Life on the edge: how will Brexit affect the Northern Irish border?

For years the border was dotted with checkpoints, but now young locals aren’t even sure where it is. That’s all about to change…

For the past couple of decades, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has been shrinking, not in length but in density, all the apparatus of othering – customs posts, identity checks, soldiers – replaced by simple roadside reminders (blink and you’ll miss them) that speed limits are now in kilometres instead of miles. Already, though, in the months since the EU referendum, there are signs that could be about to change again. To be precise, there are yellow-and-black signs attached to telegraph poles and lamp-posts on the Northern Ireland side of the all-but-invisible line: “Warning! If there is a hard border this road may be closed from March 2019.” I am taking a wild guess that they weren’t put up at the behest of the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Last June, Northern Ireland voted 56% to 44% in favour of remaining in the EU, even though the largest party in the power-sharing executive, the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), campaigned on the leave side; theirs was a curious stance to say the least, given that Brexit was almost certain to put a strain on the very union – of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – the party holds dear. For some remainers – the DUP’s then executive partners Sinn Féin, in particular – the result demanded that special arrangements be made for Northern Ireland post-Brexit, ranging from associate EU membership to a north-south reunification: anything to keep the border from hardening. Such calls have grown louder since last month’s snap assembly election narrowed the gap between the DUP and Sinn Féin from 10 seats to one.

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