Lewis tells of surprise at Tanaiste’s comments on united Ireland
16th June 2021
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has expressed his surprise at comments from Leo Varadkar that a united Ireland could happen in his lifetime.
Mr Lewis also suggested in the House of Commons that the comments could be explained because of the success of Sinn Fein in opinion polls in the Republic.
Mr Varadkar told the Fine Gael Ard Fheis on Tuesday that Irish reunification should be the party’s “mission”, and he called for an increase in engagement with communities in Northern Ireland.© Provided by PA Media Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said ‘tectonic plates were shifting’ in Northern Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)
Mr Varadkar said the “tectonic plates were shifting” in the region and called for his party to establish a branch across the border.
He said: “It means the unification of the people of our island as well as territory of Ireland and it is a legitimate political aspiration.
“We should be proud to say that unification is something we aspire to. It should be part of our mission as a party to work towards it.”© REUTERS/Toby Melville Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis leaves Downing Street 10 in London, Britain, February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville. REFILE – CORRECTING TITLE
The comments were raised at Northern Ireland questions in the Commons by DUP MP Gavin Robinson.
Mr Robinson said: “Can I ask the Secretary of State what reflections he has to make on the deeply unhelpful and destabilising contribution from the Irish Tanaiste yesterday at such a grave time of political instability in Northern Ireland?”
Mr Lewis replied: “I join the honourable gentleman in some surprise at the comments we saw yesterday.© Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at Inspirefest at the BGE Theatre in Dublin. (Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images)
“We would be concerned about any deviation from the principle of consent as enshrined in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, but that agreement of course does respect the right of anyone to express their views and we fully support that.
“We do note the recent Life and Times survey which has support for a united Ireland at a low of 30% in Northern Ireland.
“I also am aware of the polls which put Sinn Fein ahead in the Republic, which may explain the timing of some of these comments from the Tanaiste.© Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a media briefing at Government Buildings in Dublin. (Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images)
“I would urge everyone to dial down any rhetoric, particularly at this time of year, I think it is unhelpful and ill-advised.
“Whatever the circumstances, this Government will support the principle of consent and all of our obligations under the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.”