Peter Mandelson says Brexit could threaten North’s place in UK

Former EU commissioner warns people in North may have to choose between political identity or economic interest

Brexit could threaten Northern Ireland's place in the UK by forcing its people to choose between their political identity and their economic interest, former EU commissioner Peter Mandelson has warned.

Lord Mandelson, who was Northern Ireland secretary in Tony Blair's government, told The Irish Times that Britain and Ireland's shared membership of the EU was fundamental to the delicate settlement in the North.

“The settlement in the North, between unionists and nationalists and between our two countries, has been built on a remarkable duality, a political separateness from the rest of Ireland co-existing increasingly within a single economic entity embracing the whole of the island,” he said.

“Joint membership of the EU, creating the single customs area, has been central to this duality, but it remains fragile as we are seeing in the current stand-off between the parties.


“Brexit threatens to disrupt it quite fundamentally, and as time goes on I suspect that people in the North will increasingly come to see a choice between their economic interests and their political identity, and I would not bank on the latter prevailing.”

Extraordinary irony

Lord Mandelson described as “an extraordinary irony” that the very union the DUP “holds so dear could be threatened by the Brexit they have done so much to champion”.

Lord Mandelson will be in Dublin on Thursday to address the annual dinner of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce. Ahead of the speech, he welcomed the British Labour Party's recent policy shift in favour of remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union for a number of years after Britain leaves the EU.

"In the general election Theresa May failed to get a majority for her hard Brexit but she's not heeding the public's voice. Because they've made it clear that in seeing a transition period they don't want an extension of the status quo. They want to negotiate special transitional terms which will probably be as difficult to obtain as the final deal itself.

“The party that has heard what the public is saying is the Labour Party. And by changing its position in favour of remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union for an extended transitional period, they are meeting the needs of the UK economy and businesses across the country. But the prime minister seems determined not to follow that course.”


Lord Mandelson said he believed there were majorities in both houses of parliament at Westminster in favour of Labour’s position.

He criticised leaked British Home Office proposals to end the free movement of people from the EU as soon as Britain leaves.

"Those who are in touch with business opinion and put the needs of the economy uppermost would be very concerned indeed that freedom of movement would be ending the day after we leave the European Union in March 2019.

“ It will create havoc for many businesses. It will come as a great shock to them because they thought they had created greater understanding about this in government and it seems that they are not being listened to.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times