Political Corner: Irish border negotiations need to be handled more delicately than Brexit was

The fraught history between the UK and Ireland makes leaving the EU more complicated than simply rewriting trade deals

The Irish border issue is older than Johnson’s petty politics. Photo Illustration: Brianna Quan/The Peak

By: Kelly Grounds, Peak Associate

Three years and two prime ministers later, the United Kingdom successfully left the European Union on January 31. The rest of the year is going to be filled with UK-EU free trade talks. These talks are going to determine the future of the UK’s relationship with the Union and are taking place against the backdrop of the UK’s transition period out of the EU.

The goal of the talks will be to negotiate a free trade deal to protect the UK’s economy once they finally leave the EU. At the same time, there are also going to be additional discussions taking place between the UK and various other world countries, since the UK will no longer be included under blanket EU agreements.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has added an extra layer of complexity to the talks. He removed the clause previously negotiated by Theresa May that would have helped solve the border issue between the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Following The Troubles — a period of ethno-nationalist violence in Northern Ireland in the late 19th century — the two countries struck an agreement that ensured the border between them would be open and allow for easy movement. 

Without the benefit of the open borders characterizing the EU, the UK now has to find a way to create a more substantial border between the two Irelands. This is an issue with no clear answer, having caused numerous problems since Brexit began. The popular fear is that if the UK cannot negotiate a deal by the end of the year, old tensions will be reignited on the Irish border, leading to renewed violence.

Even if all talks go perfectly, the timetable will still be tight. The UK has less than 11 months to meet all of its goals and find solutions to extremely complex problems. This job would be nearly impossible even without the added complexity of Ireland. The UK would most likely get an extension if they asked yet the prime minister has refused to consider it. Essentially, Prime Minister Johnson has chosen to put a political win ahead of finding a workable solution to a complex issue, and the consequences of this may not be fully understood for months. Simply put, they need more time.