It is nonsense to think that Brexit shifts NI's interests away from UK

Henry Hill, the assistant editor and home nations correspondent for ConservativeHomeHenry Hill, the assistant editor and home nations correspondent for ConservativeHome
Henry Hill, the assistant editor and home nations correspondent for ConservativeHome
On these pages yesterday, Walter Ellis argued that Brexit means that Northern Ireland ought now to be absorbed into the Republic of Ireland ('˜Within a generation of Irish unity, unionists will have found their place', Nov 1).

He’s not the first to do so.

In the British press we have heard this refrain both from the usual nationalist suspects and from mainland commentators who know little of Ulster but have to write about it anyway.

But Ellis’ article grossly misrepresents Northern Ireland’s current position in the United Kingdom, not only by omitting entirely the basic economic realities binding us together but also by slurring my party, the Conservatives.

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The idea that Brexit shifts Northern Ireland’s economic interests away from continued union with Great Britain doesn’t stand up to the most cursory scrutiny.

According to official statistics published earlier this year, the mainland accounts for £13.8 billion of Northern Irish ‘exports’, and the “rest of the world” – the places we can strike new trade deals with after Brexit – another £3.8 billion.

By contrast exports to the Republic amount to just £3.4 billion – less than a quarter of the British total – and the rest of the EU is worth only £1.9 billion more.

Thus, the DUP are quite right to argue that maintaining frictionless access to the mainland market must be Northern Ireland’s top priority.

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All of this is on top of the enormous subvention the British government pays into Ulster every year, a ‘Union dividend’ that Dublin, for all Ellis’ boosterism, cannot hope to match.

That’s why the Irish government’s proposals for unification currently involve the United Kingdom continuing to pay Northern Ireland’s bills, in full, for 30 years after it leaves the Union.

Ellis also misrepresents the Tories.

Contra his article, both we (and Ukip!) do campaign in Northern Ireland and believe strongly in our Union.

When John Major said Britain had no “selfish and strategic interest” in Northern Ireland, he meant we would not try to hold it against the wishes of the majority, not that we didn’t cherish it.

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The response to the Tory-DUP deal shows that Ulster’s place in the UK needs strengthening further.

But it rests on firm foundations nonetheless.

Henry Hill is assistant editor and home nations correspondent for ConservativeHome