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Brexit and the Border: Navigating a Peaceful Path across a shared border

‘Brexit’, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, is one of the most complicated social, political and economic issues in recent history.

One of the most challenging aspects was the question of the Northern Irish border, the only land border shared by the EU and the UK.

Research Challenge


Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland’ was one of the top three priorities in the UK-EU negotiations and central to the most complex deliberations, but it was highly contentious and little understood. UK and EU policymakers, diplomats and negotiators relied on researchers at Queen’s, led by Katy Hayward to shape their understanding of, and approach to, the problem.

Our Approach


Queen’s University has long been a global leader in Peace studies and is home to the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice.  Research undertaken by Professor Katy Hayward on the impact of European integration on the island of Ireland has long-evidenced the connection between cross-border cooperation and peace-building. The need to draw on this research base became clear following the June 2016 referendum on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.  
In early 2017, the Irish Central Border Area Network of local authorities commissioned Hayward to carry out three ‘rounds’ of research and reports on the impact of Brexit in the border region.  The findings of these reports were unique in being substantial, ‘up to date’, cross-border, and cross-community qualitative studies on the potential effects of Brexit in the border region of Ireland/Northern Ireland.

They showed the connection between the open border and the peace process and the negative impact that even the mere anticipation of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was having on cross-border cooperation and movement.

What impact did it make?


Queen’s research benefitted a wide range of stakeholders, including those in private, public and local community sectors most directly affected, and helped equip them to meet the challenge. Overall, the research has made an essential contribution to managing the impact of UK withdrawal from the EU on this fragile region. 
The work undertaken by Hayward has been transnational, cross-sectoral and multi-level. It has informed all sides of the international negotiations and helped to shape legislation for post-Brexit Northern Ireland to the benefit a wide range of stakeholders, not least, the people of Northern Ireland.  
Speaking at Queen’s in January 2020 Michel Barnier, EU’s Chief Negotiator for the UK/EU withdrawal said of the work:  

“On Brexit, researchers such as Dr Katy Hayward and Professor David Phinnemore have made an important contribution to the debate, in Northern Ireland, in Westminster, and beyond. Thanks to you, Northern Ireland’s unique political, social and economic reality is understood more broadly.” 

Our impact

Impact related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Learn more about Queen’s University’s commitment to nurturing a culture of sustainability and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through research and education.

UN Goal 16 - Peace, justice and strong institutions

Key Facts

  • Queen’s research informed the briefings and recommendations regarding the Irish border provided internally to the UK government throughout the Brexit negotiations. The work was also drawn upon by EU negotiators and EU26 leaders. 
  • The work has been presented as evidence to committee inquiries in both chambers in of the UK Parliament, the NI Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the Oireachtas, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and the European Parliament Committee on Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs.
  • Katy Hayward has been featured in over 1300 news and current affairs articles, items and programmes across 36 different countries. She has over 25,000 Twitter followers, including key figures in the Brexit negotiations such as Donald Tusk and Lord David Frost.
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Northern Ireland