UK Unionists Must Unite to Oppose May's Deal

December 7, 2018

 

Theresa May's proposed 'deal' would leave the UK chained to the EU and its Customs Union, and leave Northern Ireland stranded in the Single Market; forced into regulatory alignment with Dublin and cut off from the rest of the UK by a new customs border.

 

Too often Northern Ireland is treated as though it is somehow separate or apart from the United Kingdom, and is the first to be left abandoned and stranded in ambiguous constitutional positions. This is a gross error, and does a great injustice to the people of Northern Ireland and its unionist majority who have endured more hardship than anybody else for their right to remain British.

 

May's proposals for the Northern Ireland backstop are just the latest example of this broad trend. Over a century ago Sir Edward Carson remarked "What a fool I was, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power." When threatened with Irish Home Rule, the unionist majority in Ulster had to take action themselves to defend their place in the United Kingdom when a London government was prepared to sell them out.

 

There was a similar dynamic at play in 1985 with the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which was passed by Thatcher's Conservative government in what rightly felt like a deep betrayal to Ulster's unionist majority. Again, it treated Northern Ireland as though it had some sort of ambiguous status within the UK, and granted the Irish Republic a role in the governance of Ulster. Civil servants travelled north from Dublin to Belfast to begin their new roles in administering the affairs of Northern Ireland, in spite of mass protests against the agreement.

 

Once again in 2018 it's the same old story. After DUP MPs propped up Theresa May's government, they were betrayed and now are faced with a Brexit 'deal' (in truth really a non-Brexit deal) which largely excludes Northern Ireland from any EU exit at all. This is an outrage in its own right, but all the more so when one considers that it also by necessity creates an internal border within the United Kingdom. Goods coming into Northern Ireland from other parts of the UK would be checked to ensure they are in-keeping with EU standards. In terms of regulation and border checks, it would leave Ulster within the sphere of the Irish Republic and Brussels more than the United Kingdom. May's backstop proposals would therefore fail to deliver Brexit and massively damage the Union. This from a Prime Minister who was elected on the basis she would be a "strong and stable" pro-UK, pro-Brexit leader.

 

This latest betrayal highlights the need for UK Unionists to unite in support of Northern Ireland and demand that the whole of the United Kingdom leaves the European Union and all of its mechanisms, including the Single Market and the Customs Union. That is the mandate that the British people gave to the current Conservative government, which was elected on manifesto commitments to deliver a clean EU exit for the whole country.

 

Now more than ever it is time to hark back to the UK Unionist tradition, which emphasises the unitary, indivisible nature of the United Kingdom and rejects the more narrow and parochial school of liberal, devolutionary unionism. A Scottish, or English or Welsh unionist ought to be an Ulster unionist, and vice-versa, and they are brought together under the umbrella of UK Unionism. This is what makes it deeply disappointing that the 'Conservative & Unionist Party', including Scottish Tories who make a lot of noise about opposing Scottish nationalism, are prepared to back May's deal and sell out their fellow unionists in Northern Ireland.

 

The UK Unionist approach, which has also been called the UK integration approach in Northern Ireland when it was temporarily revived in the latter half of the last century (a school of thought seen in figures like Bob McCartney and Enoch Powell) is the traditional and original unionist point of view. It maintains that there ought to be one sovereign parliament for the United Kingdom, rather than have us divided with multiple devo-assemblies in a quasi-federal system. It maintains that there must be equal rights and treatment for all UK citizens regardless of which part of the UK they reside in. This is a very worthwhile and principled tradition, which must be revived as Northern Ireland is once again given second class treatment by a Conservative government.

The message to Brussels and our own politicians who are selling us out must be clear: our unity is not for sale, and we must leave the EU as One United Kingdom. Now in 2018, it is time for unionists across the UK to say NO to any deal which fails to treat Northern Ireland as an integral and inseparable part of our United Kingdom.

 

 

 

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