Northern Ireland and the EU Referendum: the outcome, options and opportunities

Thumbnail Image
2362.pdf(196.96 KB)
Published Version
Murphy, Mary C.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
The Centre for Cross Border Studies
Published Version
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
The result of the UK EU referendum in June 2016 produced a surprising result. Contrary to expectations, the Leave side won, although the margin of the victory was small. Fifty-two per cent of the UK electorate chose to leave with 48% opting to remain. The outcome of the referendum has revealed the existence of marked political, ideological, socio-economic, demographic and geographic divisions across the UK. The latter division may be the most significant. In contrast to other parts of the UK, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted to Remain. At 56%, the margin of the Remain victory is a few percentage points lower in Northern Ireland than in these other regions. Arguably however, the implications of the overall Leave vote are more profound for Northern Ireland than for any other part of the UK, and by extension the result is similarly problematic for the Republic of Ireland. The Northern Ireland electorate expressed a majority vote to Remain which is at odds with the overall UK vote. The breakdown of the Northern Ireland vote suggests some overlap between unionist and nationalist voters in terms of a preference for the UK to stay in the EU. Critically however, the two parties to the Northern Ireland Executive, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin, do not share the same view on the Brexit issue. In this context, the capacity of the Northern Ireland administration to contribute to UK exit negotiations and to agitate effectively for Northern Ireland’s best interests remain under-developed. In the aftermath of the referendum, Northern Ireland is potentially vulnerable, both economically and politically, to an exit process which may not take account of the intricacies and sensitivities of the Northern Ireland situation. This article examines the EU referendum campaign and result in Northern Ireland. It documents the reaction and response in the aftermath of the vote, and analyses the immediate priorities for Northern Ireland in defending and promoting the best interests of the region without destabilising a delicate political and economic situation.
Northern Ireland , EU referendum , Brexit
Murphy, Mary C. (2016) 'Northern Ireland and the EU Referendum: The outcome, options and opportunities' The Journal of Cross Border Studies of Ireland, 11: 18-31.
© The Centre for Cross Border Studies 2016