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Altered Gravities: Ireland, Brexit and Structural Power

Patrick Holden

Brexit will readjust the complex power relations between the Irish and UK governments and the EU institutions. The EU is considered a locus of 'structural power' because its collective economic weight, and legal-institutional pre-eminence, allows it to shape member states and external neighbours in many respects. This understanding informs the mainstream view that Brexit will leave the UK in a weaker position. On the other hand, independent Ireland spent 5 decades firmly in the socio-economic and financial orbit of the UK, and even in recent decades the relationship with its larger neighbour remains highly asymmetric. This asymmetry was masked by EU membership and a close partnership on Northern Ireland but will re-emerge in the Brexit process. Accordingly Ireland's situation is sharply bifurcated between its role as a part of the larger entity and its role as smaller neighbour. The paper analyses the material interdependence and power-relations before focusing on a discourse analysis of how Irish (in particular) and British elites construct power and interdependence in their positions on Brexit. This study will combine a content analysis as well as a more qualitative discourse analysis. Finally the paper traces the major lines of tension and likely future scenarios for UK-Irish relations.

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