Keir Starmer rules out reunification vote for Northern Ireland

Labour leader indicates he wants to renegotiate trade deal with EU ahead of his party's annual conference

'I don’t think we’re anywhere near that kind of question,' Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said. Getty Images
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Labour leader Keir Starmer has ruled out the prospect of a vote on Irish reunification if his party is elected into power.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near that kind of question,” the he told the BBC ahead of Labour's annual conference in Liverpool.

“It’s absolutely hypothetical. It’s not even on the horizon.”

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since February last year, when the last one collapsed in a row over internal UK trade barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Democratic Unionist Party has made clear it will not accept a return to devolution until the UK government provides further assurances, by way of legislation, over Northern Ireland’s place in the internal market.

Mr Starmer also outlined a desire to renegotiate an improved trade deal with the EU, saying he was “not interested” in a deal that puts the UK in a position of being a rule taker.

“Our rules must be made in Westminster, according to the national interest of the UK as a whole,” he said.

“I am interested in resolving some of the outstanding issues.”

Calls for a unity referendum have been increasing on both sides of the Irish border in recent years.

Opposition party Sinn Fein, which has reunification as its core pledge, is currently topping political polls in the Republic of Ireland.

The party has repeatedly called on the Irish government to set up a Citizens' Assembly on Irish unity, which would have 100 citizens discuss issues around how unification would work in practice.

Mr Starmer’s comments come after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held talks with Ireland's leader Leo Varadkar at the European Political Community summit in Spain.

Earlier this month, Mr Varadkar said he believed there would be a united Ireland in his lifetime.

The Taoiseach also said he believed “we are on the path to unification”, which sparked criticism among the unionist community in Northern Ireland.

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris appeared to describe the comments, as well as a suggestion to consider a Plan B for the restoration of power-sharing, as “unhelpful”.

Updated: October 06, 2023, 7:29 PM