BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders are set to acknowledge on Saturday that Northern Ireland could join the bloc in the future if its people vote to unite with EU member state Ireland, officials said Friday.
The leaders are meeting in Brussels to approve guidelines for their divorce negotiations with Britain, which is due to leave the EU in March 2019.
Two European officials said a statement on the issue is likely to be added to the minutes of the summit, to be held without British Prime Minister Theresa May. The officials asked not to be identified because the summit of 27 leaders still was being prepared.
Future relations between Ireland and Britain, including how their borders would work with the U.K. outside the bloc, have emerged as a key problem to be addressed during the two-year Brexit talks.
Northern Ireland is unlikely to break away from Britain in the near future. But a majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU during the referendum last June that led to Britain's departure, the first time a country has ever left the EU.
In a letter last month, Britain's point-man on Brexit, David Davis, confirmed that the U.K. would honor a commitment to allow Northern Ireland to leave if a majority voted for the move.
That commitment is laid out in the Good Friday agreement, which led to a power-sharing deal that helped end much of the bloodshed during Northern Irelands "Troubles," which claimed around 3,700 lives, from around 1968 to 1998.
Officials say the possibility that Northern Ireland might unite with Ireland can't be compared to the possibility that Scotland might leave Britain.
They say it is more like the unification of Germany, where an existing member nation grows, rather than a new non-member nation being born.