Northern Ireland news

DUP seek to quell border poll talk amid warnings on both sides of Irish Sea over no deal

DUP Leader Arlene Foster with Nigel Dodds after a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

THE DUP has sought to play down the likelihood of a border poll after warnings on both sides of the Irish Sea said that a no deal Brexit could trigger a referendum on Irish unity.

As reports emerged of three British ministers expressing concern that crashing out of the EU could lead to a unification poll, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he also believed there would be a vote.

One unnamed senior member of the cabinet told the BBC the prospect of a referendum was "very real", while a colleague said the British government risked "sleepwalking into a border poll".

A third minister said there was an understanding within government that a vote on unification would be a "realistic possibility" if the UK leaves the EU without a deal next month.

Last month it was also reported that Secretary of State Karen Bradley warned cabinet colleagues that a poll on a united Ireland would be much more likely in the event of a no deal.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said she raised the issue of a referendum during a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Belfast yesterday.

She said her party did not want to see the UK crash out of the EU but in the event of a no deal, the case for a border poll would be more compelling.

The Mid Ulster MLA said a referendum did not need to be "rancorous".

Earlier, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern had said that while not inevitable, there was an increased likelihood of a referendum in the event of a no deal.

"I do think if the UK, which seems almost positive now, pull out of the EU, the issue then will not just be about whether there should be a united Ireland, people will also be reflecting do Northern Ireland want to be in the European Union or not?" he told the BBC.

But DUP leader Arlene Foster dismissed the reports of ministers' concern about a border poll as "project fear".

She said the criteria for calling a referendum - when it appears likely that a majority in the north would vote for a united Ireland - had not been met.

"There are many people engaging in project fear at this point in time and we all have to recognise that," she said.

Read more: DUP letter urges unionists to prepare for border poll

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