Backing the backstop: Why Sinn Féin thinks Brexit will eventually lead to a united Ireland

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

Just for the avoidance of all doubt, if there was any, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson says her party’s MPs will not take their seats in Westminster, even if it would make all the difference in a crunch vote on the Brexit deal.

"Under no circumstances will Sinn Féin MPs ever take their seats in the House of Commons. They will never pledge allegiance to the British Queen. No way, no, nay, never."

As I say, just in case there was any doubt.

It’s rare to hear a voice speaking out in favour of the Northern Ireland backstop, but Ms Anderson believes she represents the majority of voters who backed Remain in the Brexit referendum when she says Sinn Fein have been “arguing for the backstop since the referendum” because, she adds, the aim of the backstop will “prevent a hard border, maintain co-operation and uphold the Good Friday Agreement”.

The backstop is that key and controversial element of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which works as an insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

The EU’s wording of the backstop would mean Northern Ireland would essentially remain in the EU if trade talks collapse and there’s no future deal.

On Sunday it took less than an hour for the Brexit deal, struck after 18 months of negotiations, to be approved and endorsed by EU leaders; a political blessing ceremony. Negotiations are over.

Now, the deal will have to be passed by the UK Parliament and no one knows the outcome in Westminster.

Martina Anderson told ITV News leaving the EU was no cause for celebration. Credit: ITV News

Ms Anderson believes the deal will get through the UK Parliament, even without Sinn Fein MPs taking their seats.

"It's not a hope, it’s based on a calculation," she says.

She feels that UK MPs will simply want to avoid the potential damage that a so-called hard Brexit could lead to.

"There’s no good Brexit. It’s damaged Ireland, north and south," she argues.

So what happens if the deal is voted down in the House of Commons?

Sinn Fein is trying to chart the possible outcomes.

In the event of a hard Brexit, Ms Anderson can see the scenario leading to a point where, through the terms of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, a majority of people in Northern Ireland would vote for reunification of the island of Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party has been getting much of the airtime.

Understandably perhaps because of the DUP’s deal to prop up Theresa May’s government.

Sinn Fein believes the DUP leadership are against the deal and opposed to the backstop because they want to “reinforce partition” and “harden the border” between the Ireland and the UK.

"Sinn Fein will not become observers to hard-won rights being stripped away," she warns.

The implications of Brexit and the outcome of the vote in Westminster will have a long and lasting impact in Northern Ireland.