Perhaps the most tangible impact of the Brexit decision would be the imposition of a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as opposed to the free and unfettered passage of people and goods which currently exists. With Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has now been transformed into a border between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Currently there are no EU borders with non-member states that do not have border controls.
The second implication of Brexit is economic. While the markets have recovered from the initial Brexit shock, the impact on the British economy has the implications of Brexit are implemented are inevitable. Many in the “leave” camp have attempted to downplay this, pointing to a “hope” that the UK will come to a “special deal” that will stave off the economic consequences. Hope is not a plan and no one has put forth a cogent argument why the EU and its member economies would want to award a special dispensation to an ex-member for leaving the fold and set a dangerous precedent for other “leave” campaigns. Former Northern Ireland Secretary and European Trade Commissioner Lord Mandelson has estimated that the eventual economic fallout from Brexit could see the Northern Ireland economy shrink by 3% with 50,000 jobs at risk. History has shown whenever the British economy has experience a prolong downturn it shrinks inward toward London with Scotland and Northern Ireland bearing a disproportionate burden of job loss and economic impact. History also teaches us that in Northern Ireland when jobs are scarce sectarian based discrimination rises and is a precursor to a resumption of violence.
The Brexit vote takes the United Kingdom and the people of Ireland into unchartered waters in the fragile boat that is the Good Friday Agreement. While having voted by a much wider majority to stay in the EU than the broader population of the United Kingdom to leave, the long suffering people of Northern Ireland are being involuntarily swept along with the Brexit tide to an area of the map where it says "Here be Dragons". In a sea off uncertainty and political instability there is reason to be legitimately concerned that the old Dragons of "Playing the Orange Card" and sectarianism which have been fitfully sleeping for nearly two decades may once again awaken with the violent consequences that impact the people of all communities of Northern Ireland.
Brexit and the severing of ties with the EU which has served as an independent guarantor to the Northern Irish Peace process has created a dangerous leadership vacuum. The Unites States has a significant investment in the Northern Irish peace process and if it does not wish to see the dividends of peace that the Good Friday Agreement delivered squandered it must again become an active advocate for peace and justice. History has sadly shown that progress for justice in the Anglo-Irish relationship only occurs when the United States, led by calls form Irish America, is actively involved. Unfortunately, in recent years peace and justice in Northern Ireland has erroneously fallen off the U.S. Government agenda in a mistaken belief of “mission accomplished”. It is up to us, Irish America, to educate them. We must immediately stop the erosion of the commitment to the MacBride principles; now is the wrong time to signal that America is disengaging from the Northern Irish peace process. We must make justice in Northern Ireland a precondition to any trade agreement or treaty that Britain seeks with the U.S. if it seeks to develop U.S. markets to replace what it will lose as a result of its E.U. exit.
Peace is too precious to wait until it is lost and the violence begins. Shame on us if we do not take proactive action and it takes the sacrifice of another Terence MacSwiney or Bobby Sands to motivate us. It is time to make Northern Ireland a U.S. priority now before a Brexit iron curtain descends upon Ireland.
Neil F. Cosgrove
National Political Education Chair
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America