Brexit: What does it mean for Ireland?
Arlene reflects on an EU without Britain
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The upcoming referendum in the United Kingdom concerning a potential exit from the European Union is sure to become a defining moment in modern European history. Questions have been raised on both sides of the campaign, each questioning the potential impact a yes vote could have on not only the UK itself, but also on the EU and each of its member states. There is no doubt that if the decision is taken to leave, it would have a profound effect on Ireland. The changes would be not only economic as one might first think - Brexit would also alter the political and social interaction between us and our only neighbouring state.
Firstly, the economic challenges Ireland would face in the wake of a Brexit would be monumental, placing huge pressure on businesses, particularly those in the border counties trading mainly with Northern Ireland. The UK had been our main trading partner even before entering the EU alongside one another in 1973, and it continues to be such to this day, despite the increase in European and global trade. At present, 16% of our manufactured goods and 19% of our services are exported to the UK.
If the free trade policy of the EU was no longer to apply, it would have a devastating impact on the Irish economy. The repercussions would be greater for indigenous companies than for multinationals, as they have a far heavier reliance on trade across the Irish Sea. In fact, a study by Open Europe has shown that a Brexit could potentially leave a larger mark on Ireland than the UK itself if it were to go ahead, with a potential loss of GDP of between 1.1% and 3.1% by 2030. It would also be necessary for Ireland to input more money into the EU budgets if the UK were to no longer be available for funding.
Concerns have also been voiced about the possible negative consequences of a Brexit on the already fragile political situation in Northern Ireland. It has been argued that a strain would be placed on North-South relations, despite the many years of hard work on both sides to improve and maintain them following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The impact of a Brexit on border counties would also be damaging, especially if a Common Travel Area was not maintained. A mandatory introduction of border controls would not only create a physical barrier between the two countries, but also symbolise the re-emergence of a political one. It would also have ramifications for the average citizen, making it much more arduous to travel north for a day of shopping, due to increased border controls and an increase in traffic as a result.
Thus, given the importance of continuing to maintain a positive and stable relationship with Northern Ireland, and a desire to prevent a future weakening of the economy, the Irish government has expressly aimed to do all they can to prevent a Brexit. This includes backing the reforms which the UK is demanding to their membership in return for remaining in the Union.