Irish unity question 'definitely on the table' - ex-chief British Foreign Office

Reunification of Ireland and the future status of Scotland are issues “definitely on the table” as a result of Brexit, the former head of the UK Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service has said.

Irish unity question 'definitely on the table' - ex-chief British Foreign Office

Reunification of Ireland and the future status of Scotland are issues “definitely on the table” as a result of Brexit, the former head of the UK Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service has said.

Simon Fraser, chief policy adviser to two British foreign secretaries, William Hague and Philip Hammond, said a decision to pull out of the EU complicates the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

“Brexit does complicate, in my view, the future status of both Scotland and Northern Ireland, if you look at it from the British aspect,” he said.

“I think these questions are definitely on the table in terms of the future of our union."

In relation to the North"that does raise the question of the future of Northern Ireland in its relationship with the Republic", he added.

“I don’t want to take a clear view on that, but obviously there are mechanisms envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement by which future decisions could be made,” he said.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One, Mr Fraser said time will tell "how things evolve", adding that the "official position" in London is that the United Kingdom remains the United Kingdom.

The former senior civil servant, who ran the UK’s embassies worldwide and sat on the National Security Council, was responding to calls by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald for the EU to “take a stand” on Irish reunification as it did with the reunification of Germany.

In an interview with BBC’s Newsnight programme, Ms McDonald - who has declared she may be the next Taoiseach as coalition talks get underway- said her party would be “making asks of the European system in terms of long-term Irish interests and on the issue of partition”.

Mr Fraser said the consequence of no hard border in Ireland under the withdrawal agreement was to “accept some sort of border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

“The question is what is that going to be… that’s the conundrum that has yet to be resolved,” he added.

Mr Fraser also suggested Britain faces being outmaneuvered in post-Brexit trade deal talks because it doesn’t have the expertise for such negotiations compared to other countries.

Member states of the EU have their trade negotiations done by the European Commission, he pointed out.

“I myself was there for several years doing that,” he said.

It is true that we don’t have the national capacity that say the Americans or the Japanese or the European Commission have.

“So when we want to do these new trade deals, which the (British) government says it wants to do, the risk for us is that we are negotiating against people who have a lot more experience in it than we have.”

While Britain has a lot of experience in diplomacy, trade negotiation is a “very technical skill and actually trade negotiators tend to spend their whole career doing trade negotiations - they know all the tariff lines, they know what the concerns of other countries are and it’s a very technical expertise and that is what, at the moment, we don’t have and we have to build up,” he said.

Mr Fraser, former Chief of Staff to the European Commissioner for Trade, added: “There is obviously a risk that if you are negotiating with people who have been doing this all their lives, they’ll know every trick in the book.”

On UK Cabinet minister Michael Gove’s declaration that border checks are "inevitable" after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December, Mr Fraser said he had always warned it would lead to more, and not less, red tape, with “all sorts of new regimes and checks”.

“Indeed, that is what we are now seeing,” he said.

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