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The Irish Question

The Consequences of Brexit

A scrabble board spells out Brexit in Dublin, Ireland, May 2016.  Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters

The United Kingdom’s historic decision to leave the EU has stunned Brussels and sent shock waves through Europe. The Scottish government has threatened to hold a second referendum on independence, jeopardizing the kingdom’s unity. And in Ireland, the vote threatens to derail a fragile peace process and undermine a recent economic recovery.

Over the past four decades, the EU has transformed Ireland’s relationship with the United Kingdom. Before both countries joined the bloc, in 1973, Ireland had achieved political but not economic independence. Its economy was rural and underdeveloped, leaving it reliant on British markets for its products. In the words of the French author Jean Blanchard, Ireland was an “island behind an island,” its ties with its larger neighbor defined by a combination of supplication and resentment.

EU membership drew the poison out of the relationship. It provided Ireland with new markets and a fresh political forum

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