Ashdown border poll fears if UK leaves single market

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Exiting the single market makes it “highly likely” Sinn Fein will seek a border poll in Northern Ireland with Protestant backing, Lord Paddy Ashdown has insisted.

The former Lib Dem leader said he was more worried about how the shockwaves of Brexit could affect Northern Ireland, rather than Scotland.

Lord Ashdown, who grew up in Northern Ireland, said that a united Ireland vote pushed by Sinn Fein could gain some Protestant business support, but would be defeated and be very destabilising.

“If we get a single market continuation, wise heads ought to be able to come to a conclusion which keeps the border open. If we get less than that, I think we track back towards a fixed border.

“There are quite a few serious Protestant middle class, especially in the business community, who would say ‘you know, my heart goes to London, but my business interest goes to Europe’.

“But my judgment is that Sinn Fein couldn’t win a majority.

“And the problem is that the very fact of calling a referendum in Northern Ireland will hugely destabilise,” Lord Ashdown said.

However, under the Good Friday Agreement, only the Northern Ireland Secretary has the power to call a border referendum.