Northern Ireland

Stormont leaders should focus on ‘day-to-day’ concerns not border poll – Rishi Sunak

Speaking in Belfast, the British prime minister said ‘constitutional change’ was not a priority.

First Minister Michelle O'Neill, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, during a meeting with members of the newly-formed Stormont Executive at Stormont Castle, Belfast, following the restoration of the powersharing executive. Photo by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire
Stormont Assembly First Minister Michelle O'Neill, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, during a meeting with members of the newly-formed Stormont Executive at Stormont Castle, Belfast, following the restoration of the powersharing executive. Photo by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire (PA)

Stormont leaders should focus on the “day-to-day” concerns of people in Northern Ireland rather than the prospect of a ballot on reunification, the British prime minister has suggested.

Rishi Sunak said “constitutional change” was not a priority after First Minister Michelle O’Neill claimed a border poll could be held in the next 10 years.



Mr Sunak joined Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris in Belfast on Monday to mark the return of a powersharing Executive following two years of political stalemate.

Speaking to broadcasters on the visit, the British prime minister said: “I had very constructive meetings this morning with the Executive, with political leaders across Stormont, and it is a historic and important day for the country, because Northern Ireland’s politicians are back in charge, making decisions on behalf of their people, which is exactly how it should be.

“Now, our new deal gives them more funding and more powers than they have ever had, so they can deliver for families and businesses across Northern Ireland. And that’s what everyone’s priority is now.

“It is not constitutional change, it is delivering on the day-to-day things that matter to people.”

Earlier on Monday, Mr Heaton-Harris also dismissed the prospect of a border poll when asked about Ms O’Neill’s suggestion.

“I really don’t think that’s going to happen but as secretary of state I am the person responsible in Government to check whether the conditions for that have been met,” he told LBC.

“They’re definitely not met at this point in time, and I would suggest that actually top of the in tray for an incoming Executive has to be things like public sector pay, the health service, which needs massive transformation here, funding on education and a whole host of other things that actually all people in Northern Ireland from both communities truly care about.”

He said he would have to be “confident” that there was a potential majority of people in Northern Ireland “who would like to depart from their current constitutional status” for the conditions to be met.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson criticised the Sinn Féin first minister for focusing on the “divisive” issue.

“She says she wants to be a first minister for all, well that means the unionist community,” he told Sky News.

He said the executive must work on the basis that a majority of people in Northern Ireland support the union.

“Let’s move forward together. Let’s focus on the issues that really matter to people. They’re not interested in a divisive border poll,” Sir Jeffrey said.

On Sunday, Ms O’Neill – the first nationalist to assume the post of first minister – said: “I believe we are in a decade of opportunity and there are so many things that are changing.

“All the old norms, the nature of this estate, the fact that a nationalist/republican was never supposed to be first minister.

“This all speaks to that change.”