Theresa May says no Northern Ireland referendum on leaving the UK 'at this stage'

Sinn Fein has called for a referendum on the issue 'as soon as possible'

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The Prime Minister has rejected Sinn Fein’s call for a referendum on joining Northern Ireland with the Republic “as soon as possible”.

Michelle O’Neill, the republican party’s leader, said on Monday that Brexit would be a “disaster” for the province and that a referendum on a united Ireland could be one way of bypassing its effects.

Responding to the call on Tuesday Theresa May told the House of Commons: “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has looked at this issue. It is not right to have a border poll at this stage.

“What we should all be focusing on is bringing the parties together to ensure that we can continue to see the devolved administration in Northern Ireland working, as it has done, in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

“We want to see that devolved administration being formed and that is what all the parties should be looking for at the moment.”

Nigel Dodds of the DUP, who raised the issue in the House of Commons, said that such a vote would “add to the uncertainty and division” and claimed that “such a call is outside the terms of the Belfast Agreement”.

Ms O'Neill, who replaced Martin McGuinness as Sinn Féin's leader in the Northern Ireland Assembly in January of this year, said: “Brexit will be a disaster for the economy, and a disaster for the people of Ireland.

“A referendum on Irish unity has to happen as soon a possible.”

Sinn Fein’s intervention came hours after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for a referendum on Scottish independence – arguing that the Scottish people should be given a choice on Theresa May’s final Brexit deal.   

Like Scotland, Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union in the referendum lst year. The result in Northern Ireland was 56 per cent for Remain compared to 44 per cent for Leave.

The province however faces being dragged out of the EU with the rest of the UK. The effects of Brexit could also be more dramatic on Northern Ireland: Ms May has not explicitly ruled out a hard border with the Republic under the coming new arrangements, though she has said she does not want one.

Sinn Fein calls for referendum on Northern Ireland leaving the UK ‘as soon as possible’

Opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to remain a part of the UK, though none has been conducted this year.

An Ipsos MORI poll from September showed that just 22 per cent of voters supported a united Ireland while 63 per cent wanted to stay in the UK.

Sinn Fein, the largest Irish republican party, made major gains in last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections. It now has 27 seats in the Assembly, just one behind the largest party, the unionist DUP.

The possibility of a referendum on a united Ireland was included in the Good Friday Agreement and the British Government is committed to accepting the result of such a referendum.

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