Absolutely. One of the first questions was about the role of the Secretary of State. It is important to point out two matters. One is that the Secretary of State has a discretion to do this at any time. That is sometimes neglected. The other element of it, which Ms Hanna refers to as the duty on the Secretary of State, is when there is a duty to trigger this. The McCord judgment gives the Secretary of State a considerable amount of flexibility. There are other things in that judgment as well. In other words, the Secretary of State is not legally compelled to spell out a policy in an answer to one of my letters or in answer to a question. However, just because one is not legally compelled to do something does not mean it is not a good idea to provide further clarification as a matter of political judgment. There is nothing in the McCord judgment that would rule out the Secretary of State providing more clarity about the evidence that is taken into account and how that system currently works in the Northern Ireland Office - how often that assessment is reviewed, what types of evidence are weighed in the balance and how often Brandon Lewis refreshes his knowledge of that evidential base.
As regards the evidential base, it is everything that people have already spoken about in terms of credible and reliable polling. There is also electoral evidence. In the context of post Brexit and the strong Remain constituency here, there is scope for a legitimate range of views on where we currently are in respect of that question appearing likely. Ultimately, the reliable credible evidence that is available would trigger that duty, but let me just turn that around slightly. First, we need to be ready in this conversation. What we do not want is the Secretary of State triggering this in the next couple of weeks. It is much better to focus the conversation on being prepared on this island first. I wish to make a suggestion. I believe that when we are ready on this island and when, for example, the Irish Government steps into this debate and signals it is ready, I believe, and I may be wrong, that the Secretary of State in London will not stand in the way of this process going forward. That is probably where we need to anchor the debate at present. Yes, we will eventually get more clarity from the Secretary of State about the type of evidence he is using, but ultimately I would prefer to prioritise getting ready on this island. My feeling is that when we are ready on this island the British Government will trigger this process, although I might be wrong.
Regarding external impediment, spelling out in a supportive and helpful way the consequences of both the process and outcome is not an impediment to the right to self-determination for people of this island. There is nothing in that which would prevent the European Union or the US from being very clear about the type of support that would be available to a reunified Ireland within the European Union, primarily for some of the reasons that Mr. Bassett stated. Member states and institutions of the European Union are affected by this decision. This would be a constitutional change happening in an EU member state. The EU has an interest in the outcome. In fact, we recommend in our report that the Commission and the European Parliament should already be engaged in that type of preparatory work, to think about the consequences.
In terms of the debate, everything we have done in our work is to try to suggest that we make this conversation as boring, technical and undramatic as is humanly possible. That might sound bizarre, but Ms Hanna will notice that we have not used the term "border poll" today, for example. We have tried to focus on the fact that we are talking about concurrent referenda on the island of Ireland in which we hope the sides in this debate will focus on what the agreement is ultimately about, which is persuasion about different constitutional options. I would prefer people to concentrate at present on building a credible and persuasive case to persuade people here and all people on the island about what the future might look like. I emphasise that the agreement provisions on this are about persuasion and convincing people of the merits of respective cases. At present, however, not enough work has been done. If people were to turn up on doorsteps, when we are ever allowed to turn up on doorsteps again, what would people be saying on either side of the argument now? Does anybody have the type of document the Scottish Government had when it approached the 2014 independence referendum? I would prefer if the focus was there.
There are two final matters, and one is the technical point in the Miller judgment.
I have been surprised at the way consent has been used inaccurately in some of the conversations concerning the Brexit discussions. The principle of consent, as used in the Good Friday Agreement for these purposes, is ultimately a debate about constitutional change and Irish reunification. It is in that context that we are talking about consent here.
The question about legal proceedings and courts has been raised. I do not need to tell anyone here about what can happen once things enter a courtroom. Mr. Bassett could perhaps comment more on this aspect as he is a barrister, but while we may feel we have a convincing and persuasive argument as to what the provisions of the agreement mean, there can be unintended consequences of litigation. A judge or a set of judges may take a different view. I think it is as clear as it can be, however, that the headline principle of consent refers to the debate we are having this morning on reunification.
I will give another example in respect of litigation. Regarding the McCourt case, in writing to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and in taking the case itself, one outcome of that would be a judge, the Judiciary or the Secretary of State setting the bar at a very high level. Sometimes we get the answer we might not want from some of these interventions, and that is as true of politicians as it is of members of the Judiciary in respect of litigation concerning the Good Friday Agreement. Some parts of the agreement are not written in a way that is similar to an Act of the Parliament at Westminster but are instead open to elements of constructive ambiguity or perhaps destructive ambiguity which might be the better way of putting it.
Although much of the focus of our report and the discussion today has been about how we share this island, we are going to be sharing these islands in future. The agreement will frame the conversation we have before and after these referendums. At the centre of our work is the need for strong, robust and good institutional relationships around these islands. It is a good point whether we might be able to do more in the context of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council or to add to their institutional architecture to ensure the relationships around these islands are good and prosper in future.
Part of the argument for constitutional change that people often forget or sometimes neglect is that those involved in advocating for constitutional change think relationships will be better at the far end of all this and that the system and the relationships we have now are not working. Many of those advocating change and constitutional change feel committed to working for that change because they feel we can do better across these islands. Holding Scotland in a constitutional arrangement which it does to want to be a part of, for example, does not seem to be the wisest thing to do from the perspective of good strong relationships across these islands in the longer term. I am thankful for the question.