Professor David Newman: "Closing the Border in Ireland - a Backward Step"

The stance of British residents, renewed tensions between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and who benefits from it all? Prof. David Newman (Ben-Gurion University) analyzes the Effect of Brexit on political stability in Ireland.

On June 23rd, 2016, history was made in the British Empire with the majority vote in favor of Brexit - the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, a move that ended the United Kingdom's 44 years of membership in the Union.

However, following a year of tough negotiations, as the implications of Brexit for the average British citizen become clearer, well over half of British citizens now believe that the final agreement between the UK and the European Union will not benefit the country. This, compared to a mere 37% in February, just prior to the commencement of the formal divorce proceedings by British Prime Minister Theresa May. It is no coincidence that four former Prime Ministers, from across the political spectrum in both the right-wing Conservative and left-wing Labour Parties, have publically stated that the decision to leave the European Union was a mistake, with some suggesting that a further referendum should be held. Many pollsters believe that in a second referendum, "over 60 percent of the residents of Britain would vote differently, now that they are more aware of the implications of leaving the EU, about which they did not have sufficient information at the time of the vote."

Professor David Newman
Professor David Newman (Ben-Gurion University): “Closing the border - a backward step” Headline (1.72) Regular (1.3) Square Teasers (1) Wide Images (Belgrade) Landscape (2.31) Vertical images format

 Brexit has many consequences not only for England but for its neighbors in the British Isles. Scotland voted strongly in favour of remaining in the EU, while Ireland is now faced with the possibility that the "Good Friday Agreement" between the Britain and the Republic of Ireland, signed in 1997, is now in danger, with the status of Northern Ireland as an autonomous territory within the UK may soon return to a former situation  - especially if a new hard border is constructed between the North and South as a means of preventing the flow of migrants and protecting the customs regime of the UK.

But why are the residents of Northern Ireland afraid of a border in the first place? How does the decision affect England, in particular, and the British Isles, in general? And what does the future hold for the residents of the Kingdom?

Prof. David Newman, the former Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, an expert in political geography and geopolitics, with particular emphasis on border research, offers his analysis.

"Brexit means that Britain is withdrawing from the European Union," states Prof. David Newman, who was born and educated in the United Kingdom. "Despite the Good Friday agreement, Northern Ireland remains part of Britain, and will, therefore, be leaving the European Union along with the rest of the UK. The Republic of Ireland is a separate, independent country that will remain part of Europe."

The Brexiteers would change their decision if given a chance
Prof. David Newman: “The Brexiteers would change their decision if given a chance”

The political rapprochement in Ireland resulted in the opening of the border between the North and South, enabling free and unhindered movement from one side to the other. Once Brexit is implemented, there is now a fear amongst many of the residents that a new border will be constructed and that this will also bring about a renewal of political tensions between the two, as well as reignite the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in the north.  Such a border would, in effect, be the only land border between Britain and the European Union. This could become a major focus for migrants from other parts of the world attempting to cross into the UK through this border, much as they have attempted to do so from Calais in recent years.

David Newman: "Over 60  percent of the residents would change their decision if given a chance."

Prof. David Newman explains the situation that has been preserved for close to two decades: "As part of the treaty between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the border was opened between the countries. If Britain does eventually leave the European Union, the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will become a border between Britain and the whole of Europe, which is extremely problematic, by all accounts."

People in Belfast, Northern Ireland (123RF)
People in Belfast, Northern Ireland (123RF)

"The debate leading up to the Brexit vote focused on the issue of open borders. Pro Brexiteers believe that Britain's membership of the EU make sit too easy for migrants to flow into the UK. As part of leaving the EU, they would like to see Britain harden even more its immigration policies and reduce the number of migrants who have a right to come and work in the country. Prof. David Newman, whose research deals with the management of borders throughout the world, and is presently analysing the topic of Europe's boundaries post-Brexit as part of his sabbatical at the University of London, states: "It is obvious to everyone that closing the border is a step in the wrong direction, with many negative political and economic implications."

"Britain is not really interested in reinstating the border," says Prof. David Newman. "But given the significance of leaving the EU, they may be left with no other choice. The country will want to regulate transport and movement between countries after leaving Europe, and to prevent free and unhindered entrance through the Ireland 'back door'. The only way to do this will be to tighten up the management of the border dividing Ireland into two.

Will the citizens' fears come to pass?

Prof. David Newman, who in 2013 received an OBE for his contribution to the strengthening of academic and scientific ties between Britain and Israel, and was responsible for the establishment of both the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University in 1998, and the Centre for the Study of European Politics and Society (CSEPS) in 2003, believes that, "many British citizens are now fearful of the Brexit  process. They may no longer be able to stand in the European Union lines at airports and other points of entry, and will be treated like all other non-EU residents."

And what about the residents of Northern Ireland? Apparently, even in the event of a withdrawal, not all Northern Irelanders will depart from the European Union, only those who hold a British passport. Residents of Northern Ireland who possess an Irish passport – close to 500,000 residents out of 1.8 million – will remain part of the European Union, with everything that that entails.

"Borders serve a combination of political and economic interests, which were never discussed in the debate leading up to the referendum. It has become increasingly obvious to both pro and anti Brexiteers that the government was not sufficiently aware of the wider implications of the vote and they are discovering new facts on an almost daily basis. The pro-Brexiteers promised that Britain would be able to recover tens of millions of dollars after Brexit, to be invested in the Health system, while in reality it is now apparent that Britain must pay billions of EURO in order to meet their debts and commitments to the EU, as a precondition of entering into any new preferred trade agreements with this huge trading bloc."

Prof. David Newman served as Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev between 2010 and 2016. In 1987, Newman joined the faculty of Ben-Gurion University, and in 1998 he established the Department of Politics and Government.

In 2003, Prof. Newman established the Centre for the Study of European Politics and Society. His research focuses on political geography and geopolitics. He has published academic papers that relate to territory and borders in areas of ethnic conflict.