Being a student from Northern Ireland (N.I.) and self-identifying as a Northern Irish Nationalist comes with it, several infuriating conversations. This is not directed to those who ask me questions like “What does Brexit mean for N.I.?” This is a question I often wonder myself but it is hard to answer when N.I.’s politicians have failed to provide us with a devolved government for two years.
The back and forth dealings between Theresa May and the EU could result in a no-win situation for N.I. This comes as no surprise as it’s hard for the nation to be invested in the only unattached part of the U.K. Being joined with the Conservative party you would think that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) were in prime position to represent the people of N.I. but this is too much to ask for if we consider our Equal-Marriage and Abortion laws (or lack of). Hence, it comes as no surprise that the DUP have changed their stance on the Northern Irish border several times. It began with ‘NO special treatment for N.I.’ and now just saying the words ‘hard border’ is sending them into a frenzy. I have to stop and laugh because if the DUP expressed such concerns over the issue at the time of Brexit, it never would have amounted to being the No.1 news story across the U.K.
The insurance policy ‘Brexit Backstop’ was proposed by the EU and the UK to avoid a hard border. However, the EU now uses the threat of a hard border as an insurance policy and this infuriates me not because of the economic factors but because we need to remind people of the history of N.I. The Good Friday A
greement (GFA) is a document that brought peace across N.I. after the Northern Irish troubles which allowed the people to identify as Irish, British or both. This condition was key in ending the N.I. troubles and bringing some form of stability across the island. However, this has been increasingly put under-pressure as the conversation of the hard border is now ‘too hot to handle’. What many people don’t realize, outside of N.I., is that EU membership for the UK and Ireland provided an essential context for the implementation of the 1998 GFA. Any implementation of a hard border compromise and significantly disrupts such an Agreement. If the Brexit backstop falls through it will not only affect the trade on the island but symbolically and psychologically represent a major step backwards in the peace process.
It’s hard to rationalize the behaviour of the politicians, such as Theresa May, who is using N.I. selfishly for political gain to ensure her survival. Re-opening the withdrawal agreement and demanding changes to the back-stop, that she so strongly defended for months, is too big of a gamble. It would be a grave mistake to backtrack on the backstop not just for Ireland but also for the rest of the U.K. To cast aside the people that will be most affected by Brexit (not to mention where the people who voted to REMAIN in the EU) is something that is hard to understand. Brexit will tear at the core of the GFA that enables the people of N.I.to identify as both British AND Irish. I can only have faith that if enough people understand and firmly express concern for what the repercussions of what a hard border will do for N.I, maybe then May and the EU will consider the delicacy that is and was the hard-fought GFA.