Jeremy Corbyn’s affirmation of support for a united Ireland has been branded “unhelpful” to the Northern Ireland peace process.
In an apparent break with a long-standing policy to adopt a bipartisan approach based on the 1998 Good Friday Peace accord, the new Labour leader said reunification was “an aspiration that I have always gone along with”.
Although unsurprised, unionists have called for Labour to clarify its position.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Nothing Jeremy Corbyn says about Northern Ireland is going to be helpful or is designed to be helpful.
“What we now need is for the Labour Party to clarify its position on the principle of consent and Jeremy Corbyn needs to make clear whether he stands by the agreements made by Tony Blair which put the issue of consent at the heart of the constitutional arrangement in Northern Ireland.”
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, a united Ireland can only be brought about with the majority consent of people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Corbyn has been a long-time supporter of the unification of Ireland.
In 1984 – a decade before the first IRA ceasefire – he met with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in London and, a year later he opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement saying it strengthened rather than weakened the border.
He has also appointed John McDonnell as shadow chancellor, who last week apologised for saying in 2003 that IRA members should be honoured for bringing the British to the negotiating table.
Sinn Fein has welcomed the comments.
A spokesman said: “Jeremy Corbyn has been a long-time friend of Ireland and of the peace process.”
Mr Cobyn’s most recent remarks were made during an interview with the New Statesman magazine.
The UUP said it had been assured that Labour was committed to the consent principles when officials met shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker earlier this week.
Tom Elliott MP said: “He was very clear that Labour is committed to the consent principle as set out in the Belfast Agreement. Indeed he has also been unambiguous in the House of Commons that this is the position. What we have here is a party leader who is out of step with his own party’s position.”
The UUP has requested a meeting with Mr Corbyn.
The SDLP said Mr Corbyn reflected their views.
Foyle MP Mark Durkan said: “Jeremy Corbyn is stating a view held by many in the Labour Party in regards to a united Ireland and one that reflects an aspiration of the SDLP.”