A second EU referendum would deliver an even bigger majority for Leave, the Northern Ireland Secretary has predicted.
Restating her opposition to a so-called people’s vote on the ultimate Brexit deal Karen Bradley, who voted Remain in 2016, insisted it would undermine the democratic process. Ms Bradley, who was addressing a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in London, said the people had already spoken.
“I personally think, from my knocking on doors, there would be a bigger vote for Leave,” she said.
“The fact is the people spoke. We had a people’s vote.”
During her meeting with the gathering of British and Irish parliamentarians, Mrs Bradley was also challenged on the potential of violence if Brexit saw physical infrastructure return to the border.
Senator Frank Feighan said: “We would be very concerned at any border, any installation, that the people of Ireland would absolutely tear down that border with their own hands.
“That’s what’s coming from people, not from me, but from people on the ground.”
The fact is the people spoke. We had a people’s vote
The Secretary of State’s appearance at the plenary session of the BIPA came amid the ongoing impasse between the UK and EU on how to maintain a free flowing border post-Brexit.
Last December, both sides agreed to have a “backstop” position that would avoid a hard border even if a wider trade deal failed to be struck. But negotiators are at loggerheads on how this pledge will be translated into a legally binding commitment.
The EU wants the North to continue to operate under a European customs and regulatory framework, but the UK Government, under pressure from the DUP, is opposed to any move that would see Northern Ireland treated differently from Great Britain.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has suggested the UK could agree to extending the transition phase – the period when the UK continues to abide by EU rules post-Brexit – as a way to replace the need for an Irish backstop.
This suggestion has been rejected by the Irish Government, with Tánaiste Simon Coveney insisting there can be no Brexit deal without a backstop. Meanwhile, a Conservative MP is this week set to propose an amendment to legislation that would mean the Stormont Assembly would have to vote to agree to any backstop mechanism.
Steve Baker is hoping to bolt his proposal onto a bill being taken through Westminster by Ms Bradley focused on making it easier for civil servants to take major decisions in Northern Ireland in the ongoing absence of devolved ministers.
Asked about Mr Baker’s amendments on Monday, Ms Bradley insisted the bill was not designed to change policies. She also told the plenary meeting of the assembly the Government remained committed to last December’s joint report with the EU.
“A suggestion has been put forward last week at the European Council regarding an extension of the implementation period as a way to deal with the border,” she said.
“Now, we are looking at that. It is early days. It is a suggestion that has been put forward by the EU.
“And I want to be clear that we are committed to everything that we have agreed to in the joint report and we will ensure that there is no border on the island of Ireland.”
Ms Bradley said the Government wanted the UK’s new trading arrangement with the EU to begin, as planned, in January 2021. “That’s when we want this to be, so that there is no need for any backstop, or extension of implementation period, or anything else that’s been put forward,” she said.
“We want this to be a new relationship that starts on January 1st, 2021.”
The Northern Ireland Secretary added: “In any situation we will not allow there to be a border on that island.
“There are two communities in Northern Ireland, and much of what the European Union has put forward in terms of suggestions around the backstop are not acceptable to the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, and they aren’t acceptable to the British Government, so that’s why we are working to find a backstop that works for everyone.”