Derry human rights lawyer, Professor Colin Harvey, has said those who have dismissed calls for a unity referendum either haven’t read, or have been selective in their reading of, the Good Friday Agreement.
He made the claim after it was reported several British Cabinet ministers have been briefing on the likelihood of a border poll being called if the UK leaves the EU without a Brexit deal in six weeks.
Prof. Harvey said giving people a say on reunification made sense as Irish unity would instantly eliminate the need for an Irish backstop.
In an opinion piece on the Queen’s University ‘Policy Engagement’ blog, Prof. Harvey wrote: “Those calling for referendums have faced derision, combined with the smug reaction of those who never understood the constitutional core of the GFA. Raising this is written off as ‘divisive’, and even ‘toxic’, by people who then proceed to profess their unwavering love for the [GFA] in all its parts. What is apparent from the Brexit process is that many on this island have not read the [GFA] either.”
He pointed out how the GFA and the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which enacted it in UK law, stipulated that, if majority support for a united Ireland appeared likely, a border poll must be called.
“It is all too easy to mock British politicians, but how many Irish politicians and commentators would fail that test too? The [GFA] is as poorly understood on this island as it is on the other island: the naked hostility to the ‘border poll’ debate confirms this,” he said.
He suggested a glaring solution to the border conundrum could not be ignored.
“My sole concern here is to suggest that in tackling one of the consequences of Brexit – a hard border on the island of Ireland – a principled way forward is to ask people in this region whether they wish to remain in the UK or not. That does not rule out other arrangements to deal with this problem (as envisaged in the Withdrawal Agreement) it is simply to argue that the existing, and legally endorsed, method for removal of the border is an obvious option.”