The head of a centre-right think-tank has attracted condemnation from unionists after describing Northern Ireland as a “millstone round the neck of the rest of the UK”.
David Green, director of the Civitas think-tank, argued in an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Friday that a referendum on Irish unity would be “the best way forward” in Brexit negotiations.
His comments have been met with strong criticism from unionists in Northern Ireland.
UUP MLA Doug Beattie said: “It’s an utterly disgraceful article and his remarks are contemptuous. We have been a union of four nations for hundreds of years and it’s right that we should be a union of four nations who are equal in that union.”
He added: “It’s absolutely clear that English nationalism is alive and well. It just shows that he cares little for the union.”
TUV MLA Jim Allister said: “Mr Green seems to have a very short memory if he’s forgotten the contribution of Northern Ireland to the security and success of the United Kingdom as a whole. He obviously has no thought or regard for the contribution that was very stoically made during the war effort.”
In his article, Mr Green argued that Northern Ireland receives more in funding from the UK government than it contributes.
Mr Allister, however, said: “The United Kingdom isn’t just about who pays what. There are many parts of the United Kingdom which are dependent upon the centre. Is he going to say that the north-east of England should be jettisoned? Why pick on Northern Ireland?
“He could be doing with a wee bit of patriotism.”
Asked if Mr Green’s comments represent an increase in English nationalism following the Brexit referendum, Mr Beattie said: “I have lived in all of the constituent parts in the United Kingdom and I don’t think this is mainstream.
“I think mainstream opinion, whether people are Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or anything else, is in favour of the union as it stands.”
He added: “I think Brexit has polarised people within the UK and some of them are coming out with statements purely because they want to see Brexit done and out of the way. If anything is getting in the way, it becomes fair game to them. I think Brexit is the cause of our ills in this regard.”