Why has the Irish border become an issue in Brexit?
On Friday, January 31, 2020, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union after over three years of uncertainty and political upheaval. However, many unanswered questions remain, perhaps the biggest related to the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Throughout the negotiations, the Irish border has been a roadblock to consensus. Even the Brexit deal that finally passed failed to address concerns. With the contentious history between the UK and Ireland, it remains to be seen how the two countries will maintain their uneasy peace.
Theresa May’s failed Irish backstop plan
This past Friday marked the end of a controversial period in the UK’s history when, stewarded by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the country left the EU. Much still remains to be negotiated between the UK and the EU, especially concerning trade, but issues that kept the previous prime minister, Theresa May, from completing Brexit have largely been addressed.
But there is one issue in particular that has often appeared irreconcilable: the Irish border. Any Brexit deal had to avoid a hard border that stifled free movement of citizens, while still respecting the trade borders between the two countries.
May’s proposal included a so-called “ backstop” that would have kept all of the UK within the EU market. For those who wished to leave the EU, this was an unacceptable option. Consequently, May was unable to get her version of the Brexit deal through Parliament, leading her to announce in May of 2019 that she would resign as PM.
Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal
May’s successor, Boris Johnson, offered a slightly different solution to the problem. While The Guardian reported that the two prime ministers’ deals were “essentially” the same, the backstop idea was replaced with a concession that would allow Northern Ireland to remain aligned with the EU’s trade arrangements for four years after December 2020 (the deadline for all UK/EU trade negotiations to be completed).