LONDON – Asked for his Brexit solution to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, a leading member of the U.K.’s main opposition party dropped a bombshell.
“Oh, what a temptation,” said Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell, who would be in charge of the nation’s finances if Labour came to power. “I long for a united Ireland but I recognize democracy.”
It was a throwaway comment — “I’m a Republican” — but one that comes at a delicate time in Brexit negotiations that have become mired in the debate over how to keep the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland invisible when the U.K. quits the European Union.
The remarks are likely to enrage the Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 lawmakers prop up Prime Minister Theresa May’s government. They’re already suspicious of Labour, whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn, also has previously been linked with Sinn Fein — the political party associated with terrorist group the Irish Republican Army, or IRA.
That said, the DUP have been making life difficult for May over Brexit, in particular their opposition to any deal with the EU that imposes extra customs or regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. to resolve the Irish border problem.
But his comments will likely have served as a warning to the DUP not to go too far in making life difficult for the prime minister, lest they precipitate a chain of events leading to a general election and a Labour government.
McDonnell even hinted Labour might be willing to make a pact with the DUP: “There will be some curious relationships that come out of a general election.”
It’s highly unlikely the DUP would ever go for that. Especially after he threw in a not-so-subtle dig at the annual unionist parades in Northern Ireland. “I can get my application for the Orange Order and order my bowler hat and sash for the marching season,” he said. “You never know.”