Sinn Féin wants Northern Ireland vote in event of no-deal Brexit

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald to tell Theresa May ‘not to hitch herself’ to DUP

Sinn Féin will demand a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland if there is no deal on Brexit, because a hard border would be erected the instant the UK crashes out of the EU under World Trade Organization rules, the party’s leader has said.

Mary Lou McDonald said a hard border would be so damaging to peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland that the Irish would not just sit back and allow it to happen.

Before a meeting with Theresa May, she said: “I very much hope that it doesn’t but if, by accident or design, there is a crash or a no-deal Brexit, Mrs May and whoever is in No 10 needs to understand that in those circumstances the constitutional question would have to be put to the people of Ireland.”

“You could not countenance such damage and disruption to our island and imagine that we will simply be philosophical about it and move on,” she said.

The principle of self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland is enshrined in the Good Friday peace agreement and allows for a border poll if there is evidence that a majority in Northern Ireland would support the reunification of the island.

The government has said it would not put in border controls in the event of no deal, but under the most-favoured nation rules of the World Trade Organization,  the UK cannot operate one set of rules for trade with the republic of Ireland and another for other trading partners. 

Sinn Féin has seven MPs at Westminster, representing all border constituencies, West Belfast and mid Ulster, although it does not sit in parliament because of its abstentionist policy. It is the second biggest party with 30% of the vote, just behind the DUP at 36%.

McDonald said she would tell May “not to hitch herself “to the Democratic Unionist party, which she said was prepared to forfeit Northern Ireland’s future in order to preserve the union.

“Their position is irresponsible. It’s damaging, it’s reckless, it’s not sustainable and frankly they won’t get away with it,” she said. “The idea that Mrs May or any element of British politics would attach themselves or co-opt themselves into this agenda to me is deeply shocking.

“I think it’s incredibly short-sighted. If the idea here is that it’s all just political expediency and the survival of a Tory government well shame on them. There are deep strategic long-term considerations here and one of them is peace and stability in Northern Ireland.”

McDonald is in London for a day of talks, which also include a meeting with the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The meeting comes at a crunch time for the prime minister as the DUP digs in its heels and threatens to vote against a Brexit deal that involves any extra checks between Britain and Ireland as a solution to the Irish border question.

It is understood that May has accepted there would be some checks in British ports and premises for goods, particularly food, going from Britain to the island of Ireland as a means of preserving the integrity of the single market.

McDonald will also press May again on the legitimacy of the DUP in the Brexit negotiations. “She knows as well as I do that the DUP do not represent the will of the people or the majority of the people in Northern Ireland,” she said, in reference to the fact that Northern Ireland had voted to remain in the EU.

She also attacked the DUP claim that the constitution of Northern Ireland is at stake, arguing that it was completely protected by the Good Friday agreement.

She also said it was wrong to paint Northern Ireland as a region or country similar to Wales or Scotland because of its history and the disputed border that led to the troubles. “Mrs May knows that the stakes are very high for Ireland. She knows, as we all know, that Northern Ireland is a place apart, it is different,” she said.


Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sinn Féin: vote on Irish reunification must follow no-deal Brexit
Mary Lou McDonald challenges Boris Johnson on Northern Ireland at Stormont meeting

Peter Walker and Jessica Elgot

31, Jul, 2019 @10:33 AM

Article image
Northern Ireland secretary rejects Sinn Féin call for border poll
As Brexit sinks in for towns that voted to remain in EU, Theresa Villiers says there are no grounds for Irish unity referendum

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent in Newry City

24, Jun, 2016 @4:06 PM

Article image
Brexit: May departs Northern Ireland no closer to backstop deal
Belfast trip fails to gain support for deal as May heads into crucial EU talks

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

06, Feb, 2019 @5:47 PM

Article image
DUP may walk out of Stormont power-sharing over Brexit protocol
Jeffrey Donaldson says DUP is ‘totally opposed to Northern Ireland protocol as it presently exists’

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

09, Sep, 2021 @8:51 AM

Article image
Boris Johnson promised to tear up NI protocol, says DUP MP Ian Paisley
Paisley says Johnson told him he ‘would sign up to changing that protocol and indeed tearing it up’

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

14, Oct, 2021 @1:40 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson wraps up Northern Ireland talks with no sign of progress on reviving power-sharing - as it happened
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including Boris Johnson’s visit to Northern Ireland

Andrew Sparrow

31, Jul, 2019 @3:17 PM

Article image
Brexit Ireland deal could leave PM at odds with three demanding groups
Theresa May’s decision to agree to ‘regulatory alignment’ with the Republic faces opposition from Northern Irish unionists, the Tory right and the SNP

Henry McDonald, Rowena Mason and Severin Carrell

04, Dec, 2017 @7:00 PM

Article image
Theresa May heads to Northern Ireland as power-sharing hopes rise
PM to meet DUP and Sinn Féin parties to pledge full commitment to restoration of executive

Jessica Elgot and Henry McDonald

12, Feb, 2018 @12:01 AM

Article image
How Northern Ireland vote was punishment for Stormont impasse
Increasing number of people felt able not to vote tribally in message to DUP and Sinn Féin

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

20, Dec, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on the Northern Ireland election: vote to keep the border soft | Editorial
Editorial: The assembly elections on 2 March were not necessary. But they give voters the opportunity to demand fresh thinking about Brexit’s impact on the Irish border


19, Feb, 2017 @6:38 PM