Latest Research News

Ireland and Brexit: No border!

2018-07-09 In fact, there is no longer a border between the Republic of Ireland and Ulster. Brexit could rebuild it and weaken Ireland's economy. A special status for Northern Ireland would be advantageous for Great Britain and Ireland alike. Interview with Dr Patrick O'Callaghan, Irish lawyer and visiting scholar.

Beef, medicine, machine tools: Ireland is an export nation which also sells to Great Britain. What consequences do you fear Brexit will have? 

We are very dependent on the United Kingdom. It is our largest economic partner. In some sectors, up to 60 to 70 percent of our goods are exported to the UK. If it is still possible, Britain should remain in the Customs Union. The biggest legal issue at the moment, however, is the border between the Republic of Ireland and Ulster. Discussions on a hard or soft border are ongoing. In Ireland, however, absolutely no-one wants a border at all. If you travel from the Republic to Northern Ireland today, you can only tell you’ve entered the United Kingdom by the road signs and the different currency. There is nothing left of the old conflict.

Could Brexit deteriorate this relationship?

No, I don't think so. There is a strong political rhetoric that I can well understand: It is in the interest not only of Ireland, but also of the EU as a whole, that the United Kingdom remains. But relations between the normal populations will stay very close. There are many family and cultural connections. Nevertheless, many Irish are disappointed with Brexit, but they also know that only a small majority voted to leave the EU. But if the bonds between people were broken, it would be a much greater disaster than Brexit.

Northern Ireland is politically British, but geographically Irish. What consequences can this role in play with regard to Brexit?

I would prefer Northern Ireland be granted free-trade status, that is to say it would belong to both the UK and the EU and thus be able to export tariff-free to both areas. The Republic of Ireland would also continue to trade freely with Northern Ireland. What most people don't know: those born in Northern Ireland are also entitled to Irish citizenship. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 ended the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’, yet Ulster will not be granted the special economic role because the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is against it. They want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, just like Scotland and Wales. The DUP wield considerable influence, as they have been the kingmakers of Theresa May's conservative minority government since last summer. Two thirds of the people in Northern Ireland voted against withdrawing from EU. Party politics and people's opinions differ greatly. Since Brexit, therefore, more and more people have also taken on dual Irish citizenship.

Can Ireland still benefit from Brexit? Irish universities may become a welcome an alternative, especially for foreign students. 

Brexit has, without doubt, opened some doors for Ireland, although the changes are as yet unsubstantial. But I am thinking, for example, banks settling in Dublin. It is also conceivable that many students will no longer go to England to study, but to the universities of Dublin or Cork, because Ireland is in the EU. But the reputation of English universities is so exceptionally good that such a scenario is improbable. Education is the British export hit. English universities are extremely prestigious. In Malaysia, for example, gravestones mention when someone has studied in England. In my view, the British education system is immune to Brexit. Ireland will therefore benefit little in this area, even though we have very good universities. 

Thank you very much for the interview!

Team Teaching 

For five years, visiting lecturer Dr Patrick O'Callaghan, Fellow at the University of Cork and specialist in legal theory and comparative law, at Leuphana Law School together with Lesley Jane Smith, professor at Leuphana, and the American visiting scholar Dr Susan Wintermuth have been teaching Anglo-American law in an intensive modular programme. From the second semester onwards, students are allowed to discuss methods and views in dealing with English, Irish and American law.


Prof. Dr. Lesley Jane Smith LL.M.
Wilschenbrucher Weg 69, P.207
21335 Lüneburg
Fon +49.4131.677-7847
Fax +49.4131.677-7911

Author: Marietta Hülsmann. Translated by Beatrice Goutfer.