Talk of border poll is part of ‘project fear’ says DUP chief Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA
DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA

DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday dismissed as “project fear” reports of Cabinet concern about an Irish unity poll in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Arlene Foster said the criteria for calling a referendum on Northern Ireland’s constitutional future had not been met.

Mrs Foster’s remarks came after the BBC quoted three unnamed Cabinet ministers talking about the increased likelihood of a poll if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.

Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the incumbent secretary of state is obliged to call a vote on the constitutional issue if there is evidence of a change in public opinion in Northern Ireland in favour of Irish reunification.

Last month, it was reported that Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley warned Cabinet colleagues that a poll on a united Ireland would be much more likely in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Asked about the latest reported Cabinet concern on the matter, Mrs Foster said: “There are many people engaging in project fear at this point in time and we all have to recognise that.”

The DUP leader added: “The Belfast Agreement sets out the criteria for a border poll and it hasn’t been satisfied and therefore will not be called.”

Mrs Foster was asked about the issue after she met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Belfast.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill also met Mr Varadkar during his round of engagements with the Stormont parties.

Mrs O’Neill said she raised the issue of a referendum with the Irish premier.

“We have put the issue of a unity referendum to the Taoiseach, to the British Prime Minister on every occasion on which we would meet them,” she said.

She added “the unity referendum is built into the Good Friday Agreement, it will be for the people of this island to decide the constitutional future”.