Theresa May’s visit to Northern Ireland is not in the least late

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

When the prime minister visited Scotland 10 days ago, and then Wales last week, some observers interpreted it as a slight to Northern Ireland.

When Theresa May then visited Germany and France before this Province such speculation was further fuelled.

But this morning the new Conservative Party leader will fly into Northern Ireland to meet Stormont’s political leaders.

Her visit is not at all late. NI is by far the smallest of the four UK countries in terms of population. It is a sign of normality that we are not at the top of Downing Street’s in-tray.

There is no doubt that Brexit has thrown up major challenges with regard to the Irish land border, but these are currently less pressing than the situation in Scotland. It has a population almost three times that of NI, and it is clearly the most likely part of the UK to break away.

The border issue can surely be resolved satisfactorily, given the cross-community desire to avoid a hard border, backed even by President Francois Hollande.

Mrs May said: “I want to assure the people of Northern Ireland that I will lead a government which works for everyone across all parts of the United Kingdom, and that Northern Ireland is a special and valued part of that union.”

These are encouraging words, and are in the tradition of recent premierships. There was a time during the Troubles when Westminster commitment to the principle of consent seemed in doubt. Even Margaret Thatcher was persuaded to sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

That is long gone. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and now Mrs May have all been instinctive unionists.

She should today give polite short shrift to calls, from either side of the jurisdiction, for a border poll given that there is no indication whatsoever of the sort of demand that legally is supposed to underpin such a referendum.