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‘It’s not just the economy, stupid !’
Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish border conundrum

Philippe Cauvet
p. 105-118


The aim of this paper is to show that to find a solution to the Irish border issue resulting from Brexit, one has to go further than simply looking at the commercial, social and economic threats Brexit poses in Northern Ireland and in cross-border relations between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The current Irish Border problem is fundamentally political and constitutional rather than socio-economic. Yet, as a political and constitutional question, the ongoing Irish Border problem is not just a consequence of Brexit. It is first and foremost the result of the unfinished nature of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (GFA). In the two decades that have passed since the Agreement, no real solution has been found to the Irish Border question, which had been the crux of the conflict between Irish nationalism and unionism since the very creation of Northern Ireland in 1920. Hence, if the prospect of Brexit, soft or hard, raises such a complex Irish Border problem, it is not simply because of its economic and commercial impacts : it is also due to the political and constitutional weaknesses of the GFA itself. One of the major weaknesses lies in the consociational institutions established in Northern Ireland in 1998, which, instead of building cross-community confidence and consensus, have embedded and reinforced sectarian polarisation in Northern Ireland. The second weakness lies in the incomplete constitutional definition of the roles of Dublin and London as neutral co-sovereign guarantor states of the GFA.

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Ce document sera publié en ligne en texte intégral en mai 2020.


The economics and politics of the soft Irish Border 
The Irish Border conundrum, Brexit and Anglo-Irish relations since the GFA
The Irish Border conundrum, Brexit and Consociational Power-sharing Democracy in Northern Ireland

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Since the results of the 2016 Brexit referendum were released and the British government entered negociations with the EU in order to leave the European Union, the question of the border between Northern Ireland/UK and the Republic of Ireland has proved to be the main bone of contention opposing London and the E.U.’s negotiating teams. More than three years after the referendum and even though Theresa May’s government had promised to find solutions to keep the Irish border as seamless and invisible as it was before Brexit, the backstop contained in the draft agreement reached in 2018 between London and Michel Barnier’s team is, at this stage, only just a ploy to postpone the problem of the Irish Border. It has not brought a solution as it lacks political support. The aim of this paper is to analyse the reasons which can account for such a complex and intricate situation.

It is generally agreed that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union will negatively impact the...

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Référence papier

Philippe Cauvet, « ‘It’s not just the economy, stupid !’
Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish border conundrum », Observatoire de la société britannique, 24 | 2019, 105-118.

Référence électronique

Philippe Cauvet, « ‘It’s not just the economy, stupid !’
Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish border conundrum », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 24 | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2020, consulté le 19 février 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Philippe Cauvet

Maître de conférences à l'Université de Poitiers

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Observatoire de la société britannique

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