On May 23 we go to the polls in an unanticipated European election. We are a far cry from the heady days of June 2016, when the wishful idealism of British identity and supposed sovereignty prevailed amongst unionist voters, and only isolated voices such as Mike Nesbitt warned of the coming storm and the clash with reality.
There have only ever been two outcomes post-June 2016 that would preserve the union as we know it: they were a No Deal exit or Customs Union-and-Single Market membership, whether as EU members or not.
Everything in between those two outcomes sees UK-EU divergence, and requires an agreement with an EU that has made clear it is standing by a remaining member state in its desire to maintain an open Irish border, whilst preserving the integrity of its Single Market.
With the recent decision of Parliament to rule out No Deal and the acceptance of the backstop by Labour and Tory frontbenches, it is now clear that only the softest of Brexits, or no Brexit at all, will preserve our union.
As a lifelong unionist voter and one time member of both main unionist parties, I feel no great enthusiasm for any unionist candidate in this election (I was in the UUP from 1997 to 2002, and the DUP from 2002 with my membership lapsing from 2007).
The DUP, despite what should have been the chastening effects of being sold out by May, Johnson, and Rees-Mogg at Westminster, seem to continue their reckless attitude of campaigning for unavailable Brexit outcomes as was shown by their refusal to vote for soft Brexit options during the indicative votes in Parliament.
Jim Allister’s lack of appreciation of realpolitik has been apparent to all for the last decade or so and offers no surprise in that regard.
In this situation one should then be looking to the UUP for a clear alternative. Danny Kennedy’s decision to rule out a second referendum and his failure to be clearer on a preferred soft Brexit strategy to deal with the realities of the situation unfortunately present him to me as the least worst option, rather than a convincing one.
That lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy from a traditional unionist voter raises questions as to how he can expect to attract sufficient numbers of the 30–40% of pro-union voters who backed Remain in 2016.
Failure to do that will result in the election of two backstop-supporting candidates, thus giving ground-breaking majoritarian electoral legitimacy to a future apart from the rest of the UK, in the context of a Brexit that was ironically trumpeted as a vehicle for the advancement of British sovereignty and identity by its unionist advocates.