Labour Party shadow secretary muddies water on border poll

The census figures last week showed the Catholic population in Northern Ireland had moved decisively ahead of the Protestant one.
News Letter editorialNews Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

This led to glee in some nationalist quarters, and in others more low-level smugness.

Some political and commentary voices have interpreted the findings as further proof of the need for a border poll.

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In fact there is no such proof. Today we run analysis of the census findings by Dr Graham Gudgin (written for the distinguished think tank Policy Exhange). He has elaborated on aspects of the results that this newspaper flagged last week, showing that the census outcome is in many respects disappointing for nationalism. It is possible to conclude that a border poll is far from being justified and indeed that the rise of the Northern Irish and low numbers of people who consider themselves Irish only, suggest it might never be justified.

Both Tory government politicians and Labour Party representatives have been grilled on this question of a border poll. The prime minister Liz Truss in the US has said the census does not mean such a referendum is due. The Labour shadow NI secretary, Peter Kyle, however has muddied the waters.

While he was right to say that the census has not altered the question of whether there will be a border poll, he says he will set out the criteria for such a poll if events were heading that way. The 1998 Belfast Agreement states that a referendum should be called if it appears likely that a majority of those voting would want Northern Ireland to leave the UK.

This gives wide discretion to the incumbent secretary of state. It is essential that this discretion is kept wide. Every other aspect of the process favours separatists. They do not need to consult rest of the UK. They only need a majority of one of those who vote, not even a majority of the electorate. And a narrow vote to stay in the UK will be followed by pressure for other votes. Yet if there is a majority of one to join the Repbublic, unionists will never get a second vote to reverse it.

It is unfortunate that Mr Kyle has chosen this time to give succour to those who want to shatter the UK.