EU Never Know: Customs Deal For Northern Ireland?

Susanne Norris considers the socio-political implications of the EU's plans to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union

12th March 2018
Image: Flickr

Earlier this week, Brussels issued a draft plan stating that it plans to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union. This plan has resulted in countless opinions on whether this is a good idea or not. What’s certain is, whatever the outcome, there will be issues arising surrounding trading, unity, and faith.

So, what are the EU proposing with this? By keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union, there would effectively still be free trade between both Northern and Southern Ireland. This is how trade has always worked between the two pre - Brexit, and more importantly, is how trade has worked in accordance with conditions set out in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This ensured peace between Northern and Southern Ireland, but also referenced the EU, meaning certain clauses in this agreement would potentially have to be re-negotiated. Moreover, if Northern Ireland were to stay in the customs union, this would effectively implement a ‘hard border’ between them and mainland UK. It would mean there would be customs tariffs and new border checks when Northern Ireland and mainland UK wanted to trade, despite Northern Ireland being a part of the UK.


There will be issues surrounding trading, unity and faith


There are of course, many different opinions on whether Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union is a good idea or not. For the economists amongst us, Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union makes little sense. After all, they are part of the UK, so the Brexit negotiations should apply to them fully. What’s more, implementing a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and mainland UK countries will only slow down trade processes and make trade more expensive.

However, socio-political problems could arise from not allowing Norther Ireland to remain in the customs union. I previously mentioned the agreements set up in the Good Friday peace accord and, whilst I’m not suggesting a ‘hard border’ between Northern and Southern Ireland would result in war again, there presumably would be a rise in tensions. Catholics in Northern Ireland may favour them remaining in the customs union as this pushes for a more unified Ireland, whilst Protestants may argue it is important they leave the customs union to prove they are indeed members of the UK. Whilst this will by no means be the case for all members of these certain religious groups, this is a worry many journalists and Brexit analysists have expressed.

I personally believe we need more time to see where negotiations take us before we make the choice as to whether Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union is a good idea or not. Currently, there is too little information, too many negotiations going on and too many emotive views to have a well-justified opinion on the matter.

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