European leaders may be preparing to recognise a united Ireland, in a declaration that would pave the way for the north to swiftly rejoin the European Union. At their first Brexit summit on Saturday, the EU’s 27 leaders are expected to discuss a text stating that if Ireland unified, the north would automatically become part of the EU.
The inclusion of the text is a victory for the Irish government, which had pressed for the inclusion of a “GDR clause”, a reference to the integration of the former east German state into the European Community after the fall of the Berlin wall. The declaration is bound to raise fears that Brexit could trigger the unravelling of the UK, although there is no majority in northern Ireland for unification.
EU diplomats are braced for a fierce reaction from the UK, given the angry tabloid headlines that followed speculation about the status of Gibraltar. After lobbying from Madrid, the EU agreed that the Spanish government would be able to exclude the Rock from any EU-UK trade agreement if it was not satisfied with the status of the territory.
The Irish clause is informed by the Good Friday peace agreement, which states that north and south of Ireland have a right to unify if a majority agree north of the border. Enda Kenny, the taoiseach, has argued that it is important for the north of Ireland to have “ease of access” to rejoin the EU if reunification were to occur.
Brexit has put the issue of a united Ireland back into the spotlight, but public support remains cool. In Northern Ireland, a recent poll found that a clear majority of 62% would vote for the territory to remain in the UK, while only 22% backed a united Ireland. Voters in the republic are also sceptical, especially if reunification comes with a price tag.
Asked how they would vote in a referendum if the cost of a united Ireland was €9bn a year, only a third of Irish respondents said they would vote yes, while a third would vote against and the rest were undecided.
The GDR clause is contained in a text separate from the EU’s official negotiating guidelines, because it is seen as a reflection of the Good Friday agreement, rather than an issue to be negotiated with the UK.
Brussels insiders are expecting a short summit on Saturday where EU leaders swiftly put their seal to the Brexit negotiating guidelines, a document outlining the EU’s red lines, which have already been agreed at a technical level.
As the clock ticks down to the launch of formal negotiations after the 8 June election, there are signs that the EU is becoming increasingly exasperated with the UK. On Thursday, Angela Merkel said British politicians were living under the illusion that the UK would retain most of its EU privileges once it leaves the bloc.
Shortly before giving this speech to…