April 28, 2017 / 8:48 AM / 5 months ago

EU to say united Ireland would be automatic full member

FILE PHOTO - Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny leaves the European Council after a meeting with EU Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels, Belgium, March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders at a Brexit summit on Saturday should give a formal undertaking to embrace the British province of Northern Ireland in the EU if a referendum unites the island, diplomats said on Friday.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has previously asked fellow members of the bloc to acknowledge that Northern Ireland would, like East Germany in 1990, automatically enter the EU in the event of unification with the existing member state, the Irish Republic.

Kenny will ask the other 26 leaders meeting in Brussels to endorse a negotiating plan for Britain’s withdrawal to give a political endorsement to what Irish and EU legal experts say is the position in international law of such territorial changes.

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“It would merely state the obvious, i.e. that also a united Ireland would continue being a member of the EU,” a source close to preparations for the European Council said.

“The EU does of course not take a stance on the possibility of a united Ireland. Should this question arise, it would be for the peoples of Ireland and Northern Ireland to decide in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement.”

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The 1998 peace accord, backed by the British and Irish states, says referendums should be held on both sides of the border to approve unification of the island. The current British government has acknowledged that Northern Ireland, if it united with the Republic, should be in a position to rejoin the EU.

The leaders, meeting without British Prime Minister Theresa May, would enter their agreement with Kenny’s position in the formal minutes of the Council. These are normally published only after a subsequent meeting, though they are likely in this case to be made public immediately by those taking part in the summit.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Gareth Jones

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