Data yesterday confirmed the importance of Northern Ireland’s economic link to the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures found that sales from the Province to Great Britain were worth nearly four times the value of exports to the Republic of Ireland in 2016.
The latter intra-Irish trade is by no means insignificant, the ONS noted: for example, sales of finished products across the Irish Sea relied upon cross-border trade in raw materials.
But our most important market is the mainland.
Northern Ireland is deeply embedded in the UK economy, which makes the prospect of an internal border with the rest of nation so alarming. But the speed with which the Irish government sought assurances from London over the land border led to the fraught situation which now prevails over the so-called backstop, to prevent a ‘hard’ such frontier.
The UK has rightly been determined to avoid physical checks at the land border, but went further than that last December and ruled out new infrastructure including CCTV. But every country that diverges from the EU in either regulations or tariffs, including Norway and Switzerland, has such check points, even if the policing of them seems light.
London meanwhile has ruled out either Northern Ireland alone converging with the EU or the entire UK doing so.
This then creates a contradiction — divergence that elsewhere has hitherto meant checks between jurisdictions that diverge, and at the same time a pledge to have no such checks, anywhere — that could yet cause the Brexit talks to collapse. Or it could yet lead to increased checks at our ports, if Britain panics and weakens on protecting the internal UK market.
As Paul Gosling and Walter Ellis’s articles on these pages recently have shown, the voices calling for Irish unity are getting more confident. It is all the more important that unionists acquaint themselves with the economic arguments in favour of the Union with an economy as strong as that in GB.