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11 Feb, 2020 17:05

Irish unity & Scottish independence ‘DEFINITELY on the table’ post-Brexit, former British FCO chief says

Irish unity & Scottish independence ‘DEFINITELY on the table’ post-Brexit, former British FCO chief says

Uncertainty around Brexit has put Irish reunification and Scottish independence back “on the table,” the former head of the British Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service has admitted.

Speaking to Ireland’s RTÉ Radio One, Simon Fraser, who was a chief adviser to former foreign secretaries William Hague and Philip Hammond, said the UK’s decision to bow out of the EU complicates the future of the union.

“Brexit does complicate, in my view, the future status of both Scotland and Northern Ireland, if you look at it from the British aspect,” he said, adding that the questions of Irish unity and Scottish independence “are definitely on the table,” but only time will tell “how things evolve.”

He referred to “mechanisms” within the Good Friday Agreement which provide for the possibility of reunification, but reiterated that the “official position” of London is that the UK will remain united. 

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Fraser was responding to a call made earlier by Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald for the EU to come out in support of Irish reunification. McDonald, whose left-wing party won the popular vote in Ireland's recent general election, told BBC Newsnight that the country was inevitably heading towards a referendum on reunification.

“You have Brexit, you have changing demographics, you have the fact that the unionist majority has been lost in the North over the last number of elections, so that is the direction of travel,” she said. 

In response to those developments, McDonald said Brussels should now “take a stand” in the same way that it supported the reunification of Germany. Such a position, she said, would be “correct for our allies and our friends, for anybody who cares about this country and our people.”

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Asked how he and his former FCO colleagues viewed Sinn Fein’s election victory, Fraser said it was not for him to comment on Irish domestic matters, but said it showed that “unexpected things happen in politics these days,” and that the British government will “deal with whoever” becomes Ireland’s elected government.

Fraser said that since a hard border on the island of Ireland had been avoided in the UK’s withdrawal agreement, a consequence of that would be “some sort of border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

“The question is what’s that going to be… that’s the conundrum which hasn’t yet been resolved,” he said.

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