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Britain and the Northern Irish Border During Brexit: a new 'Irish question' in British politics?

Venue: Online

This event has ended.

The Birkbeck Centre for British Political Life is hosting a public seminar on Britain and the Northern Irish Border during Brexit thanks to generous funding from the British Association for Irish Studies. After the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and the ending of the conflict known as 'the Troubles', the politics of Northern Ireland faded into the periphery of many people's minds in British politics. The 2016 decision to leave the European Union brought Northern Ireland and the politics of the Irish border back to the forefront of British political attention, despite the issue featuring little in the public debate before the referendum.

The May and Johnson governments then sought to honour the Brexit mandate while also assuaging the fears of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland and those of the Irish government who feared the emergence of a ‘hard’ border on the island. Ultimately, the Withdrawal Agreement and Irish/Northern Irish Protocol was negotiated with the EU and passed through parliament in December 2019. Much to the ire of the Conservative Party’s Unionist allies, it was agreed that Northern Ireland would enter into separate arrangements with the EU’s single market and customs union as the rest of the UK departed. However, more recently, aspects of the Protocol have come into dispute as the British government introduced an ‘Internal Market Bill’ which breaks international law ‘in a very specific and limited way’.

This event will bring together academics and journalists who have worked on these matters during the tumultuous Brexit impasse. The seminar will ask

  • How, and to what extent have the media and politicians in Britain grappled with the issue of Northern Ireland during Brexit?
  • How, and to what extent have they sought to resolve a new ‘Irish question’ in British politics.
  • What will be the long-term effect of the new arrangements for Northern Ireland and its Union with Great Britain?


Professor Katy Hayward
Professor of Political Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast and a Senior Fellow of the ESRC-funded UK in a Changing Europe initiative, working on the topic of Brexit and Northern Ireland/the Irish border.

Professor Michael Kenny
Inaugural Director, the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. He is currently involved in research projects exploring the territorial implications of Brexit as part of the ESRC-funded ‘Between Two Unions: the constitutional futures of the islands after Brexit’ programme.

Conor Kelly
PhD student at Birkbeck’s Department of Politics. His research focuses on Northern Irish political parties attitudes towards the EU. He also works as a Research Assistant at the Constitution Unit at University College London on their Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland project.

Lisa O'Carroll
Lisa O'Carroll is the Guardian's Brexit correspondent.


Dr Ben Worthy
Director of the Birkbeck Centre for British Public Life and Senior Lecturer in Politics. His research interests include government transparency, particularly freedom of information, as well as political leadership and British politics.

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