Northern Ireland and Brexit: the European Economic Area option

Brian Doherty, John Temple Lang, Christopher McCrudden, Lee McGowan, David Phinnemore, Dagmar Schiek

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On 23 June 2016 voters in the United Kingdom (UK) voted on whether to remain in or leave the European Union (EU). The overall UK vote was 51.9% in favour of leaving. As a consequence, the UK government has recently triggered Article 50 TEU and is preparing to begin the formal process of withdrawal. In doing so, consideration is being given to the terms of the 'divorce' as well as the nature and content of the UK's post-'Brexit' relationship with the EU. In Northern Ireland, 56% voted to remain in the EU.
Brexit poses major challenges for Northern Ireland. It threatens to hinder access to the EU market and especially cross-border trade with the rest of Ireland, disrupt significantly integrated cross-border markets and supply- and production-chains, and impede the movement of workers and people more generally across the border. It raises questions about the future of the Common Travel Area and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement as well as cooperation on policing and criminal justice matters. The challenges cannot be easily dismissed. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, has admitted with regard to the movement of goods across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland: 'I agree with those who say that this presents one of the most complex challenges in our preparations for Exit'.
In some ways the most obvious way to mitigate some of the key impacts of Brexit on Northern Ireland is for Northern Ireland to join the European Economic Area (EEA). This paper sets out the case and addresses the difficulties.
Original languageEnglish
TypeDiscussion Paper
PublisherEuropean Policy Centre
Number of pages10
Place of PublicationBrussels
Publication statusPublished - 07 Apr 2017


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