As Europe fights over Britain’s planned exit from the European Union there’s a very special case: Ireland. It’s the only place where there will be a land border separating Britain from the European Union. We go to the Emerald Isle to explain how that’s making a complicated issue —even more so.
Ian Marshall has worked his family dairy farm for more than thirty years.
He’s also a member of parliament in Northern Ireland.. and strongly opposed to Brexit: the plan by Great Britain— including Northern Ireland— to exit the European Union.
He worries that Brexit will change a critical feature. One that keeps the peace and allows so many businesses in Northern Ireland and Ireland to depend on one another: a near invisible border.
Ian Marshall: keep making the point that sometimes you don't recognize what you've had until you lost it.
For three decades, there was a violent reality.
Irish terrorists fighting British rule in Northern Ireland attacked the militarized border guarded by Great Britain. In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement brought peace, and the so called “hard border” — was dismantled.
Sharyl: Today, crossing the border from Ireland into Northern Ireland isn’t as remarkable as crossing from one state into another in the U.S. There are no big signs, no check points, in fact the main method I’m using to see when we cross the border is the map on this phone rather than looking at the road. And here we are —Welcome to Northern Ireland.
Ian Marshall: We’ve got seamless, frictionless trade across the border. People move and travel backwards and forwards on a daily basis. And we've, we've forgotten what the what the implications of having border checkpoints and controls were.
With Brexit— the Irish island will be split.
Northern Ireland, part of Britain, will leave the European Union. Ireland, not part of Britain, will remain. That will create a land border—the only land border—between Britain and the European Union.
The question is: Will it hurt trade and lead to bloodshed?
Ian Marshall: When you put a customs guard, he becomes a target. So to protect him, you potentially need a policeman or a soldier. Lo and behold, by default over a prolonged period of time. We end up with the border.
Naomi Long, also a member of Parliament for Northern Ireland, agrees that trouble could be ahead. She leads Northern Ireland’s liberal Alliance party
Naomi Long: Undoubtedly there are those in terms of dissident republican groups, um, and indeed loyalists groups, which is still not giving up their violence, who would be quite content to restart troubleto use the border as an excuse to do so. So that's not to say that it's the border that would cause the violence, but it would give them an excuse— a justification of some kind within their own community— that would help them to gain the kind of traction.
She argues that Northern Ireland shouldn’t completely pull away from Ireland and the European Union with the rest of Britain and the border here should remain open with no physical infrastructure.
Naomi Long: Clearly some kind of special arrangements are required for Northern Ireland.
Long’s idea has plenty of support among those who oppose Brexit. Many still remember decades of political and religious divisions depicted in Northern Ireland’s famous murals. In neighborhoods where terrorists were recruited for both Catholic and Protestant militias, they memorialize leaders of each side.
Sharyl: This is part of the wall in Belfast, Northern Ireland that Great Britain started building in 1969 to separate the Protestants from the Catholics. Today it’s mostly a tourist attraction, a reminder of what used to be and — some fear — what could be yet to come.
On the other side, Brexit supporters like Nigel Dodds say opponents are evoking ghosts of Ireland’s violent past for political reasons.
Nigel Dodds: This is utter scaremongering designed to try to prevent Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom actually leaving the European Union because certain governments don't like that happening.
Dodds is a conservative party leader in Northern Ireland’s Parliament. He says the two Irish countries will not need a new, so-called “hard” border after Brexit.
Nigel Dodds: We already have a border for political purposes, for currency purposes, for tax purposes and everything else. The border in terms of customs and single market can be regulated without any hard checks at all.
Sharyl: There are some who say that sort of an exaggerated controversy to simply push to have no Brexit deal.
Naomi Long: Well there are those who take that position. And I don't believe that a nation should make its decisions based on the threat of violence. That is the fundamental principle of a democracy. So I don't believe about the risk of violence should be what makes our decisions. I think that there are many positive reasons why we wouldn't want a hard border, but I think it would be reckless of us to ignore the impact that border infrastructure would have.
While politicians debate — it’s impossible to know what the Emerald Isle will look like after Brexit. But there’s a strong desire to keep the violent past a subject for tour guides not a political football used to rekindle old flames of dissent.
Britain’s Prime Minister Johnson has promised he will not put up a “hard” border on the Irish borderBut Ireland’s Prime Minister says hard checks will be needed if Great Britain quits without a deal on Oct. 31.and it will be Britain’s fault.