Unionists have expressed concern at a renewed support for Irish nationalism and republicanism following the result of the recent British referendum to leave the European Union.
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt (pictured, left) said it had been “an unexpected consequence” that nationalists, who were previously “content” under British rule, were now adapting their outlook.
According to Mr Nesbitt, nationalists who were previously “relaxed” with the constitutional status quo have been angered by the referendum result to Leave. His Ulster Unionist Party had campaigned for a Remain vote alongside Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance.
The UUP leader said the uncertainty created by the referendum result would prompt many nationalists to re-evaluate their place in the ‘United Kingdom’.
“I think an unexpected consequence of the referendum result is to reopen the constitutional question and we now have people who were content in Northern Ireland last week thinking again about a united Ireland,” he said.
“Quite a number of nationalists were relaxed with the constitutional arrangements but they will be reviewing this in terms of protecting their European identity - what they need as a reassurance is certainty, but there is none.”
Mr Nesbitt said he accepted the outcome of last Thursday’s vote but said it was a “very bad decision”.
“At this stage to say the referendum is not binding is to disrespect the will of the people,” he said.
British government ministers, including front-runners in the upcoming Conservative Party election to replace Prime Minister David Cameron, say they don’t intend to trigger Article 50 to begin the formal process of leaving the EU at least until the end of the year.
Some British officials have suggested the terms of the exit from the EU should be negotiated entirely before the Article 50 invocation.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have made comments seeking a much faster removal of Britain from the European Union, saying that the EU needs a quick timetable to avert the ongoing “uncertainty” over the Brexit. However, there doesn’t appear to be any obvious way the EU can “force” Britain to leave in a timely fashion.
In Ireland, nationalist leaders have admitted the referendum result has transformed the constitutional debate.
“The Brexit vote changes the context and that means the argument changes,” said SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
“We we now need to speed up integration across Ireland not just to advance nationalism but to ensure we are no longer at the mercy of right wing people in England who have different interests than we do.”
Sinn Fein warned of a need for action against a new “democratic deficit” in the Six Counties. It blamed “jingoistic English nationalism” for threatening to take the people of the North of Ireland (and Scotland), who voted to remain, out of the EU.
Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister at Stormont, Martin McGuinness has requested an urgent meeting with British PM David Cameron to discuss Britain’s exit from the European Union saying there needs to be “special arrangements” for the Six Counties in the north of Ireland.
He also called for an urgent meeting with Kenny, who he urged to represent the wishes of the electorate in the North.
It came amid reports that the Taoiseach told EU leaders, including Cameron, that Scotland shouldn’t be “dragged out” of the European Union.
The move marks a possible shift in Irish policy, as ministers had been warned to maintain a diplomatic silence during the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon defended Mr Kenny after he was criticised by unionists, insisting that his intervention was “appropriate” and saying he articulated the Scottish position on Brexit “very effectively”.
Meanwhile, there is continued uncertainly over plans to police the border between the Six and 26 Counties amid allegations of a surge of immigrants using Ireland as a “back door” into Britain ahead of a post-Brexit clampdown.
“We know from bitter experience that it is practically impossible to secure the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and as it is likely that freedom of movement will continue to apply on the island of Ireland, the challenge will be to stop illegal immigrants moving into Northern Ireland from the Republic,” Nesbitt said.
“The next question that raises is how will the UK government stop people illegally entering Great Britain from Northern Ireland?
Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson (pictured, right) called for a return of the British army to patrol the border “as a matter of urgency.”
“There will undoubtedly be an increased terror threat from Irish republican terrorists as well as an rapidly increasing threat of international terrorism emanating from within the open borders of the European Union,” he said.
“Given these increased threats, especially during the period of the UK’s negotiation as we move towards an eventual exit, there is a clear need for increased border security.
“The British Army are clearly best equipped to provide the required security for the UK’s border areas under an increased terrorist threat,” he said.
Mr McGuinness and the DUP’s First Minister Arlene Foster, who campaigned in favour of Brexit, have jointly requested an urgent meeting with David Cameron to discuss the implications of the referendum outcome for the north.
Ms Foster said: “We have already spoken to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The deputy First Minister and I have also requested an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister in the coming weeks to discuss matters further. We will meet with the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny next Monday to commence discussions on the nature of our relationship going forward.”