‘Brexit’ would see return of physical border between Republic and North

Authors of new book say British exit from EU is not an appealing scenario

A physical border between the Republic and Northern Ireland will be re-imposed if Britain decides to leave the EU, a director of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce has warned.

John McGrane was speaking in Dublin on Wednesday at the launch of a book, Britain and Europe: The Endgame - An Irish Perspective, which was edited by Dáithí O'Ceallaigh and Paul Gillespie for the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA).

“It would be naive to think you can have somebody leave a club and not have a change in the membership access, and most prominently and most worryingly for us that is a physical border being re-imposed in some way,” Mr McGrane said.

Mr McGrane, who contributed a chapter to the book, said the potential aftermath of the so-called “Brexit” scenario he had described was not an appealing one and people needed to “mobilise” to ensure it did not have to come about.


IIEA chairman Brendan Halligan, who also contributed to the book, suggested Ireland could play a role as “a facilitator and a mediator” that might help prevent Britain leaving the EU.

Ireland was understood to be the best interpreter of British politics inside the EU, he said. The Irish diplomatic corps had skills “way above” those expected from a small country.

“Our bona fides are impeccable. Our track record is most impressive,” Mr Halligan said.

“I think our skills in politics are widely accepted and I think very importantly we would be taken as a friend and ally by Britain.”

Mr O’Ceallaigh said immigration laws were currently being widely debated in the UK and if Britain pulled out of the EU it was quite likely those laws would change.

In that case, he said, the British would have to reinstate some sort of border control between the Republic and Northern Ireland, “because the obvious back door is through the south”.

Mr O’Ceallaigh added: “The implications of another border on this island just don’t bear thinking about”.

Mr Gillespie said one consequence of a British exit would be to change the relationship between Ireland and Britain, which had been “extraordinarily” changed within the EU context.

It had provided the setting within which many Northern Ireland initiatives were founded, he added.

“Our fear is that with a British exit you would revert to a power relationship between the more powerful and the less powerful partner within which inter-dependence would suffer,” he said.

Mr Gillespie said Ireland and Britain were “locked in to a very close political relationship” because of their common political culture.

“Let there be no kind of sleepwalking in Ireland either about this. If we want to keep Britain in the EU and ourselves within the eurozone it has to be argued for in the light of British/Irish relations.”

Turning to the future of the UK itself, Mr Gillespie said a referendum on British membership of the EU would probably re-open the independence question for Scotland.

If the Scots voted for independence that would represent a break-up of the UK which would have “huge implications” for Ireland.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times