Brexit dilemma for unionism

A hard border would 'endanger' the Union in the medium term
A hard border would 'endanger' the Union in the medium term

As Northern Ireland looked back on the 20th anniversary of a sequence of events that came to define a generation, unionists could reflect on a process that had seen us exchange much pain and hurt for the benefits of a settled constitutional arrangement within the United Kingdom.

They can also now reflect, sadly, on a much changed landscape since June 23, 2016 that has put all of that in jeopardy and may possibly render the pain and hurt for nothing.

The traditional perceived threat to unionist politicians’ judgement was that they got too close to those in power in London, Belfast and further afield and were pressured to give too much.

The irony now is that Westminster unionism’s closeness to those circles of power seems to drive complacency, seeing them maintain a high risk hard Brexit strategy.

That strategy has two possible outcomes in a hard Irish border or an Irish sea border, anything else is simply wishful thinking. The former will alienate non nationalists in Northern Ireland thus endangering the union in the medium term. The latter will see unionism unwitting participants in a betrayal greater than 1985 as we find ourselves on the wrong side of a border, sacrificed before a country’s eyes to provide English nationalism with a workable hard Brexit.

Brexit will force Northern Ireland to choose sides, or more accurately, to have sides chosen for us by large geo-political interests. The interpretations placed on the Joint Report since its drafting in December are not comfortable reading for unionism.

In the coming months we will approach a point of reckoning in the Brexit process with the paradoxical government positions of no internal UK border and no hard Irish border whilst leaving the customs union and single market set to face the test of reality.

In that context the appeal has to be, to those Lords with influence and to those MPs to whom divine providence has handed mathematical influence, to use it wisely and to ensure that the delicate UK centric constitutional balance which came at such pain for unionism is not shattered. If protecting our position in the United Kingdom means voting for the entire country to stay in the customs union and the single market or indeed voting to ask the people to think again, so be it.

What kind of outcome is it for unionism if we damage our position in the UK to justify some other secondary political project?

Kenneth Allen, Belfast BT16