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When to call a referendum in Northern Ireland

How the UK government should judge when and whether a majority for Irish unification has emerged

By Alan Renwick  

GH Maps / Alamy Stock Photo

If it appears likely that a majority of voters in Northern Ireland would back a united Ireland, the UK government is legally obliged to call a referendum on the issue. This requirement was laid down in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and subsequently written into British law.

That condition is not met at present—there is no evidence that a majority would today opt for unification. But politics in the age of Brexit and Covid is fluid. There is no knowing how opinion might evolve in the coming years. Some evidence suggests a recent trend in favour of…

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