I had the pleasure of travelling throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland over the last week seeing sights and speaking to the people of the two parts of the Emerald Isle. The weather was unseasonably beautiful and the island, nothing short of stunning. The people across Ireland and Northern Ireland, were however, very much worried about what Brexit would mean for them. Opinions were varied and at times strong and most surprisingly, at times indifferent.
An informal survey of 30 people across Ireland and Northern Ireland that I walked up to and spoke with showed that the Northern Irish are very much split (6 in support of Brexit, 5 against it and 4 without an opinion), while in the Republic of Ireland, people in Galway, Cork, and Dublin unanimously agreed with the statement, "Brexit is a bad idea." The one unifying theme for everyone was that not one person said they wanted to see a border return along the border. This included a family of three adults who described themselves as unionists.
In Northern Island, some of the comments included:
"Hopefully, we'll be in the EU on March 29th."
"I'm happy to leave. I wanna get away from the laws and make our own rules."
"It's fine the way it is."
"I don't really pay enough attention to it to be honest with you."
"I don't really know what the current situation is."
"Brexit is a terrible idea."
Overall, even people with strong opinions one way or the other were hard-pressed to recount the latest developments. It appears Brexit fatigue has set in in Ireland. Many admit that they either don't care enough, don't have time or can't make heads or tails of what the politicians are saying. A failure in communication with the public is crystal clear.
The reason that Ireland is so important is that it is the only land border that the U.K. has with the European Union. While the EU is very popular in Scotland, for example, Scotland is entirely within the U.K. and has no land borders with the EU. Can the U.K. leave the EU and not put up a border with Ireland? Can the EU allow there to be no border with a country that has left the union and has no other agreements in place allowing an open border? This issue is of particular importance because the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998 calls for partial self-governance in Northern Ireland and allows for the "soft border" that is currently in place.
I crossed the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland twice while there, once near Londonderry and then again on route from Belfast to Dublin. In short, there is no visible border. No border agents, no rest area and no traffic lights. Other than two small signs, which don't even mention that it is an international border and only refer to it as a border between counties, there are no markings between the two countries. Preserving this status quo is something that literally everyone I spoke to wants. This will force the U.K. to come to an agreement with the EU, which means the EU has leverage that means they will make Brexit painful.
With Prime Minister May's most recent comments, Brexit will almost certainly be delayed, and there will be no Brexit on March 29 as "no deal" will be too painful, while the House of Commons is too divided on what they think Brexit should look like. This continued uncertainty is bad for businesses across the region and ironically perhaps the only beneficiary will be EU countries that are committed to the union.