Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has told British Prime Minister Theresa May that there must be a referendum on Irish unity in the event of a No Deal Brexit.
The possibility of Britain crashing out of the European Union without a deal increased when Mrs May had to suspend a vote in the House of Commons on her Brexit withdrawal agreement because she knew it would be heavily defeated.
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She then faced a vote of no confidence from her own party MPs. Mrs May managed to win the vote but was left badly damaged with her authority seriously undermined.
The reason the deal is so unpopular with British MPs is that it contains a ‘backstop’ clause which means that Britain will effectively remain in the EU customs union indefinitely if no better solution is found to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Unless the clause is removed or amended so it’s time limited, it’s seen as inevitable in Britain that Mrs May’s Brexit deal will be voted down and that a No Deal Brexit is therefore more likely. That would greatly hamper trade between the UK and the EU. Ireland would be badly hit as the UK is one of its largest export markets.
Ms McDonald said she and Deputy Dáil Leader Pearse Doherty phoned Mrs May to raise their concerns about a No Deal Brexit.
She said: “Myself and Pearse Doherty spoke with Theresa May for 20 minutes during which we raised concerns about her course of action.
“We told the British Prime Minister that the basic protections contained in the backstop are non-negotiable and cannot be unpicked or diluted.
“We raised concerns that we are facing into a no deal or a crash Brexit which would be a disaster for Ireland. And we reminded Mrs May that, in those circumstances, a Unity Referendum must be called as a matter of urgency.
“As I told the Taoiseach today, Irish Unity is the ultimate contingency to protect our interests in the event of a crash brexit.”
Mrs May has announced that the vote on her Brexit deal will not take place until January.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other EU leaders have already ruled out removing the backstop so it’s almost inevitable that Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement will be defeated just months before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 next year.
This would spark a constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom, which could lead to a No Deal Brexit by default as time runs out, or to the suspension of the UK’s withdrawal until new solutions could be found.