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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Niall Carson A disused customs point outside Dundalk.

What will happen to the Irish border if there's a Brexit?


WITH BRITAIN SET to go to the polls next week on leaving the EU, much of the Irish focus has been on the border.

With Ireland’s only land border an already contentious issue, its use as a political football this week has vexed many.

Speaking in Northern Ireland two weeks ago, British Chancellor George Osborne said that the Warrenpoint ferry could become the subject of passport checks.

Just this week, in the last Prime Minister’s Questions before the vote, David Cameron reiterated that point.

He said that a leave vote would mean either a return to a land border between north and south or “some sort of checks” as people leave Belfast for the rest of the UK.

If we were to leave and, as the Leave campaigners want, make a big issue about our borders, then you’ve got a land border between Britain outside the European Union and the Republic of Ireland inside the European Union.

“Therefore you can only either have new border controls between the Republic and Northern Ireland, or you’d have to have some sort of checks on people as they left Belfast.”

Border argument


The European Commission says it is not commenting as it does not want to campaign on either side, but Revenue in Ireland is investigating the practical implications – like how much reinstating the border checks would cost.

Locals in the border area fear that reinstatement of checks would be a deterrent to trade and travel.

Leave campaigners say the focus on the border is disingenuous and point out that the EU has a border with a non-EU country that is unpoliced between Sweden and Norway.

However, these are both Schengen Area countries, something neither Ireland nor the UK is.

A Foreign Office plan for the event of a Brexit is more clear on the issue.

Outside the EU’s Customs Union, it would be necessary to impose customs checks on the movement of goods across the border. Questions would also need to be answered about the Common Travel Area which covers the movement of people. This
could have an impact on cross-border co-operation and trade. The withdrawal of structural funds, which have helped address economic challenges, would also have an impact.

Of course, Ireland and Britain had a common travel area before either were in the EU and that arrangement has prevailed over the years.

A government spokesperson directed us to this FAQ, which contains the following:

“It is difficult to imagine a situation where there would be no controls or checks on the movement of goods if the UK left the EU. This would inevitably involve additional costs. There might conceivably also be British as well as EU measures.

“It should be noted that the customs régime between the EU and some other third countries does not, however, involve fixed border posts but a less disruptive mixture of electronic filing and random physical checks.”


Sources familiar with the discussions between the UK and EU say that there is “a lot of work to do” on what the exit terms will be if the Leave camp wins on Thursday.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty provides for member states to leave the EU in accordance with their own constitution. However, it does not say how this would be handled.

In that way, the confusion remains over whether the EU would push the Irish government to enforce a border crossing with the north or whether Ireland’s government would resist such a plan.

Some in the Leave campaign worry that Brussels would impose punitive exit terms as a measure to dissuade other countries from leaving the union.

That, however, remains to be seen and would likely not be finalised until sometime this year, should the UK vote to leave this week.

Read: Enda’s off to Britain to ask them to stay in the EU

Read: Bob Geldof and his ‘we’re going to need a bigger boat’ battle with Brexit

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