Few of the prospective Tory leaders are reliable unionists

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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The blunt truth facing unionists in Northern Ireland is that there are few palatable prospective Tory leaders among the candidates of that party that have declared their desire to get the top job.

The number of candidates has been in a state of flux as some withdraw from their previously declared intention to run and others enter the race.

As of yesterday, there were 11 contenders: Sam Gyimah, Mark Harper, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Matt Hancock, Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson, Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom, Rory Stewart and Sajid Javid.

Few of them have said much to reassure supporters of the Union, or have shown awareness of the threat the backstop poses to Northern Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain.

Sam Gyimah is anti Brexit, while Matt Hancock and Jeremy Hunt supported the Withdrawal Agreement, with its disastrous backstop. That undermines their latter comments (Hancock called for a council to ensure a soft border while Hunt wants the DUP to be consulted more on the talks). Sajid Javid has been robust in some of his rhetoric on the backstop but did not seem to stand up on this point as a minister.

Dominic Raab, Boris Johnson, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom all supported Brexit but each of them has caused concern on their stance on the backstop, either acquiescing in it while in government or coming to support the Withdrawal Agreement, of which the backstop is a key part. Michael Gove is a one-time friend of unionists but has latterly threatened us with an increased say for the current ultra green government in running NI. Unless he explicitly retracts that threat, no unionist should back his candidacy.

Rory Stewart has never pretended to be hardline. His leadership pitch is based on compromise with the EU. Even so, his comment that “the problems, the Troubles, the nationalism began with borders” is nonsense. We need a prime minister who understands the role of terror in the creation of, maintenance of and need for a hard border in recent Irish history.