For over two hundred years, the ‘Irish Question’ has dominated British politics. Between Westminster eliminating the Irish parliament and establishing full control in 1800 to the Good Friday agreement in 1998, there’s been almost constant strife. The Troubles rocked all of the British Isles and when the aforementioned Good Friday agreement was signed, allowing a more peaceful situation to continue, there was a collective sigh of relief.
Part of the reason it works so well is that both countries are part of the EU, so there’s an open border. It means there’s no physical separation between the two parts of Ireland. An Irish person in Donegal could drive to Derry the same way they can drive to Galway. The ‘border’ literally runs through town; people commute between the two countries for work every day.
What’s unfortunate is this will be very difficult to continue once Great Britain and Northern Ireland leave the EU. There is no possible answer to have both Brexit occur and maintain peace in Ireland. Theresa May’s option was the ‘backstop’, having the UK in a single customs territory with the EU, and then allowing just Northern Ireland to keep additional EU rules to keep an open border with Ireland. This would retain peace, but it also means there would be a backdoor to post-Brexit Britain.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is specifically against anything that would make Northern Ireland different to other parts of the UK. Since they’re the reason the Tories are in power, it’s pretty clear a backstop won’t happen. This means that the only possibility is the UK leaving, and the hard border returning, which may not lead to a full-on militarised border, but would cause significant issues. Worst case scenario, we could see a return to the Troubles. Interestingly, although police haven’t yet confirmed any Irish links, the explosive packages found across London last week did have Irish stamps.
The only way to guarantee maintaining peace in Ireland is to stop Brexit. Do you think breaking free from the EU is worth returning to a country plagued by violence? Where people are afraid of commuting to work because there’s a risk a bomb could be planted on their train, or where soldiers kill unarmed Irish civilians on the street? Call me ridiculous, but I don’t think sovereignty is enough of a reason for Bloody Sunday or the Guildford Pub Bombings to occur again. I really hope Westminster doesn’t either.