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Central Border Region study finds Brexit worse or much worse than expected for most participants

Results from a report published today (Friday 22 October) led by Queen’s University Belfast has found that over half of respondents (53 per cent) say that the impact of Brexit has been worse or much worse than they had expected.

Brexit Jigsaw web

Only 13 per cent said it has been better than they feared.

The report is part of ‘The Border after Brexit’ project in conjunction with the Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN) the cross-border local authority partnership consisting of eight local authorities in the Central Border Region of Ireland/Northern Ireland. It is co-authored by Professor Katy Hayward and Dr Milena Komarova from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s.

The research consisted of three parts – an online survey of 394 unique responses, focus groups and stakeholder interviews with participants across the region, from both sides of the border. The survey is taken from a self-selecting sample, so it is the comments and viewpoints submitted by respondents, not the quantitative results, that are the focus of the report.

Most participants in the study report negative economic experiences of the impact of Brexit and the Protocol, with around half of respondents pointing to problems with the supply, delivery, delays in delivery, and general availability of goods. However, respondents express most concern for the societal impact of Brexit and the Protocol, on cross-border and cross-community relations. Many give examples of a ‘hardening of views’ on both sides, including among young people.

Half of respondents say that the experience of the past 12 months has made them less optimistic about the future in light of Brexit, whilst those who see positives from Brexit tend to do so in terms of economic advantage (for both parts of the island of Ireland) or strengthening sovereignty. Leave-voting respondents, however, express a sense of disappointment, with many stating that what had been delivered, either politically or in purely economic terms, was not what they believed they had voted for.

Leave-voting participants predominantly see the Protocol in negative terms, although the majority of respondents in the survey overall see it in a positive light, such as offering ‘dual market accessibility’ and avoiding ‘a hard Brexit [and] hard border’.

Professor Hayward remarked on the significance of this research in light of current UK-EU discussions on the Protocol: “Over half (57 per cent) of participants remain concerned that there could yet be a hard Irish land border in the future. This shows overall that there is a real sense of flux and, with it, anxiety when it comes to the political, economic and social conditions in the border region since the end of the transition period. Such concerns are felt on both sides of the border from people of different backgrounds, identities and viewpoints.”

Further findings from the report include:

· The subject of Brexit continues to be very important in people’s lives. 85 per cent of survey respondents say that Brexit is important to them; with six out of ten saying that it is very important to them. This includes people from both sides of the border. Only 17 per cent say that Brexit has been insignificant.

· Almost half of respondents (48 per cent) say that Brexit has increased as a matter of importance for them since the end of the transition period; only 9 per cent say it has decreased in importance. This is not just so for those in Northern Ireland but also for those in the border counties of the Republic of Ireland.

· Uncertainty and lack of clarity continue to be of serious concern. Persistent uncertainty is the reason given by many respondents for the increased importance of Brexit to them since the end of the transition period.

· Political stability and North-South cooperation are matters of most serious concern. People in the Central Border Region are most concerned about political stability in Northern Ireland (81 per cent) and about North-South cooperation (79 per cent).

· The Covid-19 pandemic is seen as a contributing factor to current Brexit issues. Overall, three-quarters of respondents consider the impact of Covid-19 measures to have restricted their cross-border access to services, including health. The differentials in the timing and scale of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout on either side of the border are seen to have caused practical difficulties.

Commenting on the report, ICBAN Chair, Councillor Eamon Mc Neill said: “This is the fourth report of this type which ICBAN and Queen’s University Belfast have completed. In 2017 the Management Board of ICBAN had identified an absence of local community consultation on the impacts of the Brexit process on both sides of the border. Together with Queen’s we have sought to give voice to the people from our Border Region, and to provide a means to record and report on these opinions.

“We have endeavoured to ensure that the findings of each report are brought to the attention of those involved in the high-level discussions on the subject. We respect the differing political opinions within our Board, our member Councils and communities on the subject, and thus have been careful to ensure that this is a non-political and non-partisan initiative.”

Dr Komarova concluded: “Our study respondents express an awareness that for any opportunities from Brexit or the Protocol to be realised, social stability and political certainty are essential with most participants stressing the importance of cross-border cooperation as the only way forward to address the present challenges of both Brexit and Covid.”

The full report ‘The Border after Brexit: Experiences of Local Communities in the Central Border Region of Ireland / Northern Ireland’ is available from https://icban.com/2021/10/21/the-border-after-brexit-report/

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