This is no time for unionist weakness on the Irish Sea border

If unionist parties wish to maintain Northern Ireland’s union with Great Britain they must do three things:

By Ben Habib
Wednesday, 16th February 2022, 1:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th February 2022, 1:04 am
Ben Habib is a former Brexit Party MEP who has helped to take a legal action against the Northern Ireland Protocol
Ben Habib is a former Brexit Party MEP who has helped to take a legal action against the Northern Ireland Protocol

First, understand the Northern Ireland Protocol is designed to break our union. It cannot be reformed; it must go. Any unionists who do not believe me, need only look at the nationalist position on the protocol. They wholeheartedly support it because it promotes a united Ireland and a broken United Kingdom.

Second, vocally declare their opposition to it. Indeed, all pro-unionists need to shout their opposition from the roof tops.

And third, cooperate with other unionist parties to ensure unionism wins a thumping majority of seats in the May elections.

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Abandoning those elections in protest against the protocol is not an option. Nationalists and Westminster would both sell such a move as unionism accepting it has lost popular support.

They would take the opportunity to set the protocol in stone. Indeed, anything short of a thumping victory for unionism would be similarly promoted.

Votes cast for nationalist parties in May will be sold as votes for the protocol. If the nationalists win there will be no ditching or even varying the protocol. It will have been confirmed.

There is meant to be a vote on the protocol in Stormont in 2024. There is only one poll that matters, the forthcoming elections. The poll for and against the protocol is already upon us. If nationalists win now, the poll in 2024 will be academic.

A victory for nationalism will result in their next pushing for a border poll. In their shoes that is exactly what I would do. I would cite victory as proof that there is now popular support for a united Ireland.

There is only one policy which matters in the May elections: what is your position on the protocol?

Everything else is of subsidiary importance right now. And anything less than total opposition to it would takes us closer to a border poll and a united Ireland.

We are where we are because successive British governments, particularly the current administration, have turned their back on Northern Ireland.

When it came to Brexit, Boris Johnson had no qualms about throwing the province under a bus to deliver his faux exit from the EU.

Even now, after more than a year of damage from the Irish Sea border, Johnson refuses to acknowledge the constitutional threat posed by the Protocol.

He says it is a technical problem; one that could be resolved by the EU being pragmatic. His naivety is deliberate and disingenuous. He does not want to face the problem and he does not need to face it.

The thing which matters most to Johnson is remaining in office and there are no votes for him in Northern Ireland. He will not be coming to our rescue. The responsibility to save our union falls to pro-unionists in Northern Ireland and their leaders.

Make no mistake, if unionist parties do not win big in May, we will face a border poll as soon as this year. No unionist party could surely want such a thing.

Now is therefore no time for weakness or party politics.

Unionist parties must set aside their differences and work in union for our union. We need a Grand Alliance of Unionism.

Doug Beattie, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Jim Allister carry the hopes and expectations of pro-unionists not just in Northern Island but across the British Isles.

• Ben Habib is a former Brexit Party MEP

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