Could Sinn Fein derail a Brexit trade deal? Republicans win Irish election after urging hard EU line in talks with UK and reunification with Ulster
- Sinn Fein emerges as most popular party in Ireland in shock general election win
- Sinn Fein crashed traditional two party politics and now could enter government
- Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein now in a race to form a coalition government
- Sinn Fein opposed the Brexit deal and party’s victory will spark concern in No10
Brexit trade talks have taken another twist after Sinn Fein unexpectedly emerged as the most popular party in Ireland in a move which could harm the UK’s chances of striking a deal with the EU.
Sinn Fein stunned Dublin and beyond as it secured the most first preference votes and topped the polls in the vast majority of constituencies across the state.
It narrowly beat both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – the two traditionally dominant forces in Irish politics – but none will win enough seats to secure a majority in the Dail parliament, setting the stage for coalition talks.
Sinn Fein’s new found place at the heart of the battle for power will likely spark concern in Number 10 Downing Street because the party vehemently opposed the Brexit divorce deal.
It suggested that Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar gave away too much in the crunch talks with Boris Johnson last year which led to the updated divorce deal being agreed.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald celebrates with her supporters after being elected at an election count in Dublin
Leo Varadkar, pictured celebrating his re-election, is facing an uphill battle to stay on as Taoiseach after his Fine Gael party lost seats
It has also expressed concerns about what the deal could mean for cross-border trade between the Republic and Northern Ireland amid wider fears that UK divergence from EU rules in the future could harm the Irish economy.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein have long called for a united Ireland and in its 2020 manifesto it pledged to ‘start the planning for the Unity referendum’.
Brexit deal opposition and demands for a border poll could now become key issues as the main Irish parties try to figure out who will form the next government.
And even if Sinn Fein does not form part of the next administration its new found popularity will give it a much stronger voice as an opposition party, giving it a bigger platform to advance its agenda.
Crucially, all EU27 member states will have to ratify any trade deal struck between Brussels and Britain which means potential Sinn Fein opposition could hamper progress and reduce flexibility on what could be agreed.
Sinn Fein received 24.5 per cent of the vote share at the election while Fianna Fail got 22.2 per cent and Fine Gael 20.9 per cent.
Despite that, Fianna Fail remains best placed to secure the most seats, primarily due to Sinn Fein’s failure to field enough candidates to capitalise on its unexpected surge at the polls.
Of the three, Fine Gael looks like being the big loser, with Mr Varadkar’s party set to lose several seats.
He now faces an uphill battle to stay on as Taoiseach with his chances of clinging on appearing to be slim.
Smaller parties such as the Greens, Labour, the Social Democrats and Solidarity/People Before Profit, and a sizeable number of independent TDs, may all now be courted as the main parties seek junior coalition partners.
Sinn Fein’s election win could prove a potential headache for Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street on February 5
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin yesterday declined the opportunity to repeat his pre-election pledge never to do business with Sinn Fein.
Though he later cautioned observers not to ‘jump the gun’ in interpreting his remarks as a signal an alliance with the party was in the offing.
Mr Varadkar was more unequivocal in his response, making clear his party’s stance on not dealing with Sinn Fein remained unchanged.
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said she was willing to talk to all political leaders but expressed a desire to lead a coalition made up of left-leaning parties, without any input from Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, which are both centre-right in outlook
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