Northern Ireland

SoS Karen Bradley confident of NI's future in the UK

Karen Bradley
Image caption Theresa May's spokesman told lobby correspondents at Westminster that Karen Bradley remains confident of Northern Ireland's position in the UK

Downing Street has said Secretary of State Karen Bradley remains confident of a majority in favour of Northern Ireland's constitutional status quo.

Theresa May's spokesman said that the circumstances requiring a border poll to be called are not satisfied.

The Times reported the prime minister had doubts that the government would win a referendum on maintaining Northern Ireland's place within the UK.

It said Mrs May had been discussing Brexit plans with Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Meanwhile the government has defended Mrs Bradley's handling of the political impasse and said she is in Northern Ireland "nearly every week."

It came after Ulster Unionist Party chief whip Steve Aiken claimed she was not spending enough time in Northern Ireland.

Asked how many nights the Secretary of State had spent in Northern Ireland since being appointed at the start of this year, a UK government spokesperson gave the following response:

"The Secretary of State is in Northern Ireland at every available opportunity and is deeply committed to fulfilling her responsibilities.

"Since her appointment, the Secretary of State has worked in Northern Ireland nearly every week, and is focused on redoubling her efforts to restore the devolved institutions."

'Implications'

The prime minister's comments about a border poll came after Mrs May allegedly told Conservative backbenchers of her concerns over Northern Ireland's future within the UK.

The Times reported that Mrs May had engaged in an exchange with the high profile Brexiteer MP Mr Rees-Mogg during a discussion about the implications of potential customs arrangements for the border.

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Image caption Jacob Rees-Mogg reportedly discussed Brexit border plans with Theresa May

The newspaper said Mr Rees-Mogg had expressed his view that the government would win a future border poll, just as it won the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland.

The Times quoted Mrs May as saying: "I would not be as confident as you. That's not a risk I'm prepared to take. We cannot be confident on the politics of the situation, on how it plays out."

According to the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Secretary is meant to call a border poll "if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland".

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Image caption Michelle O'Neill believes Theresa May's alleged comments are "a fundamental breach of the Good Friday Agreement"

Reacting to The Times report, the Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O'Neill argued that the quotes attributed to Mrs May "are an admission that the threshold to hold such a vote has now been met".

Mrs O'Neill said that if the Times report is accurate, "Theresa May is conceding that the Good Friday Agreement threshold for triggering a unity poll has been met but that she isn't prepared to allow the people of Ireland, north and south, to exercise their democratic right."

The Sinn Féin Vice President described this as "an appalling display of contempt for the democratic rights of Irish citizens" and "a fundamental breach of the Good Friday Agreement which clearly provides for a referendum."

Mrs May's spokesman insisted that the government "steadfastly supports the Good Friday Agreement".

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