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Borderlands

Among the many complex issues facing negotiators from the UK and the EU trying to hammer out an agreement that will define the United Kingdom's relationship with the bloc after March 2019 when the UK is due to exit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic has become the most intractable. A dizzying array of new, ad hoc terminology - from 'backstop' and 'regulatory alignment' to 'max fac' and the use of the term 'the island of Ireland' to describe the bipartite unit - has entered common parlance to suggest possible solutions to the the seemingly insoluble web of disagreements between the two parties.

The result of Britain's EU referendum in June 2016 came as somewhat of a surprise to many. 52% of voters chose to leave the union which the UK had joined in 1973, leading the then prime minister David Cameron to resign and laying one of the biggest challenges yet at the feet of the EU which had spent the best part of the previous years patching up other EU crises that seemed to surface with frightful regularity.

The question of the Irish border is a complex one in a number of ways. The vast majority of goods travelling in and out of Ireland, a prominent agricultural producer, is transported by road and on ferries through the United Kingdom, reaching the continent in northern France and travelling onward from there. A new border, with customs checks and holdups, would create a huge bottleneck for Irish trade with the rest of the EU. Direct ferry links from Irish ports to the continent would massively increase the cost of doing business. The most urgent matter regarding the border, however, is the relative peace that has reigned since the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement which could now be undermined by any physical manifestation of the island's division. Northern Ireland voted convincingly to stay in the Union, with 55.8% choosing Remain. Both sides of the sectarian divide that runs across the North have seen the benefits of an open border with the Republic next door and the referendum result has reawakened certain demons that many thought had been laid to rest.

Andrew Testa travelled the length of the border, gauging the mood on both sides and documenting some of the stark reminders of years of simmering conflict that most want to consign to history for good.
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