Northern Ireland and Brexit: a unique challenge in unique circumstances

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The UK leaving the EU was always going to pose challenges for Northern Ireland even if these were not widely appreciated at the time of the 2016 referendum. Indeed, very few voices predicted that Northern Ireland would become the focus of so much attention during the withdrawal process such that disagreements on a negotiated ‘backstop’ arrangement to avoid a hard border post-Brexit came close to jeopardising ratification of the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement and the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU. This chapter explores the key themes that have shaped debates in and on Northern Ireland as the UK moved towards exiting the EU. It considers the positions taken by political parties in the 2016 referendum and their responses to the ‘leave’ vote. It then charts official UK, Irish and EU responses to challenges that Brexit poses for the border on the island of Ireland and the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement before analysing the role these played in the Article 50 negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The chapter proceeds with an analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement’s Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and its controversial ‘backstop’ arrangements. It also discusses responses to them, particularly as the UK government, reliant for its parliamentary majority on support from the Democratic Unionist Party, sought ratification and to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit. A final section assesses the impact of three years of seeking to secure ‘Brexit’ on the politics and future of Northern Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIreland and the EU: Brexit, Crisis and Populism
EditorsMichael Holmes, Kathryn Simpson
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9781526159595
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


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