Unified unionist thinking needed on joint stewardship

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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The UK government has demonstrated clearly since the beginning of 2017 that it will do nothing whatsoever to apply pressure on Sinn Fein for collapsing the devolved bodies.

The Irish government not only is similarly adamant to avoid applying any blame to Sinn Fein, it periodically applies pressure on London over the impasse.

London, in turn, says nothing, except that occasionally, on small issues, it moves in ways that the Irish demand, or adopts a pliant tone, such as at the British Irish Intergovernmental Conferences last year.

Do not be fooled by the fact that Leo Varadkar’s government occasionally has sharp words for Sinn Fein in the Dail, or that it recently ruled out sharing power with them. In most key respects it is at one with the republican demands on legacy and the Irish language and so on for this Province.

It has often been said since 2017 by nationalist critics that the UK government is in thrall to the DUP. The depressing reality is that a Conservative government that prides itself on its unionism, and which is propped up by the DUP, will in no significant respect so much as respond to relentless nationalist criticism. Now it seems open to joint stewardship with Dublin of Northern Ireland (a step down from joint authority).

Not only that, but a backstop that never needed to be agreed in late 2017, before the UK had even agreed terms to leave the EU let alone a future relationship, and which introduces a border in the Irish Sea, is now not only winning the support of hardline Tory MPs, it is the template for the treatment of Northern Ireland in any other Brexit arrangement that he House of Commons might agree, if the Withdrawal Agreement falls.

This is a massive challenge for unionism, on which unified thinking is needed.

The similarly robust comments of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Robin Swann, that the governance of Northern Ireland is an internal matter for the UK, is a good starting point.