Theresa May: Hard border to force united Ireland
A united Ireland will move dramatically closer if the 'backstop' is removed from the Brexit deal, British Prime Minister Theresa May has said.
In a warning that caused significant surprise in Dublin, Mrs May openly admitted that voters in Northern Ireland may want to join the Republic rather than see border posts re-erected.
"They (in Northern Ireland) do not want a return to a hard Border. And if this House cares about preserving our union, it must listen to those people because our union will only endure with their consent," she said.
On another day of shambolic politics in Westminster, the prime minister delayed today's so-called 'meaningful vote' on the Withdrawal Agreement and vowed to seek further reassurances from the EU on how the backstop will work.
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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and EU leaders have totally rejected the idea of reopening negotiations that took more than 18 months to complete.
Sources in Dublin questioned what further guarantees could be provided, noting that the acceptance of a UK-wide backstop rather than one specific to the North was already a major concession.
However, it was Mrs May's suggestion that Northern Ireland could leave the United Kingdom that caused most surprise.
"Businesses operate across that Border. People live their lives crossing and re-crossing it every day.
"I've been there and spoken to some of those people. They do not want their everyday lives to change as a result of the decisions we have taken," the prime minister said.
"They do not want a return to a hard Border. And if this House cares about preserving our union, it must listen to those people because our union will only endure with their consent."
The Good Friday Agreement gives prominence to the 'principle of consent' which affirms the legitimacy of the aspiration to a united Ireland while recognising the current wish of the majority in Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
An Irish Government source told the Irish Independent: "We have been very careful not to talk about a united Ireland during this, so to hear it from the British prime minister was extraordinary."
Mrs May's U-turn came after she and senior ministers had spent days insisting the vote would go ahead, despite the scale of opposition.
Her statement in the House of Commons yesterday is also a clear signal that her relationship with the DUP, which had been propping up her government, is all but over.
The DUP's Sammy Wilson accused Mrs May of being "prepared to be humiliated by arrogant EU officials and arrogant Irish politicians".