The very public warning by Simon Hoare, the senior Conservative Party MP and Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons, that a future referendum on Irish reunification in the Six Counties would likely be lost in the event of a no-deal Brexit seems to have taken unionist legislators at Westminster by surprise. While such predictions have been made in private for almost two years now, with the Prime Minister Theresa May suggesting a similar view to a confidential gathering of Tory MPs last year, the Democratic Unionist Party is far more sensitive to these statements being made in the open. According to The Irish Times:
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.
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”.
To add to the woes of hardline pro-union parties in the north the House of Commons has voted overwhelmingly to extend equal marriage and abortion rights to the Six Counties, bringing the contested region into line with similar laws in the rest of Ireland and legislation in the United Kingdom. Which has infuriated all shades of unionist opinion bar the moderate Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. However with the minority Conservative Party government in London reliant on the fundamentalist Democratic Unionist Party to stay in power, and with the two contenders for the leadership of the Tories desperately seeking DUP support for their possible premiership of the UK, the legislation to implement same-sex marriage and abortion services in the north-east may well be put on the long finger.
Which simply adds more cards to those already likely to fall the “Yes” way in the event of dual post-Brexit plebiscites on a reunited Ireland in both parts of the island.