One of the main points of discussion surrounding Brexit is what happens to the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is the only place (with the possible exception of Gibraltar) where the UK will share a land border with the European Union, and people are worried that chaos will ensue if border controls and customs points are installed. The EU has even gone so far as to suggest the Republic of Ireland might annex Northern Ireland with the full support of Brussels, perhaps not realising that a lot of blood has been shed over this subject already.
Personally I think they’re missing the bigger picture here, or they’re pretending to. Even if there is no border between Eire and NI, there is no way to get from Ireland to the rest of the EU without going through Britain – unless by air or a lengthy boat trip: Cherbourg to Rosslare takes about 18 hours. I don’t know if things have changed since I was a kid, but the Pembroke Dock and Fishguard ferries did a brisk trade with with lorries going to and from Rosslare, and I believe Holyhead to Dublin was much the same. It would be interesting to see how much of Ireland’s trade in physical goods with the EU minus the UK passes through the British mainland; my guess it would quite a bit.
How this will work post-Brexit is anyone’s guess. These goods will either have to be shipped directly via sea or custom-cleared into Britain and then back out again at Dover. Perhaps an agreement could be made for sealed containers to pass through without clearing customs or being charged transit fees, but that would rather depend on the goodwill of the British government towards Ireland at that point, wouldn’t it? And this opens up all sorts of opportunities for smuggling and cross-border shenanigans.
The truth is, Ireland is in a really shitty position right now. For historical and nationalistic reasons they have to pretend their future lies with the EU if they have to choose one or the other, but for all practical purposes Ireland is dependent on having full access to the UK for its goods, services, and people – which they had long before the EU came along. At some point they’re going to have to admit to this and whisper in Juncker’s ear that they really, really don’t want to lose the right to live, work, and study in the UK that they had all along. Then we’ll see just how much the EU cares about them.