Northern Ireland news

Mike Nesbitt believes Brexit could be unionism's 'biggest own goal'

Mike Nesbitt said unionists were now 'thinking the unthinkable' about a united Ireland. Picture by Bill Smyth

MIKE Nesbitt has said Brexit could turn out to be unionism's "biggest own goal" because it has reignited debate around the region's constitutional status.

The Strangford MLA, who stood down as Ulster Unionist leader in March 2017, said he knew many people who felt "diminished" by the EU referendum result, believing a movement spearheaded by "English nationalists" had "denied them their sense of being European".

Mr Nesbitt made the remarks during an interview on the Think32 podcast, which debates issues surrounding Irish unity.

The former journalist and broadcaster stressed that "geography is not destiny" and he believes that a united Ireland is not inevitable. However, he argues that Brexit has changed the political dynamic.

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"I'm also realistic and I do wonder whether Brexit will prove to be the biggest own goal in 100 years from unionists," he said.

"I know a lot of the emphasis is on the border and on tariff and on trade, and these things are extremely important and need to be resolved, but the other issue is identity – the Belfast Agreement made very clear that we all self-define in identity and we can be British or Irish or both."

Mr Nesbitt, who backed remain in the referendum, said that if there is going to be a border poll, "don't let it be like Brexit".

"Before there’s a border poll it has to be spelled out in enormous detail and truthfully, unlike Brexit - 'these are the implications should you choose to vote for constitutional change'," he said.

"I have to say I know people of a unionist background who are now thinking the unthinkable and thinking, would I be better off or worse off [in a united Ireland]?"

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Ian Knox cartoon 27/2/19: Theresa May promises MPs a vote on delaying the UK’s departure from the EU or ruling out a no-deal Brexit, if they reject her deal next month. Jeremy Corbyn tells Labour MPs that the party will move to back a second referendum if their own proposed Brexit deal is rejected today 

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