Could Brexit Lead To A United Ireland?

Brexit would put Northern Ireland in a very uncomfortable geographic situation. Its expansive border to the south would have to be guarded as an international border checkpoint, making the only freely accessible egress from the six counties a bridge to Britain. An even more alarming proposal suggested that Britain could also shut off Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K., according to the Independent. That would leave residents of the six counties with virtually nowhere to go, at least not without a Visa and going through a checkpoint.

A united Ireland is starting to have appeal among many factions in the six counties. Northern Ireland’s unique situation makes Brexit rather unacceptable. Because it only has six counties, Northern Ireland isn’t able to be independent of foreign trade. If, suddenly, all Europe were closed off and Britain failed to meet their needs, what could the six counties do? The EU has actually helped the six counties quite a bit with various financial subsidizing programs, ease of trade, and open borders to Ireland in the South, according to the Guardian. Without the European Union, Britain may not be able to subsidize the six counties, or help them with foreign trade.

Brexit could make leaving the UK a necessity for all those living in the six counties, for both economic and geographical reasons. If a border poll could ever successfully vote in the unification, this would be an advantageous time. In order to vote the measure in, would require the votes of those who would normally be opposed to leaving the U.K. Brexit is a tremendously destabilizing force for the six counties that could influence those normally loyal to the U.K. to vote to leave it.

A united Ireland could be a viable option, even for wealthy Protestant citizens, when faced with the unique financial hardships likely to be brought upon the six counties by the U.K.’s exit from the European Union. In a vote, they could choose between open borders to their south and to the rest of Europe, while having the bridge to England as their only closed border, or being closed off entirely with no unguarded egress from the six counties. Under those circumstances, perhaps many of those normally opposed would be tempted to vote for a united Ireland.

Brexit could lead to a united Ireland, and it could be delivered by a simple vote, because of a stipulation in the Good Friday Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement was created to stop the violence between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, euphemistically referred to as the Troubles. These troubles, which spanned from the 1960s until the end of the 20th century, were just an echo of the tension between British Protestants and Irish Catholics that has occurred with few interruptions for many centuries.

A united Ireland has always been a hope of the Sinn Fein, a political party with strong roots in the Irish Republican Army. Sinn Fein has called for a border poll, which is a vote to be taken within the six counties of Northern Ireland, to determine whether the six counties will unify with the rest of Ireland, or remain in the U.K., according to the Irish Republican News.

IRA Prisoner of War Bobby Sands [Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images] IRA Prisoner of War Bobby Sands [Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images]Does Brexit justify a call for a border poll? According to the Good Friday agreement of 1998, Northern Ireland can choose to leave the U.K. with a mere majority vote in a border poll. The question remains, though, whether they would be allowed to hold such a vote. It might be worth noting the history of invasion, war, occupation, rebellion, and oppression in the relationship between Ireland and Britain that dates back to the year 1169. Could it all possibly end with a vote? The Irish Republican News, explains from Sinn Fein’s position, the requirement for a border poll in this situation.

“The [Brexit] result violates the Principle of Consent, a long-standing element of peace negotiations in the north of Ireland and included in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement at the insistence of unionists and the British government. Broadly, it states that there can be no change to the political status of the Six Counties against the wishes of a majority within the Six Counties.”

United Ireland supporters cite the stipulations of the Good Friday Agreement in light of Brexit as reason enough for the border poll and subsequent withdrawal from the U.K., should the measure be voted in. Slugger O’Toole provided a quote from the agreement outlining more of the relevant details.

“ARTICLE 1 The two Governments:
(i) recognize the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland;
(ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;”

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (C) and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams (3rd L) n. [Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images] Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (C) and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams (3rd L) n. [Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images]Is Brexit justification for the vote? Theresa Villiers, British Secretary of State says no. The Guardian reports the Secretary’s words.

“The Good Friday agreement is very clear… There is nothing to indicate that there is majority support for a poll.”

Voting for a United Ireland, or to remain in the U.K., is not justified by the Good Friday Agreement, according to Villiers. On Ms. Villiers’ side of the argument, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement states there cannot be a poll unless a majority of political representatives from both communities within the six counties demand it. According to the Guardian, the Democratic Unionist Party, supporters of Brexit and loyal to certain British political elements, would likely oppose such a vote.

Brexit changes everything, as far as staying in the U.K. Gerry Adams of the Sinn Fein told the Irish Republican News that the party would take up the issue with the EU Council meeting. Could Sinn Fein use the EU to escape the grasp of the U.K., making a united Ireland possible?

“The people in the north voted to remain a part of the EU. The Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement. As a co-equal guarantor of the agreement the Irish government must also defend the interests of all the people of the island of Ireland at the EU Council meeting next week and in any future negotiations.”

Favoring a united Ireland, Des Dalton, a leader within Sinn Fein, still welcomed Brexit.

“[Brexit is] a blow against the modern imperialism of the undemocratic EU superstate and a means to ‘unleash forces’ to break up the United Kingdom. We are entering a period of radical change which presents opportunities for those committed to fighting for real democracy not only within nations but also between nations. A community of free nations as envisaged by James Connolly. Within such a community of free nations, an All-Ireland Federal Democratic Socialist Republic could take its rightful place.”

A united Ireland is the goal of Sinn Fein, but will the rest of the citizens in the six counties support it for geographical and economic reasons? It might be possible if they are allowed to vote in a border poll. If not, results could be dire for the six counties.

Brexit makes a united Ireland the only real recourse for Northern Ireland, but Britain is trying to prevent a vote on the issue.

[Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images]