern Irish voice, is deafening by its absence.
Recognising the historically exceptional position of Northern Ireland as a linchpin in a period of constitutional flux for the UK as a whole, based on analysis of legal and political texts and interviews with individuals involved in the process, this paper presents a politico-linguistic analysis of the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland’s unique political constitution.
Brexit and Backstops and Differentiated Integration – The Position of Northern Ireland
The UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement commits the UK and the EU to avoiding a hard border on the island and Ireland and protect in all its dimensions the 1998 Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement. A dedicated Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland sets out how this can be achieved in the absence of adequate arrangements being negotiated as part of the future UK-EU relationship. It contains so-called ‘backstop’ provisions which, if implemented, will involve Northern Ireland in EU-based customs and regulatory regimes that will, or will have the potential to, differ from those operating in the rest of the UK. They will also establish a unique position for Northern Ireland, as a sub-national entity of a non-member state, in the external relations of the EU. The paper examines the terms of the Protocol, their origins and their implications for understanding the scope for, rationales underpinning, and dynamics within EU debates on differentiated integration. It argues that owing to the unique political circumstances leading to the adoption of the protocol and Northern Ireland’s geographical location and constitutional status, the arrangements are likely to remain unique.
An Bhfuil ár lá Tagtha? Sinn Féin, Special Status and the Politics of Brexit
Based in part on interviews with senior party members, this paper will interrogate the role of Sinn Féin in Brexit’s complex and vexatious political theatre. It will map and dissect the impact of Brexit on Sinn Féin’s relationship with its former coalition partner – the DUP – the UK and Irish governments, and vice versa. In particular, we will examine Sinn Féin’s proposals for ‘Special Designated Status’ for the North of Ireland after Brexit. We will ask whether and how these proposals serve to undermine the integrity of the Union, and the extent to which they are intended to do so. We will also investigate the tensions and potential contradictions between the party’s demands for a Brexit which maintains and protects the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions, North-South integration and the all-island economy, and a soft border on the Island of Ireland, and evidence which suggests that a hard Brexit (and particularly a hard border) represent the best chance in a generation of achieving a united Ireland. Thus, we aim to offer some conclusions as to the potential long-term impact of Brexit on the Irish Republican project and on the question of Irish Unity.