Unionists need to take long view and back Brexit Withdrawal Agreement

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor
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Ben Lowry (‘It’s a massive failure of civic unionism that the backstop got so far with so little criticism’, Feb 2) describes support for the backstop within civic unionism as ‘madness’.

As a unionist who has publicly backed the prime minister’s deal, allow me to address some of his points.

Firstly, I myself have never claimed that the backstop is not a big deal nor that opposition to it is either unreasonable or not genuine. I have acknowledged that the backstop is a potential threat to the long-term economic and constitutional integrity of the UK.

Furthermore, I agree with him that we are only discussing the backstop at all because the EU has consistently rejected all other workable solutions to the border.

He is also right when he says that the EU would insist on full NI-EU alignment as part of a future UK-EU relationship if the backstop becomes law.

Clearly, this is why the nationalist parties and Alliance are so keen on the backstop.

Despite all of this, however, I support the deal for the simple reason that it is the least worst option. A no-deal Brexit would be, in Mr Lowry’s own words, ‘disastrous for unionism’ (‘The DUP dilemma is whether or not to stay close to Brexiteer Tories’, Jan 19) and a so-called soft Brexit would put the whole of the UK in the intolerable position of being bound by EU rules but powerless to influence how they are made.

The critical flaw in Mr Lowry’s thinking is his assumption that acceptance of the backstop means a permanent loss of part of our sovereignty.

Just because the EU and Ireland will oppose any kind of divergence at the border in future trade talks, does not mean that they will automatically get what they want.

The backstop is the inevitable result of the fact that the UK has been negotiating thus far from an extraordinarily weak position. The real ‘madness’ was thinking that a minority government formed from a deeply divided party and propped up by the DUP could deliver a good deal.

It has delivered an adequate deal, which secures a smooth exit from the EU and allows us to move on to the next, crucial stage of the Brexit process.

If Conservative MPs can find a way to unite around the prime minister’s deal, then we will enter the trade talks in a much stronger position.

Unquestionably, we will need a much tougher style of negotiation going forward. We need negotiators who are prepared to use the full might of the British state to secure a trade agreement that respects the integrity of the UK, and ensures that Northern Ireland is able to enjoy the full benefits of Brexit.

I ask all unionists to put aside their misgivings about the deal and take the long view.

Adam Moore, Belfast BT6