The Northern Ireland Secretary has insisted the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is the “best thing” for the future of the Union.
Karen Bradley declined to be drawn on reports she warned Cabinet colleagues that a poll on a united Ireland would be much more likely in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but she said she was aware of her statutory obligations in regard to triggering a referendum.
Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the incumbent secretary of state is obliged to call a border poll if there is evidence of a change in public opinion in Northern Ireland in favour of Irish reunification.
In the wake of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, reports emerged that Mrs Bradley had issued a stark warning that a border poll would be far more likely if the UK crashed out of the EU without a deal.
On a visit to Belfast on Friday, the Secretary of State was asked whether no-deal would make a border poll more likely.
She told the Press Association: “I’ve said that I believe the best thing for the United Kingdom, the whole United Kingdom and the Union of the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union together as one UK with a deal.
“That is the best thing for the United Kingdom and that is what I am focused on delivering.”
Asked about her reported warning at Cabinet, Mrs Bradley said: “I am not commenting on what may or may not have been said at a private meeting, but I am well aware of my statutory obligations under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and I am well aware the constitutional status of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland.
“My job as Secretary of State is to deliver a deal that gets us out of the European Union as one United Kingdom and is good for everybody in the United Kingdom, and that means everybody in Northern Ireland, and that’s what I am working to deliver.”
Asked if a no-deal Brexit would lead her to review whether the conditions for a poll had been met under her statutory obligations, she said: “I know what my obligations are and I am well aware of them.
“The point here is, though, we have a way of leaving the European Union in an orderly way that is good for the United Kingdom and the Union. I want to see us deliver on that.
“I want to see members of Parliament vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, so we can leave as one United Kingdom in a way that is good for the whole United Kingdom.”