As the first anniversary of the referendum approaches, Eimear Dodd asks what Brexit means for Ireland and its young people.
It’s been almost a year since the United Kingdom voted narrowly in favour of leaving the European Union. That decision will have an impact on everyone’s lives and may shape the lives of young Irish people.
The formal two year period of negotiations started on 29 March 2017 when Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was triggered. Without an extension agreed by all member states, the UK will leave on 30 March 2019.
Preliminary negotiations between the EU and UK are scheduled to begin on 19 June. The timeframe is incredibly tight. The final agreement needs to be approved by the 27 EU states and the European parliament within this time period. These complex talks will cover a diverse range of topics including security, trade, pet passports, air traffic controls and scientific research.
Much about Brexit remains very unclear. The UK has revealed few details about its priorities though immigration and trade are likely to be key concerns.
The aims of the EU are clearer. It wants to protect its own interests and those of the remaining 27 member states. While it has reason to take a tough stance to minimise future withdrawals from the union, the EU has adopted rules around transparency and public access to encourage public scrutiny. Its negotiating priorities are the status of EU citizens living in the UK, the financial settlement of the UK’s existing obligations and Ireland.
The Irish government has also outlined its separate priorities. In May, it published its own approach to the Brexit negotiations. The 70 page document outlined priorities which include “minimising the impact on trade and the economy, protecting the Northern Ireland peace process [and] maintaining the Common Travel Area (CTA).” Ireland- along with the other 26 remaining member states- will be represented during the negotiations by the EU.
What does Brexit mean for Ireland?
In terms of the economy, the potential for damage is enormous. Agriculture and tourism are two areas likely to be hit hard. For the first three months of 2017, Irish imports to the UK were worth over three billion euro, according to CSO figures. Currency fluctuations and inflation within the UK could also hit the value of Irish imports and exports. Uncertainty causes further problems, as decisions are delayed until there is more concrete information.
After Brexit, Ireland will have the EU’s only land border with the UK. As an international frontier, this may mean re-imposing some type of custom and border controls. The Irish government would prefer to maintain the invisible border that many have become used to. Most young Irish people have no experience of a check point when travelling to Northern Ireland. However, it’s unclear how this might work. This also raises concerns about Northern Ireland and the sustainability of the Good Friday Agreement after Brexit.
What are the likely outcomes?
There’s several possible scenarios. The UK could withdraw from all EU treaties. A hard Brexit of this type could be very damaging for Ireland. Tariffs would be imposed on imports and exports. There would also be custom checks and controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
In the second scenario, the UK would leave the EU but remain part of the single market similar to Norway. From an Irish perspective, a soft Brexit is probably the best case scenario.
The third possibility is the ‘cliff edge’. If agreement isn’t reached by March 2019 and no transition arrangements are put in place, the World Trade Organisation rules would apply. This would see the imposition of higher tariffs and custom checks that restrict market access. This is a worst case scenario from the Irish perspective.
At this stage, no one knows exactly how Brexit will turn out. Any option will bring some degree of pain for Ireland. In May, the IMF warned that the medium term effects of Brexit on the country are likely to be “negative and significant”.
However, Brexit could also be an opportunity for Ireland. Some see as a chance to redefine the country by investing in infrastructure, education and other services to re-invigorate communities.
For businesses, Brexit might be a catalyst to look at markets beyond the UK. For example, Enterprise Ireland is helping small and medium sized businesses to diversify into European markets as a means of reducing the disruption from Brexit.
Many young Irish people travel to the UK to live, work and study. If you’ve recently graduated and are planning to move, nothing’s changed yet. But, the situation may be different for those who graduate in the coming years.
March 2019 may seem a long way off. Unfortunately, it’s not. To borrow a cliché, Ireland has to hope for the best while preparing for the worst.