EU plans to ask for Northern Ireland to seamlessly leave UK after Brexit

An anti-Brexit protest in Carrickarnon, Northern Ireland, showed there is opposition to a hard border – but is there support for a reunited Ireland? (Rex)

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland may soon be a thing of the past.

At a Brexit summit this weekend, European Union leaders are expected to formally discuss the possibility of welcoming Northern Ireland back into the EU fold – subject to a referendum.

European Council president Donald Tusk wrote to members of the European Council in advance of the summit, making clear that Northern Ireland is a main priority.

He wrote: “In order to protect the peace and reconciliation process described by the Good Friday Agreement, we should aim to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

The Good Friday Agreement supports a referendum on reuniting Ireland if it seems that the majority are in favour.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in Berlin earlier this month (Rex)

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny would like Northern Ireland to remain a part of the EU if Ireland were to unify, arguing that it is important for those north of the border to have “ease of access” to rejoin, subject to reunification.

He hopes Northern Ireland will do as East Germany did in 1990, entering the EU automatically when it reunited with West Germany.

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When Mr Kenny meets with the other 26 EU leaders in Brussels on Saturday, he will be hoping they endorse his proposal – which already has the backing of EU legal experts and the British government.

A source close to preparations for the European Council told Reuters: “It would merely state the obvious, i.e. that also a united Ireland would continue being a member of the EU.

“The EU does of course not take a stance on the possibility of a united Ireland. Should this question arise, it would be for the peoples of Ireland and Northern Ireland to decide in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement.”

However, there are doubts that the required levels of support for reunification are there in Northern Ireland.

In a recent poll, 62% said they wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the UK, while just 22% wanted to unite with the Republic.

Voters south of the border are concerned about the cost of reunification. In a poll asking how they would vote if the cost of a united Ireland had a €9bn a year price tag, a third said they would vote in favour, while a third said they would vote against.

It is expected that the minutes from Saturday’s meeting will be made public immediately by those taking part.