The issue of Brexit is unavoidably going to affect pretty much every economic question regarding the UK for the next decade at least, and probably beyond. Nowhere is this more in evidence than across the Irish Sea, where Northern Ireland is leaving the EU and its neighbour to the South is staying in.
For motorists, this creates some particularly vexed questions. At present, an Irish motorist could start from the Northern tip of Antrim and drive to the South coast of Cork, covering six hundred miles in the process, without any real change aside from the road signs changing to kilometres and becoming bilingual.
Politicians on all sides have been keen to stress they don’t want anything about that to change – but do they have a clue how it will be avoided, and what does the uncertainty mean for drivers on the Emerald Isle?
1. No-one Knows What The Border Will Look Like
As of March 2019, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will become a land border between the UK and the EU. While the preference of PM Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is for a “frictionless border”, it’s frustratingly unclear what that really means.
One certainty of Brexit is that it will affect freedom of movement for goods and people between the UK and the EU. To ensure that this can be controlled, any border defined as “frictionless” would surely be insufficient. A return to the “hard border” of the past is in no-one’s interests, but not much thinking seems to have gone into it before the vote, and it’s anyone’s guess whether a positive solution even exists.
2. How Will Brexit Trade Negotiations Affect The Island?
Thousands of people on both sides of the border cross it to work every day. It’s possible for some to walk over the border in their own back garden. So of course some people in the South buy cars in the North, and vice versa.
The only complication to this has been Vehicle Registration Tax for imported cars. Until now, buying a used car in the UK has meant Southerners simply calculating the VRT on Irish/UK imports, adding it to the sale price and getting their total. How this will change in 2019 is on a knife-edge.
If the negotiators manage to reach a tariff-free trade deal, it may not change at all. If, however, negotiations fall flat and the UK moves to WTO trade rules, then tariffs may become applicable – making it prohibitive for those in the South to make car purchases in the North.
3. Fuel Prices Are Likely To Rise
Ireland imports the vast bulk of its fuel through the UK, where prices have already risen since last year’s vote. In the aftermath of Britain’s eventual exit, it’s hard to see how they won’t rise south of the border too. Given the thriving Northern Irish black-market trade in red diesel that has often seen Southern motorists cross the border to refuel (and has been policed less aggressively in recent years), this could be a matter that affects more than just the prices at the pump.
In short, as with most things around the issue of Brexit at the moment, there are more questions than answers – and calm leadership will be essential for the whole island of Ireland.