Ireland’s general election is hanging in the balance after a surge in Sinn Fein’s support turned the nation’s traditional two-party power structure upside down. Counting began on Sunday, after an exit poll showed a virtual dead heat between Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael as well as the biggest opposition party, Fianna Fail, and Sinn Fein. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail ruled out governing with Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA, which presented itself as a left-wing alternative to the centrist consensus.
But even if it is unlikely that Sinn Fein will lead the next government, its rise speaks to the shifting tectonic plates that are upending traditional power structures across Europe.
Moreover, it reopens the debate over Irish unification, as the party’s growing support could reshape the conversation.
If the Irish election does lead to a “reunification”, according to one of Britain’s foremost constitutional historians, Northern Ireland will be able to automatically rejoin the EU.
Professor Vernon Bogdanor told Express.co.uk: “The Belfast Agreement was conceived in the context of both Britain and Ireland remaining member states of the EU.
“Brexit, therefore, is likely to have consequences for the Agreement, in terms of North/South collaboration, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and indeed for the whole philosophy of power-sharing which lies at the basis of the Agreement.
“Northern Ireland, which voted to remain in the EU, is indeed in a unique position in the EU.
“If it did decide to join with Ireland, the European Council has agreed that the entire territory of the united island of Ireland would be part of the EU.
“Northern Ireland, therefore, is the only part of the UK that could secede and rejoin the EU without need to re-negotiate entry.”
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Former Brexit Secretary David Davis echoed Professor Bogdanor’s claims in 2017, when he said that the UK Government’s position, in the event of a future border poll in favour of a united Ireland, was that should the people of Northern Ireland vote to leave the UK, they would “be in a position of becoming part of an existing EU member state, rather than seeking to join the EU as a new independent state”.
Scotland, on the other hand, whose leading party, the SNP, is vehemently pushing for a second referendum, would not become independent the day after a Yes vote.
The country would need to apply to join again under Article 49 of the Treaty of the European Union.
Scottish ministers accept they would have to go through an “accession process” for EU membership and want to start this “as soon as possible”.
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