Unionists should agree a border poll, but only if two key conditions are met

A letter from Kirk McDowell:

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 11:20 am
Updated Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 11:21 am
A referendum will force Alliance/Green Party voters to take a more definitive position on the constitutional question. Given the social-economic benefits of remaining in the UK, this would most probably favour unionism at this point in time

The recent coup d’etats within both the DUP and Ulster Unionists offers those parties a much needed opportunity to review their so far, lack lustre approaches to the NI Protocol.

It also presents political unionism with the chance to take control of the debate regarding a referendum on Irish unity.

All unionist parties should collectively threaten to collapse the Assembly, unless the government along with their Irish counterparts, agree to a grant a border poll, with the following two conditions.

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Letter to the editor

Firstly, it must be recognised that the outcome of such a poll would be legally binding as to where the EU customs border should be.

Secondly, there will not be another border poll for at least another 20 years, unless nationalist parties win the popular vote outright in an election.

Understandably, some unionists will be fearful about actively calling for a border poll. But such concern must be balanced against the following three factors.

Firstly, Irish nationalism is pushing strongly for a referendum within this decade. If unionists are to going to have to face such a poll in the near future then they must seek to control its timing.

Secondly, the NI protocol has already blatantly violated the principle of consent and is in the process of creating an all-Ireland economy. Both these factors will inevitably to lead to Irish unity if not challenged.

Thirdly, a referendum will force Alliance/Green Party voters to take a more definitive position on the constitutional question. Given the social-economic benefits of remaining in the UK, this would most probably favour unionism, at this point in time.

The government could of course deny such a referendum. In such circumstances, unionists would not be in any worse position constitutionally by collapsing the Assembly, than that which the Irish Sea border has already imposed upon them.

Those parties that supported the protocol would face the sanction of losing their assembly seats and salaries.

This may force some of them to take a more balanced approach to unionist concerns.

Crucially, Sinn Fein would also be denied their long term objective of being in government in both parts of the island.

The new leaders of unionism need to start their reigns by asking themselves how they want be remembered in history.

As the token figureheads of unionism’s last generation, who lacked sufficient imagination or vigour?

Or, as principled strategic thinkers who were prepared to sacrifice high office when the national interest demanded that they do so?

Kirk McDowell, Belfast BT5

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