‘It would be unthinkable in those circumstances that people would not be given the opportunity to decide on our future together’
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she told Prime Minister Boris Johnson it would be “unthinkable” not to call a referendum on Irish unification in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking as Mr Johnson visits Northern Ireland to meet with members of political parties the leader of the republican party said she warned him about the risks of a disorderly, “crash” Brexit.
Mr Johnson’s tough line in negotiations and similarly uncompromising responses from EU leaders has sent fears rocketing of that the UK will leave the EU without an agreement on 31 October.
‘A crash Brexit’
Ms McDonald told journalists that it “seems to us that he has set the compass for a disorderly and a crash Brexit”. She added: “We have challenged him very strongly on that policy.
“We set out very clearly that this would be catastrophic for the Irish economy, for Irish livelihoods, for our society, for our politics and for our peace accord.
“We made it clear to him that the extensive planning he tells us he is carrying out in respect of a potential crash Brexit has to include the constitutional question and the issue of a border poll here in Ireland.
“We have stated to him very clearly that Brexit in any event, but certainly a disorderly Brexit, represents in anybody’s language a dramatic change of circumstances on this island and it would be unthinkable in those circumstances that people would not be given the opportunity to decide on our future together.”
Mrs McDonald accused Mr Johnson of being “complacent” about the damage she said Brexit could inflict on the island of Ireland.
‘No great surprise there’
Asked what the Prime Minister’s response was to her call for a border poll, the Sinn Fein leader said: “He obviously takes a different view on Brexit generally and the issue of the Union, no great surprise there.
“I have no doubt that he as a unionist and the British establishment, or elements of it, will rally against any notion of full democracy in Ireland – that position is centuries old.
“He’s not in a position to rule it out because it’s a provision of the Good Friday Agreement. He describes himself as a student of the Good Friday Agreement, he’s fully conversant with its provisions, so he has argued with us a matter of timing I would say, rather than a matter of substance.”
Mrs McDonald said any move to reintroduce direct rule at Stormont ahead of Brexit would be a “very dangerous escapade in turning the clock back”.
‘Profoundly in the interests of people here’
Mr Johnson said on his arrival in Northern Ireland that his key intention was the return of devolved Government in Northern Ireland.
He said: “Clearly the people in Northern Ireland have been without a government, without Stormont, for two years and six months, so my prime focus this morning is to do everything I can to help that get up and running again because I think that’s profoundly in the interests of people here, of all the citizens here in Northern Ireland.”
Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since early 2017, with hamstrung civil servants currently running under-pressure public services amid a reluctance by the Government to reintroduce direct rule.
Stormont’s two main parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – remain at loggerheads over a series of long-standing disputes, with a series of talks initiatives aimed at securing a resolution having ended in failure.
Mr Johnson’s visit to Stormont comes amid deadlock in the latest talks process.
The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led powersharing coalition imploded in January 2017 when the late Martin McGuinness quit as Sinn Fein deputy first minister amid a row about a botched green energy scheme introduced when then First Minister Arlene Foster was the minister in charge.
The fallout over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was soon overtaken by disputes over the Irish language, same-sex marriage and the toxic legacy of the Troubles.
Additional reporting by Press Association.