More Brexitref alarms: could a Corbyn government deliver Irish unity?

When we’re taking about Brexit fears, Newton Emerson in the Irish Times has an outlier scenario that’s sounds plausible but is full of holes.   He imagines the possibility of an early UK election out of the post-referendum chaos regardless who wins, with the Conservatives in worse disarray than Labour. Jeremy Corbyn gets SNP support to form a government in exchange for a second referendum. Independence is won.  NI unionism is demoralised.  Corbyn reverts Labour to active support for a united Ireland, and unionism, which is already feeling warmer towards the south, succumbs under pressure.

Plausible?  Far out.

If the referendum triggers an earlier ballot, there is no guarantee that Cameron will be Labour’s opponent – both factions of his party are already calling for his head…

Labour still could not win, the pollsters assure us. But for unionists in Northern Ireland the most dangerous outcome is a narrow Labour defeat. Then Corbyn or McDonnell could be put in office by the Scottish nationalists, attracted by the very prospect of breaking up the UK…

Should Corbyn or McDonnell reach Number 10, ditching Northern Ireland would be as simple as turning off the money. The UK’s regional funding formula, on which Belfast’s £10 billion subvention depends, is merely a procedural convention that can be changed at the stroke of a pen – a pen the SNP would immediately brandish.

There’s a whole bundle of hypotheses here, each as doubtful as the other.

First,  an early election to the fixed term parliament requires either a vote of no confidence to stick for 14 days without reverse, or a two thirds majority to hold an election. Likely you think?

Second is a Scottish Indyref likely within two years  before the SNP knows the terms of r UK withdrawal in the event of Brexit or the oil price climbs?

Third even if Corbyn survives to fight the election as leader, why assume his old Livingstonian analysis of Irish unity would trump the fears of destabilisation shared by the dominant tendency among Labour MPs? The SNP haven’t a dog in the fight for NI’s status, so why should they care either way.

Would opinion in the NI Assembly have changed over the next few years  to allow Corbyn to trigger an NI referendum on unity and would the Republic oblige by holding its twin?

The notion of financial pressure on NI is ingenious but would require  the repeal of the NI Act 1998,and the abandonment of the Barnett process for all devolved areas. The latter might appeal to some English Tories but few others, least of all today’s SNP. Scotland will continue to receive a higher block grant from London than its slow population growth  merits, under the terms of  the fiscal framework  that accompanies the Scotland Act which has just devolved income tax powers to Scotland in phases. And NI please note, Westminster is giving the Scots extra cash to pay for their new welfare powers which are less than  the full welfare powers legally already devolved to Stormont but fully subsidised by London .

No, when the hysteria dies down the most likely outcome is Cameron dual wins in the Brexit referendum and over the leadership with a party that has a strong survival instinct, unlike Labour. But if you really want a bit of crack (sic), speculate on Theresa May as the next  Conservative leader – in 2019.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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