Could Brexit lead to a united Ireland?

Public opinion in Northern Ireland appears to be moving towards the collapse of the union.

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Could Brexit be the spur to a united Ireland? Downing Street certainly seems to fear it might. Following yesterday's reports of a clash between Theresa May and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Times’ Sam Coates reveals the source of the PM’s unease: a poll for Northern Irish pollster LucidTalk showing support for the union collapsing in the event of a hard Brexit.

On the Conservative benches, the usual arguments against May’s unease are being assembled: polls are polls, etc. Or, as Rees-Mogg put it, the Union won in Scotland so it can win in Northern Ireland.

As with the wider Conservative debate about two forms of customs arrangement that wouldn't resolve the border issue, the problem is that both sides are having the wrong debate. As Patrick explains in greater detail here, that the topic of reunification is even on the table makes the restoration of shared political institutions in Northern Ireland more fraught.

And as far as the Scottish experience goes, I feel I shouldn't have to say this, but here goes: Scotland is not Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland is not Scotland. An Irish border poll, regardless of the outcome, would be considerably more destabilising, more politically disruptive and with a potential for violence well beyond the Scottish referendum.

The truth that both Downing Street and Brexit ultras and their outriders in the press have to grasp is that Northern Ireland is not a stick to beat difficult backbenchers into line with – nor is the Irish border a side-issue that can take a back seat to the freedom to strike a trade deal with New Zealand.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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