The European Union has given a firm commitment to the Irish government that if Northern Ireland reunites with the Irish Republic the united country would immediately be admitted to the European Union despite Brexit.
Currently Northern Ireland is part of the UK and will be outside the EU when Brexit takes effect.
However, a majority of voters in the North opposed Brexit in the 2016 referendum and the region faces a difficult scenario with possible physical land borders reinstituted when Brexit is in effect as well as the loss of critical EU subsidies for agriculture and infrastructure.
The commitment by the EU to accept a united Ireland is a huge victory for the Irish government and creates a new opportunity for Irish nationalists to push a new incentive for a united Ireland which would bring along with it the benefit of EU membership.
The European Union agreement was based on two factors, the Good Friday Agreement which allows for a vote on a united Ireland at a future date and West Germany’s ability to bring East Germany into the EU when the country was reunited.
EU leaders promised the issue of Northern Ireland and access to the EU “will remain of paramount importance” in the talks on the terms for Brexit.
Irish leader Enda Kenny welcomed the new commitment.”The new thing here is Brexit and it is important to provide reassurance that it does not undermine any provision of the Good Friday Agreement and that if the provision on unity by peaceful means and by consent and democratic means is invoked at some time in the future EU membership is assured and it is now unanimously accepted by the European Council to endorse that legal base.” he stated.
He did add, however, he felt the time was not right to hold a referendum on a united Ireland. “This is not about triggering any mechanism; I have been consistent in my view that the conditions for a referendum do not currently exist,” Mr Kenny said
He stated that the British government also accepted if a vote for reunification happened that membership of the EU for the new entity would be carpeted.
David Davis, the UK’s Brexit secretary, had acknowledged that Northern Ireland would rejoin the EU in the event of a vote for Irish unity.
“In that event, Northern Ireland would be in a position of becoming part of an existing EU member state, rather than seeking to join the EU as a new independent state,” Davis said in a letter to Mark Durkan of the nationalist SDLP. “It would of course be for the EU Commission to respond to any specific questions about the procedural requirements for that to happen,” Davis added.
Brexit strangely enough has reinvigorated discussion about a united Ireland. The recent assembly elections in the North for the first time did not result in a unionist majority vote and demographic trends mean that in the not too distant future there will be a nationalist majority though without agreement from a large percentage of unionism it would be very difficult to bring unity about peacefully.