Jeremy Corbyn against special status for Northern Ireland after Brexit

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking to The Irish News. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

JEREMY Corbyn has expressed his opposition to having any kind of special status for Northern Ireland in the wake of Brexit.

The Labour leader said special status would be a "problem" and maintained that there "has to be the same agreement covering Northern Ireland as the rest of the UK".

Speaking to The Irish News during his first visit to the north as Labour leader, Mr Corbyn also reluctantly reaffirmed his support for a united Ireland.

He said he was not asking for or advocating for a border poll – and that he had "no idea what the result of a poll would be".

"It's not for me to second-guess something that is a theoretical question at the present time. The people that make the decision will be the people, not me," he said.

Mr Corbyn's visit comes just days after Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Green Party issued a joint statement calling for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU single market and customs union after Brexit.

The Labour leader said he does not support this idea "because we won't be members of the EU and therefore you don't have automatic membership of the customs union and single market".

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"What we are proposing is a customs union with the EU which would give us access to the single market, but would also give us some influence over that relationship and a say within the EU and on it, and I'm happy to explain that position to the parties concerned," he said.

"But it also would mean there would be no hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland – and that is absolutely central."

Asked if he was against any sort of differential deal for Northern Ireland when the UK leaves the European Union, Mr Corbyn said: "What we have said is that we want to maintain the open border and we want to maintain the economic relationship which means that there has to be the same agreement covering Northern Ireland as the rest of the UK."

Ian Knox cartoon 25/5/18: In a speech at QUB Jeremy Corbyn pledges that were he PM his government would be neutral in the event of a border poll. The rest of the speech was less committal 

On the idea of special status for the north, he added: "I think that would lead us to a problem because it would mean that you would actually have differing trading relationships and wouldn't solve the problem of the UK relationship with the EU as a whole."

He said he would not say whether he would prefer a land border on the island of Ireland or a border across the Irish Sea.

"I'm not going to choose because I don't believe it's a choice that is on offer," he said.

Asked if he still supports a united Ireland, Mr Corbyn said: "What I support is the Good Friday Agreement which gives the options for the future."

Asked for a second time if he still supports a united Ireland, Mr Corbyn said: "I have made my views known on this over many years.

"My job is to lead the Labour Party. My job is to support the Good Friday Agreement. I'm not going to advocate for a poll if one is requested. If it happens then it happens, but we want the Good Friday Agreement to be back on track."

Asked for a third time whether he still holds his views supporting a united Ireland, Mr Corbyn nodded and said: "My views are known."

Last week The Times reported that British prime minister Theresa May had doubts that the government would win a referendum on maintaining Northern Ireland's place within the UK.

Mrs May's spokesman later said the circumstances requiring a border poll to be called are not satisfied.

On whether he would call a border poll if he became British prime minister, Mr Corbyn said: "It is within the Good Friday Agreement the process that could happen to bring that about."

Earlier he told the BBC said that if he was prime minister, the British government would take a neutral position in any border poll campaign.

According to the Good Friday Agreement, a border poll would be called if the secretary of state feels the majority would vote for a united Ireland.

He told The Irish News: "I have no idea what the result of a poll would be. It's not for me to second-guess something that is a theoretical question at the present time."

Mr Corbyn called for the Stormont parties to "get together" to work on restoring the north's power-sharing institutions.

He also said the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference "has to come back" to help break the stalemate.

He added: "The issue has to be why is there no power-sharing agreement going on now? Why is there no assembly working? Why are we now at 500 days without a government in Northern Ireland?

"I appeal to the parties – get together. And that's why I made the point, that the intergovernmental conference has to come back."

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