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Brexit no-deal will increase chance of border poll, say top Tories

Conservative MP Dominic Grieve
Conservative MP Dominic Grieve

By Gillian Halliday

A no-deal Brexit would put Northern Ireland's status within the UK in "jeopardy" by increasing the chances of a border poll on the Irish border, a former UK Attorney General has said.

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Conservative MP Dominic Grieve issued the warning in Dublin yesterday where he insisted that Brexit is having a "destablising" effect on Northern Ireland politics.

His position, however, has been dismissed as "perplexing" by the DUP's Jim Wells, who does not speak for the party since having the whip withdrawn, who insisted the uncertainty surrounding Brexit does not alter the political status quo here.

Mr Grieve made the comments ahead of a speech at the Institute of International and European Affairs, where he said that he is also worried about the Union in terms of Scottish independence.

"A crashout Brexit makes a political crisis in respect of Northern Ireland's future status more likely... clearly the chances of a border poll go up for a whole variety of reasons," he said.

"The status of Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement remaining in the UK has worked because in truth there's been a clear majority of the population who have been very comfortable with the arrangements that the GFA has delivered.

"And that includes sections of the nationalist community as much as the unionist, and that will be thrown into jeopardy by a no-deal Brexit.

"Indeed, Brexit itself is probably likely to put it under strain even if it is done in a controlled fashion."

He cautioned against Brexit being perceived as the impetus for potentially bringing about Irish reunification, insisting that it struck him as being a "very bad idea".

The MP's comments came just hours after senior Cabinet minister David Lidington - who visited Northern Ireland last week - also warned that the UK leaving the EU without a deal would put an "increasing strain" on the Union.

Mr Lidington said a no-deal would provide opportunities for those in favour of breaking up the Union during an interview on BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme.

"I think the Union of the United Kingdom is under pressure at the moment," he said.

"The fact that in the 2016 Europe referendum two nations of the UK voted to leave, two nations voted to remain, inevitably makes this a very difficult, delicate process."

But he insisted that while a no-deal Brexit could lead to a rise in tensions, they could be eased if a deal is secured.

Yesterday Mr Wells refuted any suggestion that Brexit is adversely affecting Northern Ireland's position within the UK. "I just don't accept that. Yes there will be turbulance, there's no doubt about that, if there's a no-deal Brexit, but nobody wants that," he said.

"I haven't heard a soul say let's get out and if there's a possibility of a deal then ignore it.

"Once Britain settles down and prospers as the fifth largest economy in the world, I think the demands for dissolution of the Union will disappear."

The South Down MLA attributed the current debates surrounding the Union to the ongoing apprehension over Brexit.

"I think it's the lack of uncertainty that is causing people to rethink," he explained.

"People keep telling us that everybody's having a conversation about changes to the Union."

Speaking while participating in the Twelfth celebrations in his local constituency, he insisted the Union debates were not a matter of concern for the unionist community.

"I'm sitting here in the Rathfriland Orange field and nobody is having that conversation," insisted Mr Wells.

"No one on the Union side is having it, everyone is perfectly content to remain in the Union.

He continued: "If nationalists are having the conversation they wish leave the Union, well they've been having it for a hundred years.

"What people fail to realise is that amongst the unionist population there is no interest whatsoever in a change in our status - whether we're in Europe or out of Europe.

"So I'm very perplexed as it why people suddenly think unionism is reviewing its position."

He pointed to the Good Friday Agreement, which outlines the mechanisms and condition required for a border poll, as having put the debate over Northern Ireland's constitutional question to rest.

"A change in Northern Ireland status requires the unionist community to acquiesce, to allow it to happen.

"And while nationalists can have all the debates they like, it's all very interesting, it's not going to happen unless they take the unionists with them," said Mr Wells.

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