Hard Border could lead to breakup of UK, Tory MP warns unionists

Chair of Westminster’s Northern Ireland committee says Brexit may result in united Ireland

DUP MP Sammy Wilson has criticised a warning to unionists over a Border poll. Photograph: Liam McBurney/The Irish Times

DUP MP Sammy Wilson has criticised a warning to unionists over a Border poll. Photograph: Liam McBurney/The Irish Times

 

The chair of Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has warned unionists that a hard Border after Brexit could lead to a united Ireland and the breakup of the UK.

During a debate at Westminster on Monday, Conservative MP Simon Hoare said it was a huge risk to presuppose that “the cards will all fall in our favour” over Brexit in relation to the Border.

“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 said.

“I am also certain that even if we were to prevail and that precious union was to maintain it would open yet again – and one could not refuse the request for 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.”

Mr Hoare, who became chairman of the committee last month, was speaking during a debate on a Bill that would delay the need to hold Stormont elections while powersharing talks continue. The Bill would allow Northern Ireland civil servants to retain decision-making powers until October 21st, with the option of a further extension until January 30th.

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The DUP’s Sammy Wilson dismissed Mr Hoare’s suggestion that a Border poll could produce a majority for a united Ireland, adding that such talk emboldened Sinn Féin,“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”.

Mr Wilson added: “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?”

Same-sex marriage

DUP MPs also criticised amendments tabled by Labour’s Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy that would extend same-sex marriage and abortion rights to Northern Ireland. Ms Creasy said citizens in Northern Ireland should not have to wait until the Assembly was restored for their human rights.

Mr McGinn’s amendment would oblige the British government to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland if the devolved institutions were not restored by October 21st.

“If the Executive is formed before October 21st, then that’s great and they should get on with doing this at Stormont. But if it’s not, then we’re going to do it at Westminster. But in any event, when devolution is restored, marriage law reverts back to the devolved institutions and they can change the law again if they so wish,” he told The Irish Times.

But DUP MPs and Independent unionist Sylvia Hermon said that by legislating for marriage and abortion rights, which are devolved issues, Westminster would not be respecting the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland.

Former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve has also tabled an amendment to the Bill, which would prevent the British government from suspending parliament in October to push through a no-deal Brexit.

The Speaker will decide on Tuesday which amendments, if any, are debated and voted on.

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