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DUP's Wilson slams Tory's claim hard Brexit border could lead to Irish unity

Conservative MP Simon Hoare said he fears that a hard border could lead to reunification
Conservative MP Simon Hoare said he fears that a hard border could lead to reunification
Conservative MP Simon Hoare has been criticised by DUP MP Sammy Wilson
Conservative MP Simon Hoare

By George Ryan

A Brexit policy which results in a hard border could lead to a united Ireland, a senior Conservative MP has suggested.

Simon Hoare, who was last month elected as chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, warned MPs they will "play with fire" if a policy is pursued which "adds an accelerant to a demand for a border poll".

He added he was saddened to say he was not convinced unionists would win such a poll.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson rejected Mr Hoare's assessment and said his language was what Sinn Fein wants to hear.

Further Brexit warnings also emerged in the Commons during consideration of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, including Labour claims that terrorists could target a hard border which would "inevitably" be put up following a no-deal Brexit.

The legislation again pushes back reintroducing a law that would place a legal duty on Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley to call an Assembly poll.

Mrs Bradley had already extended what was a March deadline to the end of August. She is now seeking parliamentary approval to move it further back to October 21, with the option of a further extension to January 13.

Speaking during the Bill's second reading, Mr Hoare said: "We will play with fire if a policy is pursued which adds an accelerant to a demand for a border poll. Because I have to say, and it saddens me to say it, I am not convinced that we as unionists would win that poll."

He added: "I am also certain that even if we (unionists) were to prevail and that precious Union was to maintain it would open yet again - and one could not refuse the request of a second independence referendum in Scotland, and it is worrying - and I say this as somebody who is saddened to say it, I do not want to wake up and find myself a subject of the United Kingdom of England and Wales."

But the DUP's Mr Wilson said: "Although he didn't intend it, does he realise that the kind of comment which he has just made about a border poll and the likelihood of winning the border poll is exactly the kind of language that Sinn Fein want to hear?

"Because the trigger for a border poll in the Belfast Agreement is a belief that there is a change of mind in the views of the people of Northern Ireland as to whether they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. Is he saying that he - in his short time as the chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee - he has detected that, despite the fact that election results show there is still a vast majority of people who believe that the Union is the right option?"

Mr Hoare replied: "Any of us who remained to campaign as part of the European Union will understand it is rather risky, I would suggest, to risk something as precious as our Union to that thing called a border poll." Opening the debate for the Government, Mrs Bradley said she hopes the Bill will not receive royal assent as she hopes the powersharing relationship in Stormont will be restored by then. She said there have been more than 150 meetings, but expressed her "huge disappointment" that consensus has not yet been found.

During the debate former shadow secretary of state Ivan Lewis said the people of Northern Ireland should be allowed to have their say on abortion and same-sex marriage.

The Labour MP said: "I understand those who argue these issues are about fundamental human rights and therefore shouldn't be subject to referendum. I also understand why people may be a little cautious about a referendum on anything.

"But there is currently no other credible way forward or one which can be envisaged for the foreseeable future."

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