Windsor lawyer shaping Northern Ireland's new border after Brexit
As the UK prepares to leave the EU, there are changes coming to Northern Ireland's free and open boundary
Laurie Tannous flew to Dublin in late May and took the leisurely drive to Belfast, passing just as easily into Northern Ireland as she would move between any Canadian province.
But as the United Kingdom prepares for its departure from the European Union, the free and open boundary with the Republic of Ireland is about to change.
Brexit is expected to tighten the border to Northern Ireland, bringing rise to customs checkpoints, new immigration policies and trade agreements, all of which have many worried about trade between the two regions, particularly in the retail and agricultural sectors, explained Tannous, a trade and immigration lawyer from Windsor, Ont.
She has been working with officials in the region to quell those fears and to help introduce a "hard" border that doesn't devastate the economy.
"It's not the end of the world and it can work," Tannous said, describing the border between Canada and the U.S.
Borrowing Canada-U.S. models
Given her expertise on border issues — Tannous is also a special advisor to the Cross Border Institute at the University of Windsor — she is using North American models of immigration, cross-border travel, trade and food safety in order to adopt similar policies in Northern Ireland.
During the Brexit vote, the region overwhelmingly supported staying in the EU, largely because Northern Ireland has a struggling economy. It currently receives annual funding from London to the tune of $16.5 billion Cdn and would struggle to survive as an independent nation.
Figuring out how to survive with a new border is about the only other option, explained Tannous. Even though some of the North American models are tested and true, she wants to see Northern Ireland make improvements, particularly when it comes to wait times for visa applications.
"What's going to be difficult for them is just the concept of having a hard border," she said. "They keep saying they want it to be frictionless. Well, you can't have a hard border that's frictionless."
It's been nearly 20 years since the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland had heavy divisions between them. The lengthy era of civil unrest, which was marked by violence and a militarised border, ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
But the open border that has been in place ever since is about to change, meaning there will soon be a drastic difference from the trip Tannous first took to Belfast in May.
"I would have never known I had crossed that border," she said. "It was definitely an interesting experience."
With files from Don Duncan