It hasn’t taken long for the political class to water down our exit from the European Union and grant massive concessions to Brussels. While anybody who supports our exit will have been appalled by the revelation that our government is prepared to make British taxpayers pay a £50 billion bill to reclaim our sovereignty, unionists in particular have been concerned about the latest negotiations over the Irish border.
The bullying tactics of the EU leadership and the Irish government seem to have pressured Theresa May into negotiating towards a deal whereby Northern Ireland would remain in “regulatory alignment” with the Single Market and the European customs union. They say that this is the price of Northern Ireland retaining a ‘soft’ border with the Irish Republic, which allows people and goods to move across it unchecked. The controversy is really only over the movement of goods, as there has long been informal cooperation between the British and Irish governments over the movement of people due to the existence of the Common Travel Area which covers the entire British Isles. In the controversy over the movement of goods, the EU’s position is that so long as Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic follow the same EU regulations there would be no need to check goods for regulatory compliance at the border. If a post-Brexit Northern Ireland was to enforce different regulations due to the UK once again having the ability to make its own laws, then the EU would demand a more substantial border where goods are checked for compliance with their regulations. And so this deal to retain a soft border and Northern Ireland’s “regulatory alignment” with the EU was reached.
Thankfully for all unionists (but rather less happily for Theresa May), her coalition partners the DUP have made it clear that they will not accept this proposed deal, or indeed any deal which does not take the entire UK out of all the mechanisms of the EU and the Single Market. The DUP are absolutely correct to do this, and they are correct from both a pro-Brexit and a pro-Union perspective. Any deal which would see any part of the UK remain under EU laws and regulations would be a betrayal of the whole Brexit process. And for Northern Ireland to remain under EU laws and regulations which are entirely different to the rest of the UK would be toxic for the Union; it would mean Northern Ireland would have a porous border with the Irish Republic yet a hard border with the rest of the United Kingdom, enforced at ports on the western coasts of Scotland and England. No unionist could ever countenance such an arrangement.
The DUP were not the only party to object to May’s agreement; Ruth Davidson has also intervened to demand a UK-wide deal. While we agree with her UK-wide perspective on this point, her solution to bring about such an agreement was for not just Northern Ireland, but the entire UK to remain in regulatory agreement with the EU, and in effect to continue to remain a member of the EU customs union and Single Market. This shows a total disregard for the clear mandate delivered by the British people. Davidson’s intervention makes it clear that Theresa May is being squeezed from both the Leave and Remain camps over the Irish border question; her policy of compromise seems to be please nobody on either side.
Of course, once the precedent was set with Northern Ireland, the usual suspects were quick to jump on the bandwagon and demand similar deals for other UK regions. Sturgeon has tweeted that Scotland should be kept in the Single Market along with Northern Ireland, while Sadiq Khan has called for a similar deal for London. The idea of Scotland, Northern Ireland and London remaining in the Single Market and enforcing customs checks within the internal UK market is of course ludicrous, but it shows what can happen once a bad precedent is set.
As unionists who believe in the restoration of British sovereignty, we must assert the unitary integrity of our country and the need for a clean exit that hasn’t been watered down or applied unequally across the UK. We voted to leave as one United Kingdom not just in the referendum in June 2016, but also in the General Election of June 2017, when an overwhelming eighty-six percent of MPs were elected on manifesto commitments to leave the EU and Single Market. To continue to enforce EU laws and regulations on Northern Ireland or indeed the whole UK would be a betrayal of that mandate.
Our own position on the Irish border issue is that terms such as ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ border are, much like ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ Brexit, little more than politically-motivated misnomers, and terms which are deliberately intended to mislead. By ‘soft’ border is meant no border at all, as can be seen from the total lack of any physical border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. By ‘hard’ border, which sounds rather harsh, is simply meant the ordinary border maintained between two distinct states. Such an arrangement between the UK and the Irish Republic would therefore be a natural and quite unremarkable state of affairs, and allow for Northern Ireland to be governed by UK laws and regulations, and for the Irish Republic to continue to be governed by the EU’s.
The ongoing sell out by the political class in these negotiations highlights more than even the need for a party that is thoroughly committed to the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and its full withdrawal from the European Union and all of its mechanisms. As the only party committed to a sovereign UK governed by a single British parliament, we will continue to promote our message, contest elections and otherwise campaign on this UK Unionist, pro-sovereignty ticket.
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