Ministers discuss prospect of the break-up of the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit

Posted On: 
8th January 2019

Senior ministers have discussed the prospect of the break-up of the United Kingdom if there is a no-deal Brexit, PoliticsHome has learned.

Cabinet heard that Brexit could cause the break-up of the UK.
PA Images

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley issued the stark warning at Tuesday's meeting of the Cabinet.

She said that a so-called "border poll" on the reunification of Ireland was far more likely if the UK crashes out of the bloc without a withdrawal agreement.

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Meanwhile, Shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell also told the meeting that the Cabinet should be braced for Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon calling for a second independence referendum in the event of a chaotic Brexit.

He also said that a second EU referendum would lead to another poll north of the Border.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, an Irish referendum can only be called by the Northern Ireland Secretary if there is evidence that a majority in Northern Ireland would support reunification.

Ms Bradley told Cabinet that Northern Ireland would be the worst affected part of the UK if there is a no-deal Brexit.

One Cabinet source said: "The view was that a border poll in Northern Ireland was all-but inevitable if there is a no-deal Brexit because Sinn Fein would demand it straight away. The Secretary of State would have no choice but to call one."

Last November, a poll by RTE and the BBC showed that 62% of voters in Northern Ireland believed Brexit made a united Ireland more likely.

The warnings came as a succession of Cabinet ministers told the Prime Minister that they would not stand for a no-deal Brexit if MPs reject the withdrawal agreement she has negotiated with the EU.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd told her colleagues that "history will take a dim view of a Cabinet that presses ahead with no deal".

She added: "We have to face world in which we find it, not as we wish it to be and we have to deal with the facts as we find them."

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said MPs rejecting Mrs May's deal - which is due to be voted on by the Commons next Tuesday - were "like 50 year-olds at the end of the disco, who have turned down all other offers and are waiting for Scarlett Johansson to come along".