Parliament insists that Ireland’s unique circumstances, including the issue of peace in Northern Ireland, must be addressed in the Brexit negotiations.
There are about 275 land border crossings between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, compared to 137 crossings on the entirety of the EU’s eastern border from Finland to Greece. The United Kingdom’s vote in 2016 to leave the EU means that this 500 kilometres of border could soon become an external EU frontier. This is a key issue that must be addressed by the Brexit negotiations.
Mitigating the impact on Ireland
Immediately following the triggering of Article 50 in March 2017, Parliament expressed its concern at the consequences of Brexit on Ireland: North and South. MEPs also stressed the importance of preserving the Good Friday peace agreement which ended three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland and was approved by voters across the island in 1998.
Ireland is expected to be the member state most affected by the UK withdrawal from the European Union and Parliament has called for every effort to be made to mitigate the effects of Brexit on both parts of the island.
No hard border
In April as well as in a resolution adopted on 3 October, MEPs stressed that a hardening of the Irish border must be avoided. Following two decades of relative peace in Ireland, the watchtowers and army checkpoints of the past have been dismantled and tens of thousands of people now commute across the open border every day. With neither Ireland nor the UK being part of the Schengen zone, a common travel area operates between the two countries.
Patients from the Republic receive radiotherapy in Northern Ireland while sick children from Belfast travel to Dublin for heart surgery. Roughly one-third of the milk produced in Northern Ireland is processed in the Republic while 40% of chicken produced in the south is processed north of the border.
Guinness is famously brewed in Dublin but it crosses the border to be bottled and canned before returning south for export. A single electricity market operates across the entire island. Since the Good Friday agreement of 1998, one tourism body markets both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“We will never allow Ireland to suffer”
Addressing members of the Irish parliament in Dublin on 21 September, Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said: “This border created chaos, hate and violence. So to reduce it to a line on a map was a crucial achievement.” He added: “We will never allow Ireland to suffer from the British decision to leave the EU.”
All people born in Northern Ireland are entitled to Irish, and thus EU, citizenship. In the resolution adopted on 3 October, MEPs stressed that “no obstacles or impediments” should prevent people in Northern Ireland from fully exercising their rights to EU citizenship. Parliament also underlined that a “unique” solution will be required to prevent a hardening of the border.
The EU has stated it wants to see significant progress on three specific issues before it starts discussions on the future relationship: namely citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and Ireland. In a resolution adopted on 3 October, MEPs said such progress had not been made. Any withdrawal agreement at the end of the UK-EU negotiations will need the approval of the European Parliament before it can enter into force.