brexit Northern ireland


Whilst Westminster continues discussions with the EU around fishing protocols, not far away across the Irish sea, residents living in border towns and cities have bigger fish to fry.

During the Brexit campaign in 2016, Theresa May, when asked about the Irish border said – “How could you have a situation where there was an open border with a country that was in the EU and had access to free movement”. And thus, four years later the UK and EU are no closer to solving that predicament.

Whilst the Common Travel Area (CTA) that predates membership to the EU protects the rights of both Irish and UK nationals to move freely between the island of Ireland and the UK mainland. There is still concern from border residents who sit on the precipice of the unknown. With little to no guidance on how they should prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

Eibhlin McGleenan, 26, is one of those residents. A scientist, living in Armagh who commutes across the border to work every day to Tyholland, Co. Monaghan. Having already fallen through the furlough scheme loophole during the Covid pandemic. Being entitled to neither the South’s support or the North’s support system, Eibhlin is doubtful.

“A physical split between the north and south could cause an increased disconnect between the two parliamentary bodies which could cause issues when a “whole-Ireland” approach to a situation is required. It has been evident over the last year that there are already issues in this area and it would be very detrimental in future if this disconnect was to widen.”

Eibhlin says she feels the UK’s approach to the process has been vague.

In terms of the UK she said – “I do not believe much consideration has been given to the effects of leaving the EU on peace in Ireland. Throughout the process the north has been an afterthought and vague answers surrounding a potential hard border would be enough for some groups to use the uncertainty and tensions as a reason to disrupt the peace.”

However, she feels hopeful that both the EU and the UK have been adamant no hard border is introduced. For Eibhlin, her main concerns are how a no-deal Brexit could impact the ease of travel between the North and South. Having a knock-on effect to work and family connections. Despite the CTA being active, it seems it is of no reassurance to border residents.

“Brexit will also have effects on the exchange rate which could cause wage losses when transferring between Euro and Sterling.”

A concern that is also echoed by Aoife and Bayan. A young married couple who live in Killea with their one-year old son. Killea is a southern town just 20 minutes from Derry city in the North where they both work. Both are opting to keep their savings in Euros rather than Sterling.

“We’re hedging our bets…we’re not moving our Sterling accounts, but we’re not adding to them, we’re building up our savings in Euros instead.” – Bayan said.

Actions that Eibhlin, Aoife and Bayan have already undertaken in preparation for a no deal Brexit in 14 days is to change car insurance. And, in Aoife and Bayan’s case, buy a completely new car, since their British car would have cost too much to insure in the South. 

Eibhlin was made aware of this change in policy over a year ago when her insurance was up for renewal, meaning she had to change providers which came at a significant financial cost.

“At this time there had been increasing talk of needing green cards for travelling between the north and south. Many insurance companies could only issue green cards that lasted 14 days i.e. for holidays, and I needed one that could cover me for travel to work every day. Changing the insurer nearly doubled my premium in the first year which is not ideal”, Eibhlin expressed.

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Aoife and Bayan went a step further, opting for Southern driving licenses as well to ensure ease of travel – “If we waited until January 2021, we’d have to retake our driving test”. 

When asked if they would still be able to drive legally in the UK, Bayan comically replied, “we don’t know if we can drive in the UK, but we can drive in 26 other countries”.

What’s clear from both sets of residents is that the shared concern is uncertainty and lack of confidence in the processes. Aoife commented, “The big concern with no deal, is just that they have no plan and the implications that has…anything we’ve learned, we’ve learned by accident”. Referring to the lack of knowledge from councils on both sides of the Foyle.

When similarly asked about their confidence in the EU and the UK upholding the Good Friday Agreement. Aoife has more confidence now American President Joe Biden has expressed avid support for the Good Friday Agreement. 

“The fact that Joe Biden came out and said that it (GFA) shouldn’t be undermined gave me confidence…It definitely concerns me that the Westminster government aren’t bothered about undermining it…My impression is that the EU are more up for not undermining the agreement.”

When asked about whether passports were a concern, Bayan, originally from Cornwall in England, holding a British passport said “It’s impossible to guess what will happen…when something happens, we’ll deal with it. Until someone tells me I need a Visa, I’ll do nothing”.

Irish passport holder Aoife concurred “Never mind the political side of that, but does Brexit motivate me to get a British passport? Definitely not”. Sentiments held by Eihblin also.

It is apparent that the rising speculations surrounding Brexit hit border residents the hardest. Both sets of residents live in opposite situations, yet are unified in hoping for a sense of clarity in 14 days.

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