The wrangle over what will happen to the Irish border after Brexit has put the previously unthinkable possibility of reunification of the island of Ireland firmly on the political agenda.
Support for staying in the EU is increasing in Northern Ireland as the Brexit negotiations falter, according to a study released this month by Queen’s University Belfast.
The poll of more than 1,000 residents of Northern Ireland also found 47 percent supported holding a referendum, although only 21 percent said they would currently favor a united Ireland.
The study said the results showed a hard Brexit in which Britain left the EU single market and customs union, combined with an economic downturn could make the prospect of Irish unity “particularly attractive” for the province’s Catholic community.
In the 2016 referendum, Northern Ireland voted 56 percent to remain in the EU but, like Scotland, was outvoted by England and Wales and the overall result was 52 percent for Brexit.
The study found support for EU membership has now risen to 69 percent. “What’s becoming increasingly clear is the rise and rise of the Remain vote in Northern Ireland,” Colin Harvey from Queen’s told a conference organized by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank.
“And I think there is extreme peril and danger in rendering that Remain vote politically and legally meaningless,” he said. Unlike pro-EU Scotland, Northern Ireland could technically stay in the European Union by voting to join the Republic of Ireland.
The 1998 Good Friday peace agreements allow for the possibility of a referendum on Irish unity if the British government judges that the public mood has shifted significantly in favor of the idea.—Agencies