May rejects border poll amid doubts at outcome
THE Prime Minister was forced into ruling out a border poll yesterday after reports that she had expressed doubts over Northern Ireland’s future in the UK after a referendum on a united Ireland.
The Times reported that there had been a confrontation between Theresa May and Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg after he suggested maintaining an open border during briefings aimed at uniting the party ahead of crucial Brexit talks.
Mrs May reportedly told him that EU rules would oblige Ire- land to construct border infrastructure to protect the single market, and warned against any move that might anger moderate nationalists in Northern Ireland.
Mr Rees-Mogg expressed “no doubt” Northern Ireland would remain within the UK after any border poll.
“I would not be as confident as you,” the Prime Minister (right) is reported to have responded.
“That’s not a risk I’m prepared to take. We cannot be confident on the politics of that situation, on how it plays out.”
The Good Friday Agreement states there should be a border poll if the Secretary of State believes there might be a majority in favour of unification. Sinn Fein said Mrs May’s comments indicated the circumstances were right for a border poll.
Its Northern leader, Michelle O’Neill, blasted the Prime Minister for “denying the people of Ireland the democratic entitlement to decide their own constitutional future”.
However, the SDLP said more work needed to be done on encouraging unionists to accept the idea. Party leader Colum Eastwood encouraged nationalists to engage with unionists.
“So when that day comes, it is not a day of celebration for one half of the community and a day of remorse for the other, but rather a step towards reconciliation together, where all communities feel at home in a new inclusive Ireland,” he said.
The UUP rejected claims there was any desire for a border poll.
Its leader Robin Swann said: “We should be focusing on how to make Northern Ireland work for the benefit of all the people who live here, rather than trying to open up a debate that can only lead to more division and uncertainty, especially where the outcome is a foregone conclusion.”
Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said that while Brexit posed a “massive threat to the cohesion of Northern Ireland... the priority must be to agree a special deal for Northern Ireland to mitigate the risks and achieve the maximum cross-community support for such a pragmatic way forward”.
Asked if Mrs May was confident unionism would win an Irish border poll if it came to it, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “The Government steadfastly supports the Belfast Agreement. It remains the Northern Ireland Secretary’s view that a majority of people in Northern Ireland continue to support the current political settlement, and that the circumstances requiring a border poll are not satisfied.”