John Bruton, who served as Ireland’s prime minister from 1994 to 1997, said Mrs May’s strategy raises the chances of a no-deal Brexit and a subsequent independence vote which could break up the United Kingdom. He said Tory MPs who oppose Mrs May’s deal on the grounds it could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom are actually making the prospect of a united Ireland more likely. And the DUP’s decision to “back Brexit at all costs” has only served to “play into the hands of Sinn Fein” and increase the chances of a border poll, he warned.
Citing a recent poll which surveyed voters in Northern Ireland, Mr Bruton said a majority would support a united Ireland if the Government in Westminster fails to secure a Brexit deal.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “Mrs May, by prioritising Conservative Party unity over a cross-party approach, is leading these two islands into constitutional and emotional territory that has not been mapped, and that is highly dangerous.”
The UK is scheduled to leave the EU at 11pm GMT on March 29, with or without a deal.
A no-deal Brexit would mean a need for customs checks on goods entering Ireland, an EU member, from Northern Ireland, which will no longer be in the bloc.
Dublin has insisted it has no intention of ‘hardening’ the border by installing physical infrastructure such as checkpoints.
But exactly how the EU plans to maintain the integrity of its customs union without border checks is still a mystery.
Mr Bruton said there is “no negotiating advantage now” in Brussels withholding exactly how it plans to deal with a hard Brexit.
But he warned the course taken by Mrs May may only serve to force Northern Ireland out of the UK.
He said: “The EU is a rule-based organisation, and it cannot afford to break its own rules if it wants to maintain its moral and political authority.
“The technical fixes, advocated by the Tory Brexiteers, cannot be worked through between now and March 29.
“At this late stage, Mrs May can afford to gamble, because, politically, she has little left to lose. The EU cannot do so.
“Its credibility is vital to its trade agreements with the rest of the world. Its internal cohesion depends on the consistent application of common rules.
“Where will a No Deal leave Ireland?”
Mr Burton cited a recently poll by Belfast-based pollster LucidTalk which assessed attitudes to a united Ireland.
He said the results were “quite surprising” and suggested 55 percent of voters would either certainly or probably vote for a united Ireland after a no-deal Brexit, compared to 42 percent certainly or probably opting to stay in the UK.
A Brexit under Mrs May’s deal would see 48 percent opting to stay in the Union, while 48 percent would want a united Ireland.
But he warned the “neutrals” – who are neither self-described unionists nor self-described nationalists – held the balance of power.
In a no-deal Brexit, just 14 percent of these “neutrals” would vote to remain in the UK, he said.
And even under Mrs May’s deal, just 29 percent would support the Union.
Theresa May is seeking changes to her deal with Brussels after it was rejected by a record majority in parliament last month.
MPs backed a move to replace the contentious backstop element of the deal, designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland, with unspecified “alternative arrangements”.
The PM will make a statement to parliament on Tuesday setting out what progress she has made in talks with the EU.