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Report argues for Northern Ireland to remain in EU post-Brexit

The UK’s withdrawal agreement should allow Northern Ireland to stay in the EU after Brexit, according to a new report by an academic at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Launched today, the independent report by Dr Nikos Skoutaris was commissioned by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) Group of the European Parliament.

The report explores the special relationship that Northern Ireland should enjoy with the EU, should the overall EU-UK relationship and the specific technological solutions fail to effectively address the Irish border issue.

Dr Skoutaris, a senior lecturer in EU law, argues that the UK withdrawal agreement needs to recognise the unique position and special circumstances of Northern Ireland and put in place an arrangement which will provide for a special designated status for Northern Ireland, similar to the one described in the draft UK withdrawal agreement.

In particular, the special designated status should respect the principle of consent and the right of self-determination by providing for a legal route for the reintegration of Northern Ireland into the EU. This status should protect the all-island economy by allowing for the participation of the region in the single market and/or the EU Customs Union (EUCU).

“Such a status should be understood as a mutually agreed arrangement that will respect and protect the unique constitutional status of the region as provided by all three strands of the Good Friday Agreement,” said Dr Skoutaris.

“However, this situation should not happen at the expense of weakening ‘East-West’ institutions, for example between the Republic of Ireland and the UK. In fact, their strengthening will be necessary in order to manage the tensions that Northern Ireland’s remaining in the single market and the EUCU would likely cause to its economic relationship with the rest of the UK.”

Notwithstanding the legal feasibility of this special status, Dr Skoutaris concludes that the greater challenge in reaching such an arrangement will lie in building a consensus about what would constitute “the unique and imaginative solution that will have to be found for Northern Ireland”.

“It is important to stress that the principle of consent that the Good Friday Agreement is founded upon necessitates the agreement of all interested parties in order for Northern Ireland to enjoy such a special status.

“At the same time, unless such an arrangement is reached, the fragile balance that the agreement has established will be threatened. The very logic of the peace process dictates that Northern Ireland should enjoy a special designated status within the EU by taking into account and strengthening all three strands.”

Dr Skoutaris has published extensively on Brexit and its effect on the UK territorial constitution. His most recent paper discusses how Scotland and Northern Ireland could remain in the single market even after Brexit, and he leads a research project on ‘The De- Europeanisation of Border Conflicts: The Effect of Brexit on Territorial Borders and Boundaries’. His website focuses on Secessions, Constitutions and EU law.

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