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Irish unification

Here’s how the Ireland story will end

Rishi Sunak with Ursula von der Leyen this week. Dan Kitwood/Getty

For all the goings-on over Brexit, says Max Hastings in Bloomberg, I am increasingly convinced that Northern Ireland will reunify with the South. The only reason the island is divided is because of a “historical blunder”. In 1921, after more than five centuries of cruel and “almost unfailingly incompetent” British rule, Irish independence should have lanced the boil. But Conservative politicians forced prime minister David Lloyd George to exclude from the settlement the “Protestant rump” that dominated part of Ulster. Thus was a statelet, “with a hapless Catholic minority”, carved from the island’s six northernmost counties.

The UK’s departure from the EU was undoubtedly a “disaster” for prospects of a united Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party, enraged by its perceived betrayal by Boris Johnson, last year withdrew from the power-sharing body that has governed Northern Ireland since the 1999 Good Friday Agreement. And Dublin, for all its “protestations of enthusiasm”, certainly doesn’t welcome the prospect of “assuming responsibility for a Northern Irish economy that is dependent on costly state aid”. It would create similar problems to those inflicted by impoverished East Germany on rich West Germany in 1990, albeit on a much smaller scale. But “Irish unification remains the island’s natural destiny”. Much like in Scotland, “demographics and thus time are on the side of change” – as old Unionists die off, “the young favour a different agenda”. And London simply isn’t the rich and successful partner it once was. For my money, both Scotland and Northern Ireland will break away from the UK “within a generation”.