Hi, I’m Katy Hayward, Senior Research Fellow at the think tank ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ and Professor of Political Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast.

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My research for UK in a Changing Europe centres upon the post-Brexit status and future of Northern Ireland, with a particular focus on the Irish land and sea borders. As an organisation we aim to make big and complex issues like these understandable and accessible to as large an audience as possible.

Northern Ireland and the Irish border have been the cause of a lot of discussion and debate in the Brexit process – and this year has not been a quiet one! It started with the roll-out of the Protocol, and, with it, new checks and controls on goods entering NI from Britain. Early on, some were calling for safeguard measures to be triggered in the form of Article 16 – and these calls have grown over time. Now, in a sign of continued UK-EU tensions over Northern Ireland, Lord Frost himself is holding his finger over this particular red button.

And there have been tensions of all sorts in Northern Ireland politics too. We could have expected these, it being the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland and the partition of the island of Ireland. However, the divisions are not just green and orange, but also within unionism itself. Arlene Foster was given little choice by her own party but to resign as First Minister. And the flux and tensions in the leadership of unionism were seen in different form on the ground, including in the riots in some loyalist communities in the spring.

We in UK in a Changing Europe have explained these issues, the causes and even the options for managing them – through, for example, a number of articles, reports, the UK in a Changing Europe podcast and panel events on public opinion in NI, as well as regular commentary for UK media. We even have a new video explaining the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol.

But, with so much going on, it can be difficult to keep on top of what’s happening in Northern Ireland. Especially given the technical nature of the Protocol and the often-intense political heat around the issues.

So we thought you might like the chance to #AskMeAnything on any of this – Northern Ireland, the Protocol, polling data, Irish land and sea borders, grace periods, consent votes, Article 16… I’ll do my best to answer.

Comments: 83 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

29elm8 karma

Would you rather fight 10 Swann sized Robins or 1 Robin sized Swann’s ? keeping in mind both are very dangerous.

UKandEU6 karma

Neither. I would rather have a Swann sized Robin fight on my behalf, so I would.

chriskeene6 karma

Thanks for doing this! I don't know where to start, is this even something that can be solved? It just sounds like there's no way to meet the demands of both sides with no border on either side?

UKandEU3 karma

Honestly, it can be solved - but not in a way in which you can meet the full demands of both sides. Because it involves NI, and negotiations, there will have to be compromise. And it will be a process rather than an event. There'll have to be a long-term commitment on both sides to keeping the Joint Committee (and Specialised Committee and JCWG) working as effectively as possible. Stakeholder engagement will be key.

UKandEU6 karma

Thanks for some great questions! It's really interesting to hear what issues others are interested in. I've got to go now but will be back to answer some more tomorrow - so keep posting any questions you have!

djrobbo835 karma

Thanks for taking the time to do this Katy! The Northern Irish protocol...can you ELI5? (I'm 35, live here, reasonable education and it's still something that I'm either ignorant of or no one has explained well on the news!)

Also, given unionist parties appear to hate it, do you see a long term solution to the northern Ireland problem?

UKandEU5 karma

Polling data and other evidence would indicate that there is a spectrum of opinion among unionists about the Protocol (as one would expect - there is a variety of opinion among unionists on all sorts of matters, as indeed, there was about Brexit itself). Whilst some want it gone completely, others are concerned that the unique opportunities for NI that it offers (e.g. dual GB/EU market access) are not lost. There are grounds for a long-term solution over the Protocol, but it won't entail an all-out 'win' by one side or the other.

Wisbitt5 karma

Hello. There was an article this week regards the south not requiring a reciprocal vote regards a united Ireland (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-58876721) . Is this the case? And if a scenario arose where the north voted for unity but the south didn't, what would happen?

UKandEU7 karma

Yes, I saw that article. The question that is perhaps more pertinent than whether it is legally possible to do that (ie have a united Ireland just through a majority vote in a referendum in NI) is whether it would be politically feasible - especially if the ambition is to have a relatively stable and sustainable form of Irish unity. This topic is covered in more detail in this report, which I recommend to you after having participated in/endured days upon days upon days of the very detailed discussions behind it! https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/elections-and-referendums/working-group-unification-referendums-island-ireland-0

Innovenst3 karma

Would there be value in appointing an "independent" mediator between the EU and UK on the Irl/NIP issue in the same way that George Mitchell came into the talks in 1995?


UKandEU2 karma

I know some have suggested this but this situation is so different to that one, obviously. And it would bring in a whole new matter for people to disagree about! Who would be an acceptable independent mediator to the UK, all EU27, unionists, nationalists, etc etc.?

Actually, if we can find such a person, perhaps the Protocol is the smallest of the problems we should be asking them to solve!

sendmeflours3 karma

What's the reaction been in Northern Ireland to what Lord Frost has been saying?

Also I feel like people in the rest of the UK don't really understand Northern Ireland politics at all, and don't really try to, is this something you find frustrating?

UKandEU2 karma

There has been a lot of media coverage here in NI of Frost and Sefcovic's interventions recently... and about the speculation around the same. There's a real sense that what the two of them do and can manage to agree upon will have huge implications here - and far beyond matters of trade. Because the ramifications of Brexit and the Protocol seem enwrapped in the biggest (and most divisive) matters in NI politics, the rhetoric/language/drama in UK-EU relations can seem to be almost as significant as the facts/actualities at times.

Cicer03 karma

Hiya, thanks for the AMA.

Two questions: considering that the Deputy Taoiseach Varadkar, who helped negotiate much of the current agreements, has mentioned the possibility of the UK having negotiated in "bad faith", how consequential would such a claim be? Are there any means by which such a claim could be substantiated through arbitration, international tribunals, etc?

Secondly, I would like to know whether there are any indications of increased crime risks associated with the current or potential border agreements? For instance, whether we would be likely to see increased smuggling, trafficking or other forms of cross-border crime if the proposed EU compromise on checks and customs were to come into force?


UKandEU2 karma

I would imagine that the claims of having negotiated in bad faith would have most immediately negative consequences for future negotiations/deals. That is not something that either Cummings or Ian Paisley (as per his Newsnight claims last night) would be too concerned about.

It is impossible to answer the second question fully because those non-papers aren't really descriptions of solutions but rather pointers towards potential ambitions. In many ways, they repeat what we have seen time and time again (and what we know in border studies), i.e. that fewer checks and controls can only be made possible if you have other measures to increase confidence that what is entering a territory is allowed to do so (and in this case, will stay out of the wider EU single market). Hence the conditions that the EU is careful to say would have to be met if they were to have fewer checks and controls on GB to NI movement (e.g. market surveillance, access to data, IT systems, certain basic standards in production etc).

They would be hoping, in so doing, that the risks of non-compliance and profiteering through smuggling are kept to a minimum. Something that's in the interests of both the UK and EU, surely.

xY2j-Ib2p9--NmEX-43-3 karma

Do you have to undergo bias training so that your report outputs are not skewed towards a certain political direction given that you may have personal beliefs about Northern Ireland?

UKandEU6 karma

No bias training per se. But I do think that a sociological training and way of approaching topics has great value. It's good to practice 'reflexivity' for example, as well as to teach it! People will always accuse you of bias (usually if they don't agree with what you say), and you can't prevent that. So hence the importance of having good quality evidence, an ability to explain your analysis, and also a willingness to listen to/ learn from other sources/points of view. Twitter can a good way of at least making a reasonable effort to do the latter.

Tyros432 karma

I saw recently on the news statements that the UK had intended the NI protocol to be temporary from the start. Given that the UK is continuing to demand changes or threatening to leave the protocol.

How should the EU approach them? What benefit would he EU have to engage with a UK they do not feel would keep any promises made.

UKandEU1 karma

The hundreds of millions of £££s the UK Government has spent so far on implementing the Protocol (e.g. the Trader Support Service) speaks more loudly than those rumours or claims, I think.

The EU should look at the evidence rather than the rhetoric, I would say. That includes evidence from NI on what is causing difficulties (and what might contribute to future problems), and unnecessary ones at that. To that end, engagement with stakeholders, including alongside UK and NI authorities, is essential.

Zhukov-742 karma

We’re you surprised by the proposal of the EU to cut 80% of checks between NI and GB?

UKandEU3 karma

The best way to understand the 80% cut in checks figure that Sefcovic talks of would be in comparison to full-force implementation (which hasn't yet happened). But you'd also want to treat this as a somewhat speculative number too... There is alot that would be be needed to get to that point, including the UK meeting the various pre-conditions and conditions that the non-paper on SPS refers to. And there are plenty of those...

Octopus-Pawn2 karma

Why don’t we democratically give individual regions the option to become part of mainland Ireland?

UKandEU6 karma

Because, I presume, we'd soon run out of decent colour combos for GAA flags.

Emergency_Flamingo191 karma

Is the framing of Art 16 as ‘temporary & limited’ underselling how much HMG could do with it?

UKandEU1 karma

The terms of Art 16 are quite clear. The safeguard measures "shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation." And they will be reviewed every three months. That's if we are talking about the measures to be taken. If we are talking about the political/symbolic significance of Article 16, then I think the implications are rather wider and longer-term. Triggering it would, I think, extend rather than shorten any talks process that is underway about the Protocol.

Stonemuses11 karma

Has the role of the ECJ in the Protocol had any impact on the declining level of consent for it - of which Frost speaks?

UKandEU2 karma

I don't know of any evidence of the topic of the ECJ having had much mention in NI discussion/reaction to the Protocol prior to its inclusion in the July Command Paper. That said, it is mentioned now by some unionist politicians in public discourse. It will be interesting to see from our most recent QUB/LucidTalk Poll (results due out on 28 Oct!) as to how much traction the issue has got among the wider public. See here for previous results :https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/post-brexit-governance-ni/OpinionPolling/

moiraroundabout1 karma

Katy!!!! Class of '99 representing! Have you been back to Leuven?

How far down the road of populism do you think the UK can go, how many general election cycles do you think it will take before the adults take charge again?

In academia is the general agreement that Brexit was an exercise in tax dodging gone wrong or is my analysis wide of the mark?

UKandEU1 karma

I have only been back to Leuven/Louvain once - too long ago now. And the food in the Irish College was just as good and the craic in the Irish bar was just as mighty.

(Will you accept this as a sufficient answer to all 3 questions?!)

Chicken_of_Funk1 karma

Where do you keep your toaster? Important info in this debate, conspicuous by it's absence.

UKandEU1 karma

My toaster happily hovers betwixt and between.

InterestingUnit01 karma

While this might be a very far-fetched question, how do you see the chances of the IRA becoming strong again?

UKandEU2 karma

The latest report (Nov 2020) of the Independent Reporting Commission on paramilitary activity and organised crime in NI stated that "the continued existence of paramilitarism... constitutes a ‘clear and present danger’ on an ongoing basis". https://www.ircommission.org/publications/irc-third-report

That report explains how political and socio-economic conditions are crucial to tackling paramilitarism - because they can also contribute to its growth.

vague_intentionally_0 karma

Master Law class of 2018, hoping all in the Criminology and Law department are doing well (loving that new Law School and many thanks for the AMA!).

In regards to what the uk is doing, what precisely is their plan in terms of Brexit? The whole thing seems so short-term with massive long-term ramifications for the uk. Maybe there are political benefits of cutting NI and Scotland loose but the danger in consideration of economical, social, global, etc measures seems like Suez x 100 (to put it bluntly).

UKandEU1 karma

Hullo alumnus! I don't know what the UK plan is in terms of Brexit. It was interesting to hear Lord Frost stressing in his Lisbon speech that there will be more competition UK/EU, less collaboration with the EU, and more divergence from the EU. None of those things bode well for British-Irish relations, or the context for them. And so it would be good to know how the UK government plans to maintain and protect its relations with Ireland (and uphold Strand 3 in its fullness) after Brexit. That is key for maintaining the 1998 Agreement too, of course, which Frost expressed concern for in that same speech.

HideoYutani0 karma

Do you thi k there will ever be a time where parties whose only goal is to either stay in the UK or reunite Ireland will not be the major players in NI politics?

UKandEU1 karma

Non-aligned parties (e.g. Alliance, Greens) could well increase in size and seats, but it is difficult to envisage a NI political scene in which nationalist and unionist parties are not major players. This is in part because of the logic and rules of power-sharing in the NI Assembly & Executive as they currently stand.

Wiggedwam0 karma

Hi Katy,

Is "diversion of trade" a term of art?


UKandEU1 karma

Certainly it's an unusual inclusion as the grounds for safeguard measures, as my QUB colleague Dr Billy Melo Araujo explains: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3827260

Innovenst0 karma

Hi Katy

Interested in Sefcovic's latest moves this week. To what extent is the process he's following foreshadowing preparations for unification? Engaging with NI business, being very accommodating etc. Is this approach compatible with formal preparations before and after a border poll? What I'm really driving at is - is there thought on the EU side as to what problems might arise in that scenario and how to deal with them?

thanks, Ed

UKandEU1 karma

Hi Ed, I don't see evidence of there being thought or preparation on the EU's part as to what to do in the scenario of Irish unification - and certainly not in the process Sefcovic's team has been engaged in recently in coming up with these proposals. The most significant move on the EU's part in that respect so far has been the addition to the minutes of the Council Decisions in April 2017 recognising that a united Ireland would as a whole be part of the EU. That was prompted by Brexit to some degree (led by Taoiseach Enda Kenny). But that's as far as anything official has gone so far. As with Scottish independence, intra-EU member-state concerns are big considerations/constraints when it comes to addressing any such potential scenarios.