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Snap border poll bad for nationalists, claims SDLP's Eastwood

Unionists likely to be winners of an early referendum, says SDLP leader


Prediction: SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

Prediction: SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

Prediction: SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

The Government could hold a snap border poll while there is still a unionist majority and they are likely to win, the leader of the SDLP has suggested.

Colum Eastwood said that while he expects a vote within the next 10 years, nationalists and republicans need to be careful it does not happen before they are ready.

"There is a possibility that the British Government would call a referendum early to support unionism because they think that unionists have the numbers right now," the Foyle MP said in an interview with the Business Post.

The SDLP is currently in the process of setting up a 'New Ireland Commission' to plan for a united Ireland.

One aspect of its work will be talking to unionists about their concerns.

Mr Eastwood added: "We have to be very clear that it'll be a united Ireland and a new Ireland that will celebrate and very much involve the British tradition, and the Good Friday Agreement will remain and all the protections within in.

"I think Stormont will be there, so that's the challenge that it can't be done overnight."

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He added, however, that nationalists could not be expected to delay seeking a referendum, just because of sensitivity to unionist or loyalist concerns.

Meanwhile, a member of Queen's University School of Law has said that the British government needs to be more transparent over the evidence needed to call a referendum.

Professor Colin Harvey is also calling for the UK to collaborate with Dublin in ensuring voters are adequately prepared.

He said he wanted to avoid a repeat of the "mess" surrounding the Brexit poll, "so that when people vote they know what they are voting for".

He said: "There are some people on the island saying that the criteria have arguably been met electorally.

"The level of constitutional turbulence in the UK with what is going on in Scotland means we want to be prepared on this island for whatever eventualities emerge.

"That involves the British government being more transparent and both the British and Irish governments engaging well in advance and doing any preparation and planning before these votes take place."

Professor Harvey, who is predicting a referendum on unity within the next decade, wrote to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis recently.

Mr Lewis' department wrote back: "The Government is firmly committed to its obligations in this regard, including the circumstances set out in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement that require the Secretary of State to hold a referendum on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland should a majority of those voting express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom.

"The Government, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, continue to monitor the full range of evidence on this issue.

"We engage with the Irish government on a regular basis regarding a range of important matters that have an all island of Ireland dimension."

The Northern Ireland Office added there is no clear evidence to suggest that the conditions for a referendum have been met at this time.

It said the Government has always stressed the importance of the union and Northern Ireland's place within it.

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