The Irish Question: Part I

The Irish Question: Part I

As the United Kingdom continues on its path to withdraw from the European Union, a key element that needs to be considered is the border issue in Ireland. The Northern Ireland/Ireland frontier is the only border that would be directly affected by Brexit. The rest of the U.K. is an island, although border checks would be required at the Chunnel and at U.K. ports. However, the Irish border has broader geopolitical implications beyond just a border issue.

In Part I of this report, we will begin by introducing the importance of Ireland to Britain’s geopolitics and how this led to the effective British colonization of Ireland. A short history of British/Irish relations will follow. Next week, in Part II, we will examine the Good Friday Agreement and analyze the problems that Brexit brings. As always, we will conclude with market ramifications.

The Geopolitics of Britain

Britain is an island; this feature protects it from invasion. The last successful sea conquest of the island was the Norman Invasion in 1066. Its island geography allowed the British to influence the European continent while mostly preventing European powers from having a similar effect on Britain. However, as the following map shows, Britain’s security is dependent on controlling Ireland as well. If a foreign power controlled Ireland, even basing a small navy in Ireland would likely contain the entire west coast of England, Wales and a significant part of Scotland. Therefore, since the time of the Normans, British leaders have attempted to bring Ireland under their control (as we will discuss in detail in the history section below).

(Source: Wikipedia)

Once the Europeans began to colonize the Western Hemisphere, it became imperative for Britain to control Ireland. Its ability to claim and maintain colonies would have been severely constrained if it hadn’t done so. Imagine if Spain had control of Ireland; the Spanish navy could have contained the British navy and likely prevented Britain from obtaining colonies and could have protected Spanish gold shipments from South America that were often at risk from British privateers.