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A Special Status for Northern Ireland?

14 November 2016, Institute of International and European Affairs, Dublin


Theresa May’s address to the Conservative Party Conference on 2 October 2016 has led many observers to believe that the UK is veering towards a ‘hard’ Brexit – a scenario which would leave the UK outside both the Single Market and Customs Union, and could result in a re-emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland. Much of this speculation is hasty. Neither the outcome of the talks nor the negotiating stances of the parties can be predicted at this point. Indeed, there are numerous possible formats for the UK’s withdrawal and for its future relationship with the EU – be it Norwegian, Swiss, Canadian or some other, bespoke, solution. Nonetheless, it is true that at present the UK’s stated positions on control of immigration, domestic legislation and trade policy appear incompatible with the EU’s requirements for allowing access to the Single Market and Customs Union, and it is necessary to be alert to the challenges this scenario presents. As such, this brief will take the possibility of a hard Brexit as its baseline scenario. It will begin by examining the current status of the border, discuss the format and potential implications of a hard Brexit, and discuss in broad terms, some possible components of a post-Brexit ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland, to mitigate damage to the region and the island of Ireland as a whole.

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