Times columnist criticised over ‘garbled’ claims on unionists

Melanie Phillips said unionists are not British and described Northern Ireland as the bit that got tacked on
Melanie Phillips said unionists are not British and described Northern Ireland as the bit that got tacked on

A columnist who described unionists in Northern Ireland as “not British” and the country itself as “the bit that got tacked on”, has come in for criticism.

Melanie Phillips’ article in The Times has caused widespread controversy and has been described by DUP MP Gregory Campbell as “a garbled analysis of nationhood”.

Under the headline ‘Britain is the authentic nation in this battle’, Phillips describes Northern Ireland and Scotland as “the most troublesome bits of the United Kingdom”, before going on to flatly dismiss the right of unionists to even call themselves British.

“The Unionists hate this being said but they are not British. They’re the bit that got tacked on to Great Britain to make the UK,” she wrote.

In reality, the United Kingdom was formed over a century before Northern Ireland, in the 1800 Act of Union. The Act united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with effect from January 1 1801.

Phillips’ article also came under fire for her dismissal of Irish and Scottish nationhood in contrast to “authentic” British nationhood.

On Ireland, she wrote: “Ireland itself has a tenuous claim to nationhood, having seceded from Britain as the Irish Free State only in 1922.”

Amongst the many to criticise the article was Daniel Mulhall, Irish ambassador to the UK, who wrote: “Her contention that this is because we only became independent in 1922 is beyond bizarre, for this would invalidate a significant proportion of the world’s nation states.”

Mr Campbell said the article doesn’t stand up to scrunity.

Regarding the line about unionists not being British, he said: “Well, that’s simply inaccurate. If you applied the same logic but to a different time span, when the union between Scotland and England first came about, would that mean Scotland is not British?”

Mr Campbell also defended the nationhood of the Irish Republic, saying: “It is not a nationhood that any unionist would want any part of but I don’t think it would be right to deny them that nationhood – if that is their choice then that is their choice.”

He added: “I think she has put together a garbled analysis of nationhood that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.”