Brexit and no end in sight ... after the election victory for Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who returned to 10 Downing Street without the pesky Liberal lodger Nick Clegg, the referendum on a British exit from the European Union (the Brexit, for short), was already looming, then set for June 23rd. On June 24th the surprising result was declared - 51.89% of those bothering to cast a vote ... voted to leave the European Union. Which led to the quick demise of Cameron as a political figure, and (after same highly theatrical backstabbing) election of Theresa May as Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister. May then declared that she would invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of European Union, the legal instrument to pull a country out of the EU. With an attitude of "we'll have our cake, and eat it too" - demanding special rights for the UK. The last word on all this has not yet been spoken ...
So far, so shoulder-shrug. Why would this be important for the Republic of Ireland?
Mainly because this, in turn, could change the whole concept of cross-border travel situation in Ireland.
The Spectre of the Brexit
First we had the "Grexit" as a European Union boogieman, the potential leaving (or dismissal) of Greece from Eurozone and/or EU. Then the spectre of the "Brexit" began to loom, even more dramatic. Not because actually wanted to get rid of the United Kingdom, but because Eurosceptics began to gain more and more ground. And not just with the much hyped appearance of the UKIP, but also within more mainstream parties.
So mainstream, indeed, that PM Cameron, after just surviving the Scottish independence referendum with the United Kingdom intact (though the absolutely massive gains of the Scottish National Party SNP seem to paint a slightly different picture), committed himself to holding a referendum on whether the European Union should be partially dismantled. By Britain (or rather the UK, but "Ukexit" doesn't sound quite so good) leaving it. This does not tally with the wishes of all parts of the UK - both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.
And despite every weirdo on the lunatic fringe of politics painting a picture of the European Union actually being a "Fourth Reich" under Angela Merkel's iron control, every state is free to let its membership lapse. Or can, in special circumstances, be asked to leave post haste.
Brexit - Without Ireland?
The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom applied together for EU membership in the 1960s and finally joined together in 1973, bringing all Ireland into the union - and ever since then there seems to be a mental image of the two being a "package" hovering about. This, however, is not the case. Both the Republic of Ireland and the UK are independent, sovereign states, and there is no clause that binds one to the other in EU regulations.
For example ... the Euro. The Republic of Ireland was amongst the first members of the Eurozone, while the United Kingdom retained the Pound Sterling as an independent currency. So, obviously, separate ways are possible.
But are they desirable?
Because, when it comes down to the facts, Ireland will join in the Brexit ... at least the six counties that make up Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. Despite all the strange plans for a separate Northern Irish referendum as proposed by Sinn Fein.
Ireland After the Brexit
Assuming that the UK votes for a Brexit, this will not be immediate and take time - but there will be consequences coming down the pike. For one, the Republic of Ireland will suddenly have to face the fact that the border to Northern Ireland will also be an "outer border" of the EU, requiring much more control, security, and paperwork than currently (i.e. virtually none). And while cross-border traffic has been as relaxed as a sloth in a deckchair over the past years, this will have to change.
And ... the buying of goods in the other jurisdiction will be subject to new laws, and tariffs, as well - no more stocking up with cheap alcohol "up North", unless you are prepared for multiple border crossings.
Mentioning multiple border crossings - traffic in the border region will, more than likely, become a nightmare. With roads crossing and recrossing the border, nobody will want to face checkpoints every five minutes. And as money for new roads is sparse, winding back roads will become major traffic arteries.
As to the economy overall - after a Brexit, international companies will have to decide where to locate with greater care, Northern Ireland will no longer be a heavily subsidised gateway to Europe (as in EU), and the Republic of Ireland will be no tax-friendly gateway to the UK market either.
The Brexit and the Tourist
Now here's the crunch ... will a potential Brexit have a huge fall-out for the tourist heading to visit Ireland? I mean, apart from the obvious one, the re-introduction of controls on the inner-Irish border?
In my opinion, the consequences for foreign visitors will be next to zero, if you disregard the re-established immigration and customs controls, and the associated planning of driving times from, say, Belfast to Dublin. Yes, you will have to go through a few bottlenecks. But this will have such a small impact on the big picture that you do not need to fret about it.
As for all other important things, these will not change. After a potential Brexit, travellers to and in Ireland will still need to be aware that
- visas for one jurisdiction are not automatically valid in the other,
- there are two currencies in use, the Euro and the Pound Sterling,
- speed restrictions and distances will still be in miles in the UK, in kilometres in the Republic of Ireland.
We have lived with these for ages, so a Brexit will not be all that revolutionary.