Northern Ireland could be destabilised and elements of the Belfast Agreement might have to be torn up if a divisive vote on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union takes place as promised within the next two years.
The border between Londonderry and Donegal may be tightened in the event of ‘BREXIT’ with implications for peace-building, whilst citizens’ rights, freedom of movement, trade, market access, farm and fishing subsidies and gender equality legislation may all be adversely affected.
The Union may even have to be reviewed.
That’s according to a briefing paper developed in partnership with academic experts from the Queen’s University, Belfast and University College Cork, which sets out questions to be considered on the consequences of the referendum for Northern Ireland.
Questions posed in the paper, published in the past month, include: “Will political stability in Northern Ireland be threatened as a consequence of a divisive vote (which is heavily weighted by an English desire to leave and contrasts with support in Northern Ireland to remain)? Will elements of the Belfast Agreement have to be reviewed?
“Will potential economic destabilisation and loss of EU funding unsettle community relations in Northern Ireland?
“Will the possibility of a Scottish referendum on independence (influenced by an English driven vote to leave which contrasts with the Scottish support to remain) trigger political instability in Northern Ireland?”
The authors point out that Northern Ireland as a net beneficiary of EU peace and structural funds - the Peace Bridge is a case in point -will likely diverge strongly with the 40million English voters, who will decide the matter.
“It is clear that there exists a measure of goodwill in Brussels towards Northern Ireland and to some extent, the devolved administration has capitalised on these links.
“Despite domestic political differences, the Northern Ireland Executive has been able to sustain a largely positive engagement with the EU. The tenor of that engagement has become more discerning and the institutional infrastructure to support the advancement of the relationship is slowly been consolidated,” the briefing suggests.
The report also warns that BREXIT could see a slide-back towards closed borders in Londonderry: “The physical manifestation of the Irish border itself is hardly discernible” now, but could change with a ‘leave’ vote.