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The Irish border seems to be the biggest obstacle to establishing an agreement on Brexit and we've seen considerable talk about hard and soft borders. There are two potential solutions that I have NOT seen discussed and I just want to float them here to see if there is any chance that either of them might present a possible solution. I expect both would be seen as somewhat "radical" in the sense of being a rather big step from the status quo but my knowledge of Ireland is far too meager for the reasons to be obvious to me.

Solution 1: Have Northern Ireland merge with the Irish Republic so that the entire island is the Irish Republic. In that scenario, ALL of Ireland would be in the EU and the Irish border would disappear. Great Britain, comprising England, Scotland and Wales, would be free to leave the EU and Ireland could stay in the EU.

Solution 2: Have all of Ireland join the UK on the same basis as England, Scotland and Wales. All of the enlarged UK could then leave the EU together. (Mind you, I could imagine this giving a lot of ammunition to the people who want a second referendum and if that happened, perhaps Brexit would be abandoned and the enlarged UK would remain in the EU after all. After all, the people in the Irish Republic could rightfully say that they weren't even consulted about Brexit.)

I'd be very curious to know whether a reunification of Ireland - either as a single Republic or as part of the UK - is even imaginable or are the differences still so strong that it's unthinkable? From what I hear, the inter-Irish border is all but invisible since the Troubles ended and the two parts of the island get along fine. I also sense that the Catholic and Protestant Churches are far less influential than they were; after all, the Republic even permits abortion now, something that was unthinkable just a few years ago. The violence has either stopped entirely or declined a very great deal. The current prime minister in the Republic is apparently gay and only half-Irish, another sign that attitudes in the Republic have greatly changed.

Could Protestants in the North be comfortable in an enlarged Republic? Would they need certain safeguards to even consider such a move? I would certainly not want to make any such move with the consent of a majority of those in Northern Ireland.

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    There are a lot of similar questions in northern-ireland. – Martin Schröder Jan 26 at 13:48
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    I just read a news article about an English politician suggesting that the republic leave the EU and rejoin the UK. The article asserted that polls show 92% of the republic's citizens (or residents, with that figure it doesn't matter which) in favor of its membership in the EU. For an English politician to suggest that Ireland rejoin the UK is hopelessly arrogant and ignorant of both current political sentiment and Irish history. – phoog Jan 26 at 21:35
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    See politics.stackexchange.com/a/34470/13141 for a short explanation of the relevant history. – Paul Johnson Jan 27 at 15:02
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    "the inter-Irish border is all but invisible since the Troubles ended and the two parts of the island get along fine." In some ways that's true. But you go on to say that "the Republic even permits abortion now" and I should point out that (despite what you might assume, with it being part of the UK) Northern Ireland does not currently permit abortion. – owjburnham Jan 27 at 18:04
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    @Henry - 'the two parts of the island get along fine' - Northern Ireland is still a deeply divided society and however democratically obtained, a united Ireland would almost certainly lead to extensive bloodshed:- irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/… – Dave Gremlin Jan 30 at 13:55
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Solution 1: Have Northern Ireland merge with the Irish Republic so that the entire island is the Irish Republic. In that scenario, ALL of Ireland would be in the EU and the Irish border would disappear. Great Britain, comprising England, Scotland and Wales, would be free to leave the EU and Ireland could stay in the EU.

This is possible under the Good Friday Agreement known as 'United Ireland', however, it requires a majority of the people of Northern Ireland express this democratically (e.g. according to article 3.1 of the Constitution of Ireland). For more information on the Irish reunification procedure, see this article by thejournal.ie.

Personally, I think it is possible that this might happen in the long term, but then I'm thinking multiple years. It's also not something that the UK can easily ask for to extend the article 50 deadline because it requires asking what the people of Northern Ireland want. If they want to stay part of the UK, this isn't a solution.

Furthermore, the UK sees Northern Ireland as part of its territory, so it won't want to give it up just like that.

Solution 2: Have all of Ireland join the UK on the same basis as England, Scotland and Wales. All of the enlarged UK could then leave the EU together. (Mind you, I could imagine this giving a lot of ammunition to the people who want a second referendum and if that happened, perhaps Brexit would be abandoned and the enlarged UK would remain in the EU after all. After all, the people in the Irish Republic could rightfully say that they weren't even consulted about Brexit.)

Obviously, the Irish people won't agree with this. The UK has no right to take Ireland out and Ireland will not be persuaded to leave the EU on its own.

According to the Wikipedia page titled Euroscepticism in the Republic of Ireland:

Euroscepticism is a minority view in Ireland, with opinion polls between 2016 and 2018 indicating upwards of 90% support for continued membership of the European Union (EU).

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    The DUP, who hold 10 of NI's seats in parliament, are absolutely opposed to NI joining the Irish Republic. Nothing will change their minds on this, and they supply the government's majority, so that idea is a non-starter. – John Dallman Jan 26 at 9:44
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    @JohnDallman yea, and I bet the Conservative and Unionist Party wouldn't want that either, and they have many more seats. ;) – JJJ Jan 26 at 9:54
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    @eggyal tell me about it, they even did a referendum to leave the European Union, I mean, who does that? – JJJ Jan 27 at 5:47
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    @eggyal they had that referendum because they predicted a win by a wide enough margin that it would slow Scottish nationalism, which it seemed to do up to the Brexit referendum – Caleth Jan 28 at 10:26
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    @eggyal not to slow nationalism but to make sure he'd win the election. He was afraid people would otherwise be going to UKIP. – JJJ Jan 28 at 10:46
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The first solution wouldn't work because a majority of Northern Ireland does not want to join the Republic of Ireland.

The second solution is even less likely to work because although it's been suggested, roughly 90% of Ireland does not want to rejoin the UK.

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    1973 was a long time ago. Just for comparison, in 1975 the UK voted to join the common market by 67% and in 2016 they voted to leave by 52%. Specifically, there will be many new voters and a lot of the old ones will have died. And over time people may have changed their minds as well. – JJJ Sep 19 at 7:46
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    @JJJ put in a more recent source, which comes to roughly the same conclusion. – Allure Sep 19 at 8:19
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    On the contrary, it is far from clear whether the majority in NI don't want to join the Republic. The most recent poll is reported in this post titled: "My Northern Ireland Survey finds the Union on a Knife Edge. This was within the last month at the time this question was posted. – matt_black Sep 19 at 15:23
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Nothing in Northern Ireland politics can be understood without taking a big step back and looking at the history of the island of Ireland at least in the 20th century but probably going back to the 16th.

In short, Ireland was England’s first colony and they had a difficult relationship. The Irish were mostly catholic while settlers from Great Britain were mostly protestant which is why a lot of issues seem to follow a catholic/protestant separator. Those descending from Great Britain are and were usually and mostly in favour of remaining part of the UK while the original inhabitants are and were usually and mostly in favour of being independent.

In the early 20th century, the Irish revolution happened and most of the island with a predominantly catholic population ceded from the United Kingdom to form the Irish Free State, Republic of Ireland or whichever title it had at various points in time. The north-eastern counties, however, remained part of the United Kingdom as they had significant protestant and unionist (supporting the union) populations. Initially, Ireland was still considered a dominion and part of the British Empire but in 1948 at the latest Ireland became fully independent when the British monarch lost all remaining powers they had over the island’s southern and western part.

The Irish Republican Army or IRA (which sounds like a single entity but Wikipedia lists a number of divisions and recreations) never accepted the initial status of Ireland as a dominion and part of the British Empire and desired for the entire island to become independent. In the second half of the 20th century, when the independence of the Republic was firmly established they turned to extending its control to the north-eastern counties known collectively as Northern Ireland. This resulted in a period known as the Troubles with more or less warfare in Northern Ireland and terrorist attacks across other parts of the British Isles. The Troubles are considered to have ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement which of itself has a number of consequences for the question.

After that extremely brief overview of the history of the island, one point becomes clear: Ireland is exceedingly unlikely to rejoin the United Kingdom. This is not what the island’s population had fought for and there are no significant public voices expressing that option except in the UK. That rules out solution 2 and probably for a very, very long time (centuries timeframe).

What about solution 1? As I have outlined, there is a certain level of support within Northern Ireland—mainly amongst the catholic population—and certainly support in the Republic. The problem here lies in the other part of the Northern Irish population and certain people in Great Britain. For example, the currently ruling party in the UK is the Conservative and Unionist party—the Unionist bit shows how unlikely they are to cede Northern Ireland. At the time of the question, they were supported to gain a majority in the Commons by the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland which runs on a clear pro-Union (as in UK) ticket. It may be noted that other parties represented in the Commons are less emphatic on the matter (and there is Sinn Fein that wins seats on a reunified Ireland ticket but also refuses to swear allegiance to the Queen (absentionist ticket) and is thus not represented at Westminster). On the other hand, Northern Irish cession would probably be grudgingly accepted by most political actors in the UK assuming it happens democratically.

Thus, we can sum up as follows:

  • solution 1: possible but not desired by about half of Northern Ireland and thus unlikely
  • solution 2: exceedingly unlikely given the Irish history

As an aside, Unionists will tend to have less of a problem with a hard border because their allegiance is with London.

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The existing answers are good, but I think a more concise answer is possible.

It should be kept in mind that the reason Ireland is divided is

  1. The entire island used to be a constituent country of the UK.

  2. There was a war for independence of Ireland from the UK.

  3. Some people in Ireland, including most in what became Northern Ireland, did not want independence.

  4. The political solution led to partition as a compromise.

The current situation led to the end of the war, but did not end the violence completely.

Yes, unifying all of Ireland would eliminate the border problem, but it would renew the problem that led to partition in the first place, which was disagreement about the the status of Ireland. In that regard, it would be a step back. Other answers explain why it is not politically plausible today.

Such disagreement has the potential to engender even more violence than would a customs border between the two parts of the island. It would be a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

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