Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Would the Republic of Ireland participate in a Tory referendum on UK EU membership?

At first it sounds crazy: if this or a future Tory government in the UK was to put EU membership to a referendum, as they are under increasing pressure to do, the voting base would surely just be the United Kingdom. But in the House of Commons yesterday, David Cameron had to be reminded of his sloppiness even on that point:

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): May I simply ask the Prime Minister to look at his terminology? In his statement, he mentioned Britain 12 times; he did not mention the United Kingdom once. Does he agree that if there is to be a referendum, which I think is inevitable, the people of Northern Ireland should have a very strong say? He must, in the European Council, refer to the United Kingdom, or the UK for short; saying “Britain” excludes Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister: As ever, the hon. Lady is right about almost everything, and I am rightly chastised.

So anyway, there would have to be a referendum in Northern Ireland as part of the exercise. Now here's where things get tricky. The Good Friday Agreement between the UK and the Republic of Ireland contains the following text:

The two Governments: (i) recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland; (ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;

Could not the Irish government argue that a referendum on the question of Northern Ireland leaving the EU with the UK has outcomes so inimical to a united Ireland that under the treaty, the Republic would have to be consulted through an all-Ireland referendum on the question?