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Ireland's ambassador to the UK says a Northern Ireland border poll would 'degrade' attempts to resolve Brexit

There has been speculation that Brexit could eventually lead to a united Ireland.
Jul 20th 2019, 3:34 PM 19,777 94

IRELAND’S AMBASSADOR TO the UK believes that a poll on a united Ireland would “degrade” attempts to resolve the ongoing impasse over Britain’s departure from the EU.

Adrian O’Neill told BBC Radio 4′s The Week in Westminster programme that the current priority for the Irish government was to restore the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont.

There has been speculation that Britain leaving the European Union could eventually lead to the unification of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Last year, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said a no-deal Brexit would bring the timeline for a border poll on a united Ireland forward, while a number of public polls have also suggested some support for the idea should such a scenario occur.

However, asked whether he agreed with recent comments by Conservative MP David Liddington that pressure was mounting for a border poll because of Brexit, O’Neill said:

“The view of the Irish government is that now is not the time to be pressing for or campaigning for such a border poll.
We think that that would only perhaps degrade the prospects of finding a way through on Brexit, and perhaps also inhibit our chances of getting the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland back up and running.

Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, one of whom will become the UK’s next Prime Minister this week, have both said they would be willing to leave the EU without a deal.

The scenario would bring about a return to a hard border and customs checks on the island of Ireland.

Hunt and Johnson have also criticised the so-called backstop, which would ensure Northern Ireland’s regulatory alignment with Ireland to avoid a hard border, and called for it to be removed from the EU withdrawal agreement.

However, O’Neill told BBC that he believed there could still be a breakthrough in negotiations, and said that efforts to shift blame for a no-deal Brexit to Ireland would not be credible.

“It was the British people in a referendum who narrowly decided on the principle of leaving the European Union,” he said.

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“It was a British government that decided on the negotiating red lines of leaving the customs union and the single market…

“And it was the British parliament that has declined to approve the agreement that was negotiated by the British government with the European Union.

“So if you take all of those three circumstances together, it seems to be a rather odd conclusion that it’s the EU that’s the blame.”

Britain is currently set to leave the European Union on 31 October.

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Stephen McDermott

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