Academic in call for clarity on Border Poll

Posted By: December 19, 2020



John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, December 19, 2020


A key figure in the Ireland’s Future movement has challenged the secretary of state to spell out the circumstances under which he will call a Border Poll.


Colin Harvey has also asked Brandon Lewis if he is prepared to hold a referendum in which Northern Ireland would decide whether or not to remain in the European Union.


The correspondence sees the civic nationalist group board member publicly seek to nail down the circumstances under which the British government would call a referendum on Irish unity – triggering a concurrent poll the Republic.


A detailed response from the Conservative Party minister would effectively sound the starting gun on the Border Poll process – even if his test was not yet met.


The call from Prof Harvey follows last month’s report from the Working Group on Unification Referendums, which said that the two governments should begin planning for concurrent polls once the necessary circumstances are met.


In a letter that stresses that he is writing in a personal capacity, the Queen’s University academic presses the Tory minister on when he intends to exercise his powers under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 by deciding on the timing of a referendum.


The letter notes how the outcome of a Border Poll “connects to automatic EU return for a region where a majority of people voted to remain”.


The professor of human rights law challenges the secretary of state to say what evidence he will take into account when determining whether it “appears likely … a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland”?


“As this will trigger a duty to commence the referendum process, with the implications that follow, it would be helpful if you could also explain who you will consult, what plans you have made, how you keep this under review, and what discussions you have had or intend to hold with the Irish government?” he writes.


Prof Harvey asks Mr. Lewis to share any information that supports the assertion “that the relevant test has not been met”.


He also urges the secretary of state to offer The North an “option of return to the EU”.


“As you know, the Assembly has a role in voting on the alignment provisions of the Irish Protocol,” the letter says.


“Given the ongoing focus on democratic consent, you will understand why the people of N. Ireland should not be denied the EU return option.”


The academic calls on the secretary of state to say if he’s considered “exercising his discretion to facilitate this?”


“If so, are you prepared to offer this choice in a referendum? If not, could you explain your rationale?


The Ireland’s Future board member notes that The North’s constitutional status “rests on consent – the people of the island of Ireland have a right of self-determination”.


“Many remain concerned about the lack of planning and preparation by both governments for the approaching time when the concurrent referendums on this island will take place,” Prof Harvey



“It is in the best interests of everyone across these islands for the questions raised to be addressed transparently and comprehensively in advance.”